My last article, “What is follower-ship?” had me compile quite a bit of research, which as we discussed, focused more on the leadership paradigm and not necessarily how one could aspire to be a better follower. I have been given a gift, it is the gift of curiosity, this gift in turn has me developing my sense of observation. Currently the guns of my curiosity are trained on a few thoughts concerning followers, and how leaders are not really the ones leading.
It looks like the second guy has the most followers. The second guy is not scary. Leaders, I’ve noticed… are out there! And can be scary to the front liners in any business. Here is a video on leaders and followers that my oldest son sent me, after we had a discussion about his leadership when he was on his college baseball team.
I’ve noticed this in small group interactions. In my past I would speak up right away to take the lead, in an attempt to hurry things up (mostly because most of my small group interactions were ridiculous and never accomplished anything) but back then people were put off by my “aggressive” behavior. So I learned to sit back… and watch. (Not right away mind you… but I did eventually learn)
I was able to do this recently at my current job during a corporate meeting that was heavily attended. It came to pass that we needed to be in small groups, and each small group “leader” was to read a scenario set forth out- loud to the team. It wasn’t discussed who the leaders would be. There were four groups and I sat back in my group and watched how each group picked a leader and worked out their safety problem.
My teams question made it all the way around the team. It was handed to me first, by our most senior member. I deferred back to him as being the most experienced. He then passed it to the next guy, he in turn passed it to the next, and so on and so forth… until it got back to me… the last gentleman looked at me, held it in his hand for a second and then placed it in the middle of the table. Remember… it needed to be read out loud.
I looked around the group, no countenance was such as to tell me “do not pick it up,” so I picked it up, read it aloud, and we completed our task.
Once I read it aloud all team members participated.
When our most tenured colleague deferred the sheet to me the first time… no one disagreed with him, or said anything one way or the other, I passed because I wanted to see what would happen. I would have been a great follower because our question concerned the safe operation of fork-lifts in a production setting.
I was once responsible for a 30ton front end loader, (previous pics) and other fork-lifts, for over twenty years, and was asked to load ’69 Cadillac’s onto the top of car haulers every so often, and had only two recordable instances in those over twenty years, (none with a ’69 Caddy though) so I have some good safety training to call on.
All this just to see how others choose who they follow. Who would they look to, to lead the team? The older gentleman who handed me the task sheet had previous experience with me, in the past, in a different setting, one where I was the owner of my own car shop. As a group I think followers are followers because they choose to be. They think differently than leaders do. Most jobs, and companies require followers, more followers than leaders. We touched on that previously.
I can hear one of you now, “Dave! I know lots of people who are followers but lead their teams… sometimes, NOT everyone can lead, not everyone can be the leader! It sounds like you are putting followers down! You don’t know what you’re talking about!“
Easy… Karen. You must have just jumped into this conversation. What I am saying is this, “It seems to me that all of the self-help, and personal improvement books focus only on the person (male or female) at the very top of a corporate chain of command i.e. a CEO, and how to emulate that person. They do not, from my perspective, give a realistic goal to a ‘follower’ that they can use to get from here to there. If they are looking to make a move. The LEADERSHIP books describe too big of a gap for a person to honestly cover from their current position.”
In my writing I use the analogy of crossing a creek using stepping stones. Maybe too much. But in my experience, life and work more resemble those little shaky steps crossing a creek, than some grand jumping from Peon to Prime Minister. It just doesn’t happen that way.
I was in my late forties when I finally heard a clear explanation of how a “career path” can be laid out, and is in some industries very laid out, and would need to be followed meticulously by a practitioner with each level, or stepping stone, requiring a rigorous attempt at being “successful” gauged by exacting standards at each step, and in meeting those… you are “rewarded” with more responsibility on your climb up the corporate ladder.
My understanding before that, as I was taught, “Work hard, good things will follow. Find a place and just work your way up.” I was able to mostly do that at one endeavor. Ended up one step away from the corner office. Thing is. The leadership at the time required degrees, which I didn’t have, and would not pursue as the ROI was negative, and with no “set in stone” opportunity ahead… that career path ended at a T-in the road. Go right, or left? Unable to continue on that particular path with no stepping stones that could help, shaky or otherwise.
I think the human condition (that being one of fear) keeps those “How to Be a Great Follower” books from being written, because who wants to follow someone who is willing to take one step at a time, nice and slow? We all want to hit a home-run! “I want excitement!” We say that, but… we don’t want to follow the “one crazy nut” either, he’s scary, “I’ll look foolish if I’m the only one who follows him,” but we will follow a friend, or a good report about a good place to work, trusting something or someone else, who went before us, so we can settle into a position. In cow parlor parlance, “we look to know which “stanchion” is ours.”
Each having a “position” of “following” and “leading” at different times, at varying degrees.
Most of us have had at least one leader in our lives who had the mantra and personality of, “By this axe I rule!” In the case of this quote it worked out well. In our day and age it has the effect of a wet blanket, a heavy, wet and scratchy wool blanket at that. Suppressing what I think is the number one resource a company has at it’s disposal… that being the intellectual power of all the followers who do their particular tasks day in and day out…