April 25, 2014
Qualities Of Followers
Recently I wrote about the qualities that make a good leader, particularly in academia, but I think that it is also important to know that one must also be a good follower. Sometimes we follow, and sometimes we lead. Therefore, one cannot be a good leader without first being a good follower. Many of the characteristics of a good leader are also those of a good follower. The University of Missouri identifies several characteristics of a good follower:
Personality: An outgoing style – the ability and enjoyment of working with other people in a team is a useful skill. A sincere liking and respect for other people is a wonderful asset. Being well liked will certainly help in working in teams or any other social situation. Humor and warmth are effective here also. First and foremost, you must be a good team member (see below for further discussion of this characteristic).
Communications skills: A follower must be able to understand and communicate with the leader and other team members. An effective leader must have a large amount of feedback. It is your responsibility as a follower to provide this information to the leader. Tell him/her what is working and what is not. Give him/her the information from which good decisions can be made. All of this must be done in what is an acceptable manner for that leader and that group or organization. This takes considerable skill. How do you tell someone that his/her tactics are not working without offending him or her? Very few people including leaders can accept criticism gracefully. There is no one answer to that question that will fit all situations. The best answer is tact, which will vary from one group to another.
Cooperative/team player: Responsible/dependable: This is a maxim characteristic for followers. If a leader cannot depend upon you being a certain place or doing a job, you are useless to him/her. Worse than that, you may be a danger because he/she may be counting on you. If you have any hope any desire to be a member of a group, a team or anything except a loner, you must have or develop dependability. Start by being on time or a few minutes early for your next appointment. Keep a calendar or a date book. It is essential for almost any type of professional career.
Dedicated/loyal: Yes, Absolutely! It is required. However, there may come a time when because the leader or the group is doing something illegal or immoral, you should not be loyal. You should report the behavior or actions to the appropriate people or authorities. Loyalty should not be blind or limitless.
Persistent/patient: There are times when you will need to relax and wait for events or time to pass regardless of whether you are a leader or a follower. And again, there will be times when you should push; you should not be satisfied with the status quo. Critical thinking is an important part of both being a good follower or a good leader.
Perceptive: You must be sensitive to other people’s wants and needs and to changes in these wants and needs. Genuine interest in another person will often develop a sense of trust by that person. The ability to listen which will help you be sensitive to other people is an essential skill of a good follower.
Honesty/Trustworthy: You must be honest. Most people will believe and want to work with someone they trust. The narrow line is between being overly candid and criticism. When do you tell your best friend that their taste in clothes is, well, awful? The answer is probably when they will be criticized for their awful clothes if you don’t tell. The art is telling them in a way that will not hurt their feelings. Honesty ranks right along with dependable as a maxim characteristic for good followers.
Praise and compliments: Almost everyone, leaders or followers, likes to be recognized especially if they have worked hard. People are more attracted by praise than by criticism and will be willing to work with you if you acknowledge their contributions. Let me repeat, it is very important that people be given recognition for their contributions. Whenever possible, always give credit.
Prepared: A good follower needs to be knowledgeable about the groups’ goals. An effective follower should be both organized and prepared.
As one can see, much of what makes a good leader also makes a good follower. Just like I believe in all the qualities discussed of a leader, so do I also try to have all of these qualities as a follower. Of the above characteristics, communication, persistent/patience, and honesty/trustworthy are definitely the top three though all of these qualities are essential for good followers.
Something necessary to discuss for both leaders and followers is ego. Many times what prevents one from being either a good leader or a good follower (or both in some cases) is ego. We all have an ego. We all think we are better at some activities than others or that we would be better than someone else in certain situations, and though this may be true at times, we need to check that ego. As a follower, if our ego gets in the way, almost nothing will be accomplished. As a leader, the ego prevents us from, well, leading.
The ego is delicate, but to be a part of a team, we must all check those egos. Leaders must listen when their people feel like the ego is getting in the way, and followers must recognize when their egos prevent them from accepting the leadership. None of this is easy, of course, but if we want to be good leaders and good followers, we must check our egos and control them.
The truth is sometimes we lead and sometimes we follow. Knowing what characteristics we need in either role will help to improve our teams and relationships.
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