Managers Need To Teach Their Workers How To Be Followers, Not Leaders

Team members need to learn how to be better followers
Team members need to learn how to be better followers
Image Credit: James Barwell

In most workplaces we’ve been using our IT manager skills to work with the members of our teams in order turn them into the leaders that we know that they can be. However, what this has created is a workplace that is filled with leaders (and leader wanna-bes). What is missing is followers – someone for all of the leaders to lead. Does anyone know how to be a good follower?

The Problem With Having Too Many Leaders

As an IT leader, the IT manager training that you’ve received has taught you that your primary job is leading your team in accomplishing tasks. It’s not to try to get a bunch of leaders to get other people to do their work for them. One of the greatest challenges that we face is the fact that in most workplaces, being a #2 is not seen as the right path to be on if you want your career to take off. We tend to view leaders (that’s you) as being the real heroes of the workplace.

One of the problems with having too many leaders in the workplace is that often people who see themselves as being a leader have difficulty working with other people who see themselves as being a leader. These people are often adventurous and assertive and this does not allow them to work well with others. When they are in meetings, they will often butt heads with other workers who view themselves as leaders and will clash with peers.

What these team members don’t realize is that they need to back off. They need to allow other people to lead them. An important skill that they need to develop is to find ways to support other people’s ideas. This can be a very difficult thing for team members to do. All too often they will assume that if they are not in a leadership position, then there must be something wrong with either them or their careers.

How To Be A Good Follower

<>So just exactly what is a good follower? The most important thing to realize is that being a follower does not mean that someone is weak. Something that a lot of IT managers don’t realize is that being a good follower is not the same thing as being a good team player. Instead, a good follower is someone who is a self-starter – they don’t have to wait around to be told what to do. Followers think independently and when they notice problems, they solve them. Much of a follower’s time is spent helping their boss meet his or her goals. One of the greatest values that a follower brings to the table is that they can speak up when they believe that their boss is making a mistake.

One of a follower’s main tasks is to find ways to bring out the best in their leaders. As an IT leader what you really want to create within your team are followers who are not afraid to speak up. When someone, including you, starts to do something wrong, you need your team members to put their hand up and tell you that what you are doing is only going to lead you to the wrong place. Good followers know that they are expected to be able to provide good, honest feedback to their management and up the chain of command.

An important point that has to be communicated to followers is that most leaders were good followers at one point in their career. What we all have to realize is that in a typical firm, somewhere between 70% – 90% of the work that gets done is being done by followers. This is important because in those same companies, despite how important the followers are, the followers are not considered to be rock stars. However, this may all be changing. As more team members work from home and in remote locations, the importance of being a good follower is starting to be realized. The arrival of social media is starting to teach team members who join social media groups that there is a real importance to being a good follower and that they can provide valuable inputs even in this role.

What All Of This Means For You

Most IT managers work with the individual members of their teams to attempt to turn them into leaders. However, the end result of all of this effort has been to create a workplace that contains a lot of leaders and just not enough followers. This, of course, brings up the very good question: just what does it take to be a good follower?

Being a good follower does not mean that someone has to be a blindly obedient sheet. Instead, what it really means is that the person has to agree to take responsibility for goals that are being shared by the team. They can’t be waiting around to be told what to do, instead they need to be a self-starter who can make things happen. They also have to have the courage to speak up and tell their leaders when they are making a mistake.

In every workplace there needs to be a mix of both leaders and followers. For too long we’ve all been focused on trying to turn everyone into a leader. The time has come for us to understand that we need to do some IT team building and take the time to teach the members of our team how to be good followers. Only by doing this will we be able to create teams that can accomplish great things.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: What would be the best way to sell your team on the idea of becoming good followers?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

If you sat down with most IT managers you’d discover that they’d really like to be liked at the office. I think that just about everyone thinks that if you are nice to everyone that you meet, then your chances of going far in the company are boosted. However, there is a group of IT managers who have taken a different path – they are using their IT manager skills to become the bad guys in their workplace and instead of feeling bad about this, they rather enjoy it.