The Art of Followership – What I learned from Yoga and Business

Lot’s of material out there on Leadership.  Not as much on Followership.

Here are a couple of thoughts.

Yoga instructors, good ones, present a model and encourage you to build your own practice.  You can’t really get yoga until you get it internally.  It’s not just about perfecting a pose.  It’s about a change from within that is reflected without.

Then you get feedback, you get encourage to find your ‘edge’ to go further, try more, all the while having the personal responsibility to make the practice a thing of value you to yourself.

I used to work for American International Group.  Put aside what you believe you know about AIG from the bailout days.  The company was founded by an American living in Shanghai in the 1920’s name C.V. Starr.  In its first 80 years it had only two CEOs.  It has had five in the last six years.  When I was running the Educational Technology department for AIG’s corporate HR department, I put together an interactive history of the company and got to interview many of the company elders, people who had worked for Starr.  They all quoted a message from Starr that was identical; “Treat the company as if it were your own and you will make good decisions”.  Starr had to trust his lieutenants because of the time he lived in.  He sent them into new countries with a small amount of cash and maybe a car.  Forget email, blackberry, even phones.  His people couldn’t check in with him on every decision they made.  They might have monthly mail contact and a telex in an emergency.  Those followers, with the trust placed in them, had to internalize the ethics and vision of their leader and then become the company.  Good followers make the vision their own, just as I make my practice my own.

When I got my first job, my father told me ‘you do your job and if you find you have a free minute and no one is telling you what to do, you look around and see what needs to be done.  If you don’t see something that needs doing, grab a broom and sweep up’.  A good follower anticipates, suggests, cares about the customers as if they were his/her own (hint:they are). Responsibility is the ‘ability to respond’.  In the NYC subways there is a campaign on preventing terrorism called “if you see something, say something”.  For we followers I would say “If you see something, DO something”.  If you are in front of the customer or co-worker and a need arises, you are the one with the ‘ability to respond’.

Good Followers lead from below.  Never present a problem or issue without presenting two or more potential solutions.  Your ideas and creativity can influence outcomes just as easily as those of the leader.  Understanding the key outcomes of the organization; be it business, volunteer, family etc., allows you to apply your experience and insight to move a solution forward.  Match your outcomes with that of the organization so that your Followership can be most effective.

In today’s matrixed world, it is rare that anyone fill only a follower role.  We amble back and forth.  To my team, I am leader, to my boss I am follower.  In non-hierarchical relationships our position is fluid as well.  The key skills are problem solving and communication.  Domain knowledge can be obtained as you move from role to role, organization to organization and project to project.  Honing the skills of listening, persuading, strategizing, idea generation, developing alternative, teamwork, flexibility will enable each of us to be effective in all of the roles we occupy.

Followership is the true power skill because it is those of us with boots on the ground that actually get things done.

 

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