Followship: The Secret to Leadership Success

MindSet has long stressed the importance – and even the obligation – of leaders making a genuine commitment to the success of their employees, and we often challenge our clients to embrace the audacious goal of seeing to it that every employee has the opportunity to work for a first-class supervisor.  But today we want to address the often overlooked other side of the coin, i.e., the obligation of employees to be a good follower and ensure their leadership success.

As much as great supervisors should be genuinely committed to the success of their employees at work and in life, employees should be no less committed to actively supporting the success of their supervisor.  In fact, MindSet stresses that one of the worst patterns we can see in any work setting is a situation where a supervisor is working harder to make their employee a success than the employee is working to make their supervisor happy.  We call this MindSet, What’s Wrong with this Picture?  There is no reason to make this dynamic complicated: employees should ask what expectations their supervisor has for them and then work hard to exceed those expectations every day.

But meeting performance expectations is not enough.  A good supervisor is deserving of your active support when he or she needs it most – and that will be when things are hard.  Leaders often have to make calls based on probability, meaning that sometimes even the best decisions will not work out the way we expect.  It is at those moments when we will see a clear distinction between a good follower and a chronic, pain-in-the-butt, second-guesser.  The great follower will show up with only one question, “What can I do to help?

Perhaps the most difficult, but also the most important, time to actively support your supervisor is when he or she takes steps to hold accountable one of your colleagues who is failing to meet reasonable work standards.  In such circumstances, it is common that the poor performer will claim victimhood and suggest the supervisor is treating them unfairly.  That is when it is important that you not turn into either a Zombie or a Coward.  Zombies simply ignore the situation, saying “it’s not my problem – that’s the supervisor’s role.”  Cowards know that they should speak up and say something in support of the supervisor, but they’re too fearful, so they hide in the shadows and remain mute.

We get closer to a workplace nirvana when we have supervisors who are absolutely committed to the success of their employees, and couple that with employees who make an equally deep commitment to help their leadership success.

If you are fortunate enough to have a supervisor who is genuinely committed to the pursuit of excellence and to helping you grow as a person and as an employee, make sure you repay that supervisor by giving him or her your loyalty, trust, and support – particularly when that support is needed most.