Tuesday 25 December 2012

Beyond Followership --> Towards Fellowship

There are times when a manager is labelled a leader by virtue of his or her position in the organisational hierarchy; however, the term manager and leader are different. A manager focuses on the activities that make up management such as planning, hiring, training etc. whereas a leader is a manager who inspires and motivates.

It is common knowledge that leaders in the corporate world cannot accomplish goals without the assistance of the people that they manage i.e. the “managees”. These “managees” become followers thereby allowing a manager to be called a leader. From the concept of follower comes the notion of
followership, which in simple terms is a mutually interdependent relationship that gives legitimacy to the leader’s ability to influence their followers (who were “managees” at one time!).

Legitimacy is based upon a follower’s assessment of a leader’s integrity, a sense of wholeness and authority (either by position or personality or knowledge) as well as the ability of the leader to create alignment on objectives/goals. In general, followership flourishes when a leader allows room for mistakes; finds opportunities to unleash creativity; rewards success; relates to the emotional needs of followers; encourages debate; provides stretch goals and objectives; celebrates achievement of stretch goals and objectives; constantly challenges the status quo in meaningful and constructive ways; constantly asks questions instead of giving answers and focuses on understanding rather than encouraging blind consensus.

Surprisingly, when I talk to many “managees” they do not realise that they have become followers. This happens because true leaders do not go around “converting” people to become followers. True leadership is not about demanding “followership” but about enabling followership. Nor is followership a term of weakness but the condition that allows for leadership to exist and gives it strength. 

As I approach the two decade mark (of working) in the corporate world, I have noticed that organisations are willing to commit a large proportion of their resources on developing leadership competencies but little investment in developing effective followership competencies. When was the last time you attended a course or got coaching on how to support your leader in the right way?

Despite the absence of a clear investment strategy by most organisations there are however, some leaders who manage to create a “fan following” through an active and reciprocal process. Let us not confuse followership with blind commitment or sycophancy or slavish obedience. It would be a calamity to label followers as "sheep" or "yes-people"; I am using the term in a more productive manner! In fact, today’s followers question their leaders and ultimately respond to leaders who create connections built on trust not connections enabled by hierarchical power.

Over time, I been involved in watching swaths of followers align towards a higher purpose. I noticed that at many times these followers were practicing something nobler than followership, something I felt was more akin to “fellowship”. I realised that these followers had converged on a common belief in their leader and organisational objectives. This coalescing force seemed to have provided the followers with a greater purpose and character. [Remember the band of misfits in the "
Lord of the Rings" who came together as a fellowship to undertake a journey of purpose!]

I am intrigued by the notion of fellowship and I am curious whether leadership research has made any progress in understanding fellowship in the corporate world.

Any input/guidance for me?


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