Organizational Flora and Fauna

Posted by jlubans on December 12, 2012

Caption: Anthropologist Richard Leakey discerning, Hamlet-like, between a Lovable Fool and an Alienated Follower (not really).

Observers of the organizational flora and fauna have developed several checklists to help us identify the species populating our workplaces.
Today, I want to look at a couple of the best and the worst, the ugly and the beautiful, the sweet and the sour, the nadir and the zenith…. I could go on, but I suspect I would lose you!

I allude to three charts that draw and quarter, literally, workplace habitues. These charts describe followers, styles of conflict resolution and “likeability”. All three have their differentiating axes and at least four categories (five for types of followers) or boxes to sort out our work colleagues. The charts (while independently developed) are highly congruent – the categories “fit” each other 95% of the time - and, importantly, give extra dimension to what might be otherwise a superficial categorization. And, they help us to identify the attributes WE may want to, if we can, develop or avoid.
Here are today’s two categories:

Alienated Follower. An alienated follower, while passive toward the leader, is an independent and critical thinker. In conflict, the alienated follower competes – It is, after all, a zero-sum power struggle to undermine and to defeat the leader. Very low cooperation. As for being likeable, the alienated follower probably fits the “competent jerk” slot, someone who has high competence but, since he is at odds with the organization’s leadership, offers few welcoming vibes. If you have to, the research shows you will consult the alienated follower but you much prefer to talk to the “lovable fool” even though the fool is regarded as marginally competent. Depending on the organization and the subtlety of the alienated individual, she may have a certain following among uncommitted staff. Because of high competence, it is difficult to be rid of the alienated follower. The one strategy that might work is "Hold your friends close, but your enemies closer." Embrace the alienated follower and use them in positive ways.

Effective Follower. An effective or “exemplary” follower is an active (not a “suck-up”) supporter of the leader. At the same time, this follower/leader demonstrates a considerable capacity for independent critical thinking and is unafraid to articulate to leaders things they would prefer not to hear. In times of conflict the effective follower asserts a collaborative and cooperative response, one that encourages discussion of several options and aims for win-win outcome. With these highly positive attributes, the effective follower is the organization’s “lovable star” performer with high competence and high likeability. Yet, research and anecdote suggests that the effective follower will be punished by the organization about half of the time. The punishment is not for incompetence but for courage.

PS. If you are in Cambridge (UK, not Massachusetts!) visit the University of Cambridge, Commonwealth Room for a copy of Leading from the Middle!

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