You can probably remember a moment in their childhood when a teacher or coach asked your class “Who wants to be the leader?” Your hand shot up like a rocket thrusting into space. You wanted to be the one in charge, you wanted to be the one making the decisions. Then reality struck – everyone in class had their hands raised too.
Your teacher ended up choosing another student to be the leader.
Maybe your teacher was being sadistic when he/she asked that question, knowing that it was like throwing a bread crumb into a pool filled with hungry fish.Or perhaps your teacher was planning on giving everyone a chance to be a leader?
Regardless, not being chosen was a painful experience, because that’s the moment you became a follower.
Now, 10, 15, or 20 years later, it’s a position you still hate. But the reality is that you don’t need the title of “manager” to be a great leader. You can be one right now, as a good follower.
Why You Should Care About Being a Good Follower
Being a good follower isn’t about mindlessly following orders like a drone. What do you think will happen if your boss gives you instructions that lead to a huge profit-costing mistake? Do you think using the Nuremberg defense of “I was just following orders” will get you off the hook?
No. Chances are that if your director or CEO needs to terminate someone, it will be you, not your boss.
That’s why it’s so important for you to work towards being a good follower today. Because once you earn your place as a leader, whether in your current company or with another employer, you’ll realize that you were actually acting like a leader all along.
Here are three important ways you can work towards being a good follower and great future leader:
1. Work Towards Being The Workplace All-star
Think about it – the people who elevate themselves above every other “follower” are those who distinguish themselves as outstanding workers. Good bosses point out their all-stars as examples to follow and tend to recognize their contributions. That’s because they recognize that their success depends not on the “average” follower, but employees who are above average.
Here are some simple ways to help you be an all-star:
- Set higher goals: Your boss already has certain expectations of you. Set goals that are at least 20% higher and work towards achieving them. So even if you’re not meeting your own expectations (yet), you’re probably already surpassing those of your boss.
- Take initiative: Bosses remember the followers who willingly go out on a limb to help them when it comes to working through a tough deadline, filling in for a sick co-worker, etc. Taking initiative also reflect positively on you come performance evaluation time.
- Build networks: Every man is NOT an island when it comes to the workplace. By building positive relationships with your co-workers, you can expand your technical/professional skills and knowledge by sharing information and assisting each other when help is needed.
2. Work Towards Communicating Effectively With Your Boss
Being a good follower means keeping an open line of communication with your boss so that you’re always clear about what your boss expects from you. Of course, to say that communication with your boss will always be easy is like saying that it will snow in Singapore next year – it’s not going to happen.
The ability to communicate clearly and effectively with even the most difficult of personalities is a skill many great leaders possess. Thankfully, it’s a skill you can work at mastering as a good follower.
Here’s what you need to do to communicate effectively with your boss:
- Be Timely: There’s nothing a boss hates more than not getting important information in a timely manner – especially when important decisions need to be made. So instead of simply sitting on information until your boss asks you directly for it, be his hub for information so he’s never in the dark when making decisions.
- Be Open: Be open to an extent. You don’t want to go full Liar Liar on your boss, but you should be open and honest enough to give him a broader picture of how his decisions will impact the workplace. Who knows? You might give your boss the information he needs to avoid making a costly mistake. Of course, any contrary opinions should be brought across in a matter that isn’t insulting or offensive.
- Be Truthful: You might be in a position where you’re tempted to hide a workplace mistake. Don’t. If you start lying to your boss about being late, not keeping up with your productivity expectations, losing a long-time client, etc. you can say goodbye to any amount of trust you’ve built up with your boss, and possibly your job.
3. Work Towards Adapting to Change
Change is a fact of life in today’s working world. On a larger level, industries (manufacturing is a good example) are being transformed by technology. On a smaller level, company structures, work processes, equipment, and managers may also change dramatically within a short amount of time.
As a good follower, you’ve got to fight your urge to resist change – and learn to embrace it.
Here’s what you need to do to adapt to workplace change:
- Be flexible: Change in the workplace could mean working with less (co-workers, budget, etc.), having your job scope changed, or dealing with a new boss. A good follower doesn’t remain static by focusing on the way you performed your job in the past. A good follower must be flexible and open to learning how your job will be performed in the present.
- Be knowledgeable: A person who just relies on his past experience to get by will never improve. To be a good follower, you need to continue learning new skills or sharpening your strengths so that you’re always improving your performance. That can mean reading a job-related book every month or attending a course that teaches you a useful workplace skill.
- Be optimistic: Unless you’re optimistic about change, you’re never going to be able to adapt to it. Sure, change can be tough, especially if you’ve grown used to a certain routine or way of working. But unless you adopt the positive attitude needed to make those company changes successful – change will always be a painful process, making you a poor follower with even poorer prospects for promotion.
By now, you’ve probably already seen the truth behind being a leader or a follower – that most of us play both roles. Even leaders at the highest echelon, the CEOs, have bosses that they have to answer to called the board of directors.
So before you start lamenting that you’re just a powerless peon who is being exploited by an uncaring and soulless boss, take a moment to evaluate just how good of a follower you are. If the issue really is that you have a horrible boss, then you owe it to yourself to find another employer who will value your contributions as both a follower and a future leader.
Tambako the Jaguar
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