Brave Leaders Need Courageous Followers

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Last week we explored the concept of brave leaders and the qualities they display. We concluded that brave leaders need courageous followers. Some might say that this falls into the category of a BFO. Yet in discussion with leaders the term ‘follower’ is not raised all that often, our view is for so many leaders is assumed people are following.

Just why the term follower is overlooked and forgotten is an intriguing question. The statement “Always be a leader, never a follower!” has gone a long way towards creating the stigma of being a follower.

Brave leaders are aware of the irony in this statement because without followers, there are no leaders. Who would they lead? Those who become leaders were not at some time followers?

It is the quality and courage of followers that influences which of the leader’s characteristics will grow. Followers who are closest to their leaders carry a pivotal accountability; they markedly shape the tone of any leader’s tenure. Ira Chaleff in his book The Courageous Follower (1995) concluded one of the fundamentals that set courageous followers a part is followers and their leaders both orbit around a common purpose and not around the leader.

When this occurs followers are not powerless, in fact they have a considerable range of options at their disposal, whether they exercise those options depends in large part on their courage to choose and act. At the broadest level followers have five choices to consider.

Courage to Assume Responsibility

Courageous followers assume responsibility for themselves and their organisation.

While the authority to initiate action comes from the leader, the follower initiates the action required to improve situations.

Courage to Serve

Followers stay ‘tuned in’ to looking for areas where their strengths complement those of the leader and where their strengths may compensate for a leader’s weakness in a particular area.

Courageous followers stand up for their leaders and the decisions that need to be made if the organisation’s purpose is to be achieved.

They are as passionate as their leader in pursuing purpose and outcomes.

Courage to Challenge

Followers give voice to the discomfort they feel when policies, processes or behaviours conflict their sense of right. They are willing to stand up, speak out and risk conflict which is often needed in order to get the leader to examine their actions or those of others.

Followers are willing to deal with the emotions their challenges may bring from the leader or other group members.

Courage to Participate in Transformation

Courageous followers champion the need for change and become role models for the required change.

Courage to Leave

The obvious choice for a follower to leave is when leaders are ineffective or the actions are detrimental to delivery of a shared common purpose.

The second choice to leave requires more courage on the part of followers. That choice as a follower is knowing the right time to separate from their leader no matter how effective and enlightened that leader is. The reason for separating involves growth of the leader, the follower or both.

Consider which of these five choices are you, as a courageous follower, exercising right now?

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