When you teach dancing, you don’t just train one partner. You teach both together. And the skills you teach to each – leadership and followership – are different. That should be the model we use to build stronger collaborations contend two workplace experts.
Everyone talks about the art of leadership in business. That’s great, but what about what you are doing when you aren’t leading?
That’s where Marc and Samantha Hurwitz bring a new focus. They operate FliPskills, a learning and development company, and are the authors of Leadership is Half the Story, a business book that looks at the dynamics of workplace collaboration.
The way they see it, the other half of the story is followership. They recognize that there is an art (and a science) to both roles, leadership and followership.
In today’s collaborative teams and organizations, leadership is about creating the optimal conditions for success of the team. It’s not so much to evaluate, rate, rank, and review. Rather, the leadership role is to coach, chart the path, clear the path, and help people have awesome experiences in the process. Its flip side, the followership role, is about being actively engaged in the process, contributing to it, and influencing it. Not standing around waiting for a leader to say magic words.
Followership involves recognizing how you can add value and contribute to decision processes, even when decisions aren’t yours to make; taking full responsibility for your own engagement and your own personal development; and understanding the big picture while taking it upon yourself to build strong relationships with the leaders in your organization.
Good followership is important in any organization, Marc Hurwitz emphasizes, because “Everybody, from the CEO down, has both a leadership and a followership role, and even within a specific relationship the roles can switch from one to the other.” He likens it to sports situations, where the person who has the ball takes on the leadership role at any given moment, and everyone else works in concert to support that player. Once the ball is passed off, so is the leadership role.
Samantha Hurwitz adds that while most people think of a CEO only as a leader, he or she also needs to exercise great followership when it comes to the board of directors. That’s tough for most CEOs, she says, “and that is the number one reason why they don’t last long. Usually after an average of 2.7 years, they end up as the leader of nothing.”
There are key elements that go into strong followership. For example,
“Strong followers make sure leadership is informed about the status of their work and their projects,” explains Samantha Hurwitz. “Weak followers think their work speaks for itself. Strong followers consider themselves an integral part of a relationship and work to build it. Weak followers may offer input when it’s invited, but they don’t take full accountability for it.”
Followership will only become more important as organizations grow ever more collaborative, the Hurwitzes say. They point to the fact that in 1980, only about 20 percent of the work done was team-based. Thirty years later, that had climbed to 80 percent.
But many leadership theories are stuck in the 1970s, says Marc Hurwitz. “These theories were developed based on working in a rigid hierarchy. But in a collaborative environment, it answers the wrong question. If you are going to think of followership as an active and engaged part of a mutually successful relationship, you have to start changing not just your followership model, but your leadership model as well.”
The Hurwitzes say that millennials tend to be very receptive to the followership concept.
“Collaboration is what they know,” says Samantha Hurwitz. “They have grown up with social media. They are less deferential to authority, and when they join an organization, they expect to be sitting at the table right off the bat.”
How will followership affect and be affected by an environment of ever-changing business teams and a “gig economy?”
Well, says Marc Hurwitz, “It affects the speed with which we need to change our interpersonal relationships. We have to build and rebuild them much faster. That means having your followership skills well tuned, so you can quickly learn how to add value, whatever role you are asked to take on.”
Bottom line, say the Hurwitzes, is that everyone in any organization needs to think of themselves as both leaders and followers, and concentrate on maximizing their value in each of those roles.