Leaders Need Great Followers: 6 Roles of Great Followers

The structure of leader and follower indicates that leaders need followers and followers need leaders. In other words, leaders not only provide support to those who follow them, but in return, followers are needed to support the leader in his quest for success. The truth is that leaders and followers are not separate entities; instead, they come together to form a dynamic relationship. This is why the statement, “there is no leader in the absence of followers” emphasizes the importance of the role of the follower.

This brings us to the question of “what role do followers have in the leader’s success?” The role of the follower can take on many functions, including improving the relationship, resisting undue influence, providing advice and coaching, and challenging flawed plans and policies. All of these are roles and others allow the follower to actively contribute to the success and effectiveness of the leader.

Some of the specific roles and behaviors exhibited by great followers that contribute to a leader’s success include the following:

  1. Be a brave follower, challenge flawed plans and proposals. – Great followers are not afraid to challenge the leader when they feel the leader is making a mistake or going the wrong way. A follower must be brave enough to speak their mind, challenge current thinking, and challenge leadership decisions they believe to be wrong or unethical. A great follower knows that one of the most important responsibilities he has to his leader is to provide accurate feedback on the leaders’ plans. By doing so, they ensure that the leader has the information necessary to make critical decisions.
  2. Support the vision of the leaders and their efforts to make the necessary changes.– Great followers support the decisions and strategies of the leaders by working cooperatively and conscientiously and extending the vision of the leaders to others throughout the organization. This helps develop trust and support between the leader and the followers. However, followers must also agree to do a credibility check on the leader. When leaders ask followers to follow their strategic direction and support their vision of a better future, followers must be willing to ask the hard question, based on past experience, can this leader be trusted and acted upon? When a follower follows someone they don’t trust, they not only risk eroding their own self-esteem, they also lower their own professional value to the organization in the process.
  3. Foster an open and honest feedback relationship – Great followers encourage the leader to provide honest feedback on their performance. This is also a way to enhance mutual trust between leader and follower. By continuing to encourage the leader to provide feedback, the follower helps develop effective coaching and performance management capabilities within the leader.
  4. Appreciate and recognize effective leadership – Everyone wants to know that their efforts are making a difference and that they are appreciated, including leaders. Great followers are comfortable expressing appreciation and offering praise when a leader achieves a major milestone, solves a critical problem, and/or accomplishes a mission-critical goal. The very act of showing appreciation and praise helps reinforce desirable and effective leadership practices. It is also a way to help create a more supportive and trusting relationship between follower and leader when done with the utmost sincerity.
  5. Openly agreed to support leadership decisions – Great followers understand the importance of showing unity and loyalty to the decisions that are made. Just as leaders have a responsibility to listen to the ideas of followers, in return, followers have a responsibility to support agreed decisions.
  6. Coaching and advising the leader upwards when appropriate – Coaching is normally seen as something that happens as part of the behavior of a leader, but followers also have the opportunity to coach leaders as part of the process of being a follower. Followers who provide helpful advice, suggestions for improvement, and insightful information to the leader provide opportunities for the leader to continually learn.

The truth of the matter is that it takes both leader and follower working together in a dynamic relationship, each clearly executing their critical role in the relationship, for effective leadership. Therefore, it is important to realize that as powerful and excellent followers, people have a great opportunity to directly create a profound effect on leadership success. And just as the process of being a great follower helps leaders grow and succeed, in most cases, followers will find that they also learn, develop, and grow along the way.

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