Followership, empowerment and acquiescence
The other side of the leadership coin is followership – one cannot exist without the other, but the latter is perhaps not so well explored and understood. We understand the notion that we are all called to be leaders at times, according to context, need and appropriate skills and knowledge, but recognising ourselves as followers? Does it feel great to class ourselves as a follower?
Followership is not about acquiescence; it is about empowerment. It is about recognising that you act in a space that has been carefully crafted to allow you to perform at your best, and that you have a role in shaping and building that space.
For those of us who operate in middle tier roles, what we hunger for is empowerment – we simply want to be able to get on with the job in hand, be able to use our knowledge and skills and know that we have the confidence of our formal leaders to operate with appropriate autonomy. Very often though we feel frustrated by systems, culture and leadership that we feel don’t allow us to do this.
Senior leaders will always say that they have an organisation with empowered and enabled staff – have you ever heard any CEO say anything different? They highlight the efforts they make in communications, positive management and engagement initiatives but bemoan the fact that on-one ever really steps up.
This suggests a disconnect between what is perceived on both sides. Empowerment within the follower/leader dynamic is a process with some key assumptions and actions lying beneath it:
It is a partnership between you and your boss
You must earn it through the demonstration of skill, knowledge, behaviour
You are already empowered: you simply need to believe it and act accordingly – don’t wait
Understand your boss, they have pressures and constraints
Empowerment comes with constraints and limits – understand and get comfortable with them
Empowerment doesn’t mean absence of management – but this is not a constraint, it’s part of the critical decision making process
When you are empowered it feels good. But please don’t use a perceived lack of empowerment or an awkwardness about approaching i as an excuse to sink into disgruntled acquiescence. Don’t sit there belly aching – do something about it, be a positive follower.