Good Leaders Know How To Follow!

In Praise of Followers!

This is the title of a paper posted by Robert E.Kelley in the Harvard Business Review back in 1988 (Nov - Dec edition, pp 142-148).

The writer reminds business people of the emphasis we all place on leadership, and rightly so of course. He then quickly switches to the question of what about the people they lead? He cites Napoleon as being, without the support of his massive armies, ' merely a man with grandiose ambitions'. In the case of a business, Kelley states that they survive or fail partly on the basis of how well their leaders lead and partly how well their followers follow.

Recognising the importance of good followership, back in the last century when Jack Welch took over the reins of the massive, yet crippled, GE Corporation, he came up with an intriguing yet effective plan to save the Company. Put simply, it involved delegating responsibility by cutting through the many management layers and empowering those of the so-called lower echelons to make decisions which would collectively transform the organisation. In other words he created an army of effective followers.

Now hang on! I know BLA is all about small business, but don't be put off as the principles here can easily be applied in any size operation; even a one man band who is often a sort of leader/follower hybrid!

OK, back to Kelley. He explains that what distinguishes an effective from an ineffective follower is enthusiastic, intelligent and self-reliant participation - without star billing - in pursuit of an organisational goal. Culturally, self-confident followers see colleagues as allies, not competitors, and leaders as equals. Organisationally, more often than not, they can also see both the forest and the trees!

But how does the boss create this sort of environment? Simple!! (as that pesky meerkat would say!) Good leaders know how to follow and, in doings so, set an example for others.

By the way, do let us know if you want to know more about Jack Welch's pitch in the followership arena as we realise we barely scratched the surface by giving it the cursory air time above. In the meantime, here's another great article on the subject which hopefully will foster some practical tips on the roles of leaders and followers in the successful running of your business.

Ted Beecher
BLA Director