Everywhere we look in our culture, we hear praise associated with the qualities of “leadership”. Great leaders are the ones who are bound for the highest destinations in this life, according to these messages. And they’re the ones who are most likely to attain their goals and leave an impact on the world. But a closer look reveals a few additional dimensions to these blanket statements about the glories of leadership.
First, every leader is also a follower. Everybody in this life has a boss. Even CEOs have to report to a board of directors, and the members of the board report to shareholders and customers. Second, every great leader starts out as a great follower. Before we lead anyone, we have to impress those who lead us with our ability and willingness to follow and do what we’re told.
To become a great follower, consider adopting some of the traits below. And recognize that these traits can speed our progress up the never-ending ladder of leadership.
1. When bosses say jump, great followers ask how high…for a little while. But as they master their jobs and gain a more complete understanding of the big picture, they begin to take more initiative. When the time comes, and they’ve earned the knowledge and the right to do so, they start making suggestions about what the team should do and when.
2. Great followers add to their own list of responsibilities. They learn how to create their own jobs and expand their own sphere of influence, and they do so with minimal direction.
3. Following means listening carefully when we’re coached or corrected. In order to get where we need to be, it’s necessary to put our egos aside. This means letting go of shame, resentment, excuses and other defense mechanisms that rise to the surface when we’re criticized. The goal should always be performance improvement, not pride or self-protection.
4. Great followers think ahead, and they keep the big picture and company goals in mind. They don’t just struggle to keep up with an endless list of small orders and demands.
5. Finally, great followers are those who don’t just execute orders, they anticipate them. The best way we can help our bosses reach their goals is by keeping work off their desks and doing whatever it takes to make their lives easier.
Great followers don’t stay at the bottom rung of the corporate ladder forever. In fact, they tend to zip up that ladder as if they’re on an escalator. But ironically, the ladder never ends. We always have the opportunity to look to those above us and take steps that help us move in that direction. For more ways to get ahead and stay ahead, reach out to the NC staffing and career development experts at PSU.