Fill in the Blanks: FOLLOWING from the Middle

Posted by jlubans on October 31, 2012

The word “follower” is weighed down, it seems, with an excess of negative baggage. Why the negative connotation? Maybe because our culture promotes independence above cooperation, above helping others take the lead. Peculiarly - since without followers there are no leaders - some of us regard followers not as partners of leaders but as sequacious subordinates lacking in ambition, critical thinking, perseverance, creativity, and gumption; after all they are behind the leader, they are being led. As a young worker we take pride in being called a “potential leader”. A “potential follower?” Maybe not!
My book, Leading from the Middle, is largely about following.
Indeed, “Following from the Middle”, might have been a more accurate and eye-catching title!
I equate followership with leadership. However, both of these terms describe a process, not a person. Good followership, good leadership requires a symbiotic relationship between leaders and followers. Without that symbiosis, we often have poor leadership (or followership).
Not long ago, one of my students ran across an Internet posting about leaders and followers. That posting assumes leaders are the best and followers are the worst. I’ve edited the list, taking out leader and follower and left blanks for you to complete in each of five couplets. Please answer based on your work experience. Who fits each slot? As social psychologists would have you believe, “there are no right answers.”
1. When a ________ makes a mistake, he/she says, "I was wrong;" when a ________ makes a mistake, he/she says, "It wasn't my fault."
2. A _______ works harder than a _______ and has more time; a ________ is always "too busy."
3. A ________ makes and forgets promises; a ________ makes and keeps commitments.
4. A _______ says, "I'm good, but not as good as I will be;" a _______ says, "I'm not as bad as most."
5. A _______ says, "That's the way it's always been done;"
a _______ says, "There ought to be a better way.”

I can fill in each of these blanks with either leader or follower. The terms were interchangeable based on my experience with good and bad and leaders and followers. How about you?
My point? It’s myopic to assume all leaders are brave, hard working and resourceful and that all followers are slackers, shirkers and dullards. Just as there are good and bad leaders there are good and bad followers. Good leaders cultivate and promote effective followers. Bad leaders, out of envy, often punish the effective follower and facilitate his or her departure.

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