Leadership: Getting It Done

Chapter 5
Characteristics of Good Followers

[ Personality | Communications Skills | Cooperative/Team Player | Responsible/Dependable | Dedicated/Loyal | Persistent/Patient | Perceptive | Honest/Trustworthy | Praise and Compliments | Prepared ]

Love and respect - two of the best characteristics of humans.

This is a book about leadership. You may be asking yourself why is there a discussion on how to be a good follower. Most of us start in an organization or a community as a follower. It is rare that any of us will step into any type of leadership position, formal or informal without demonstrating that we can be and are good followers. For that reason, perhaps, I should have started the book with this chapter.

So, let's start with a simple statement: you nor I cannot be a good leader unless we are or can be a good follower. The characteristics of each position are very similar. There are people who may be good followers who do not make good leaders or even want to be leaders, but there are no good leaders who are not good followers. Sure, there are some people who think they are too good to be a follower, but I bet their parade has only one person in it: themselves. The skills that make for good followers also make for good leaders.

Successful followers (supporters or team members) come in a wide variety of personal characteristics. We have all met loners who cannot get along with anyone. These are relatively rare. For the most part, all of us are followers at one time or another. There are some characteristics or traits that make for being a better follower. Just as with leaders, motivation is the most important single factor. Which is most important your ego or getting the job done? If you focus on the goals to be achieved and are motivated, you will a good follower and, perhaps, even a good leader.

Second in this list are such characteristics are reliability and loyalty. These are also important for leaders. Very few of us have all of best characteristics to be a good follower to the limit, but the most effective follower and leaders regardless of which role will have most of them well developed. I cannot say it too often: these characteristics regardless of the degree to which you now have them can be further developed and enhanced. Improvement is limitless. Remember, changes in the personality traits take years of consistent work. We can and should start today, but don't expect instantaneous results.

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.

Obviously, this list includes much that makes a person a good human being, a good member of a family, a group, and an organization or of a community. I doubt if any of the list really surprised you. But how many of those do you need to work on?

To repeat what I said at the start of this chapter, the equation for success for a follower is very similar to that for a leader. The more of these traits (tools) you have successfully developed the greater the probability of your success either as a follower or as a leader.

A Mental Questionnaire

Let's turn those traits of a good follower into a questionnaire of your characteristics as a follower. Remember, all of us even the President are followers at times. Be honest to yourself.

Do you cooperate with others to achieve the desired goal?

Are you willing to accept others' ideas?

Are you a team player? Or do you prefer to work by yourself?

Are you willing to give the leader and others credit and public recognition?

Are you loyal to the group?

Are you flexible? Or does it have to be done YOUR way? My way or the highway?

Are you rational or dogmatic?

Are you dedicated to the group's goals?

Are you dependable? Can others count on you to do your part?

Can you provide constructive feedback without being negative?

There is no passing, perfect or final score for these questions. Our answers will change for different groups, different situations and different times. All of us can improve on all of these attributes, all of the time. Keep these questions in your mind, both when you are a leader and when you are a follower. They will help you succeed at both.

I have a strong belief that you can be a winner as either a leader or a follower!

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