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On being led - the art of following

Updated: Jul 8, 2021

The shelves are full of books on leadership; yet there are next to no books on following; there is no follower-ship section. As much as good leadership is important - and it is - so too is good following. Leadership is very important but if people don’t follow, an organisation won’t prosper. And yes, it works the other way round too! It is easier to be a good leader if you have good followers and followers/team members prosper when they are led well.

I have thought about this as I prepare to step down and hand over my Humanities department. As a leader I have been blessed by having a good team which has made the most of what leadership skills I may have brought. In a conversation earlier this week I wanted to reassure my successor that I will be a good follower as I teach in a part time capacity. But what exactly does being a good team member mean?

Getting the job done - being a good team member involves playing my part in the team. I don’t want my head of department to have worries about how my classes are being taught. If I’m asked to do something, it will get done and they hopefully won’t need to check up on me or send reminders.

Staying in lane - stepping down and having someone else lead means that there are things that I no longer have to worry about. I will let these things go. This is easier said than done - how many of us have a tendency to pick up the things we have put down? The last thing leaders need are backseat drivers. If I am asked for opinion or advice I will give it but otherwise it is important to trust leaders and give them space to lead.

Loyalty and honesty - to some extent character is more than ability. Loyalty is an important trait. It’s about how we act when our boss isn’t there. It involves supporting the vision and not joining in with the moaners. It is important to be supportive and loyal particularly in public. Yet there may be times when your leader needs to hear honest or unwelcome feedback. This should be done privately and at the right time. On the occasions when team members have asked me to think about something again they have often been right and I have appreciated their honesty.

Managing and Solving Upwards - finally particularly if you are a team member who aspires for promotion, one of the buzzwords on aspiring leaders courses is the ability to manage upwards. As a good team member, important questions might be ‘how can I help my line manager most this week?’ and ‘what issues is my line manager currently working on and how can I help them to solve it?’ As team members there will be many things that our leaders are dealing with that we are unaware of, being able in some small way to lighten their load can make all the difference. It could just be making the odd cup of tea

So these are some of the things I will be aiming to do in September. No doubt there are other things that make us good and useful team members. I wonder what you would add to the list above?

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