Follow the Leader . . . or not

When we played follow the leader as kids, we all wanted our turn to be the leader, and as it turns out, this is sort of what this book is about. Why? Because “every leader is also a follower.”  My favorite definition of a follower is a quote from chapter six by Reverand Paul Beedle:

“Followership is a discipline of supporting leaders and helping them to lead well. It is not submission, but the wise and good care of leaders, done out of a sense of gratitude for their willingness to take on the responsibilities of leadership, and a sense of hope and faith in their abilities and potential.”

Sadly, it will be impossible to thoroughly review the 23 essays in this book, so I’m going to capture those pieces that most resonate with me.

Chapter one defines five types of followers. Here is the follower I aspire to be, and I quote:

“Star followers think for themselves, are very active and have very positive energy. They do not accept the leader’s decision without their own independent evaluation of its soundness. If they agree with the leader, they give full support. If they disagree, they challenge the leader, offering constructive alternatives that will help the leader and organization get where they want to go.  . . Star followers are often referred to as ‘my right-hand person’ or my ‘go-to person.’”

What a powerful statement, and what potential for powerful partnerships. When there is a culture of respect and ownership between employer and employees good things happen! Who doesn’t like to be asked to share their opinion, and have it taken seriously? When you really listen to my ideas and suggestions (and we can tell if you really are) then I know you value me, and that makes all the difference.

As a valued employee, I will dare to use the skill of “Courageous Conscience.”  This is a little scary, since most of us operate on the “you’re the boss” theory. Robert E. Kelley, the author of this chapter, states “followers and leaders have to keep leaders and peers ethically and legally in check. . . we need to view followers as the primary defenders against toxic leaders or dysfunctional organizations.” This dovetails nicely with a thought from chapter eight (Gail S. Williams) about the need to “have fierce and candid conversations in pursuit of a vision and mission in which all employees are passionately invested.” (Her Leadership Roundtable article is here.) We need more courage in the workplace—we need to be more honest in our conversations with each other—how else can we affect real change?

Chapter two is a fine chapter on ethical leadership. There is a nice little play on words as to the difference of “response-abilities” (readiness) and “responsibility” (abstract duty or job description). Then there are the four virtues: “Doing the right thing (prudence), for the right reasons (justice), often requires courage, and always requires not acting out (temperance, soundness of mind).” The author (James Maroosis) goes on to say: “The virtues let us do the right things right, which means doing things the right way for the right reasons.” I love that. Am I the only one who gets pulled into minutiae and next thing you know you’re pulled down the wrong path? As we look at our world today, and how fast information comes at us, and how reactionary we are . . wouldn’t it be so valuable to slow down and look at the four virtues and ask ourselves, is this the right thing?

Education is changing, in part because technology is turning us on our head. It’s exciting,  but I wonder if we have to slow down and say “for the sake of what?” For the sake of what am I replacing all the old with the new? Or the flip side “for the sake of what” am I resisting the new? Are we reaching out to all employees and to all parents to show we value their opinions?  Are we creating environments where people can have fierce and candid conversations about the change that will inevitably come their way? But mostly, are we doing things the right way for the right reasons?