Posted by Steve Botham
May 12th, 2010 | No Comments »
A very good friend was trained at Sandhurst. He took a patrol out on night manoeuvres through a dense wood - trying to avoid being discovered by the enemy. His team came to a break in the woods and had to cross a road. This was a danger point threatening the patrol with discovery - and defeat - in the exercise. He gathered his men in a ditch by the side of the road, they synchronised watches and agreed that when he signalled them they would move quickly across the road, keeping low and throw themselves in the parallel ditch. The signal came, my friend kept low, crossed the road and flung himself in the ditch, only to find the rest of his patrol were still in place where he had left them. He was a leader without followers. However clear or urgent his instructions had been he was in one place and his team were in another.
Ira Challeff created the term “followership”. As my friend’s story illustrates, it is the actions of followers that determine the success of a leader. We were fortunate enough to spend some time with Ira recently. He describes follower as a role not a personality type. We decide whether to take that role. As Ira points out people do not like to describe themselves as a follower. We may be reluctant followers, we may be compliant followers - or we may be courageous followers. Ira points to the well-chronicled failures of followers - failure to pass on important information, failure to challenge wrong decisions, failure to respond to challenges. Followers were ineffective in Enron, Andersons, Lehman Brothers - but of course, the reason for that failure is strongly linked to the leadership culture. Effective leaders engage followers, they encourage and actively enable openness and challenge. they respond positively to the bad news or the reality checks that come from further down the organisation. In turn this leads to empowered followers who have the confidence to make decisions, be proactive, be innovative - and support the success of the organisation.
In times of challenge and change it is so easy (and tempting) to revert to a command and control style of leadership. This creates compliant followers. The more courageous leader wants to tap into the passion and intelligence of their teams, to find the new and more effective ways of working, to have front line staff who can be powerful ambassadors for the organisation. Ira’s book ‘Courageous Followers’ gives a refreshing insight into the impact of leadership - it is an essential read whether you are on night manoeuvres or have bigger battles to fight in the day to day challenges of enabling organisation change.