Early in my career, I had a GREAT boss, Gary, who had hand-selected and developed a team of rock star leaders. It’s arguably the best corporate team I’ve ever worked on. I’m not sure how he pulled this off, but nearly every member of the team was a Box 9 succession planning candidate. He was all about developing our leadership and visioning skills, and spent many hours with us debriefing our strategies and making plans.
At one point he told us our team was “an experiment.” He claimed he “was in cahoots with HR” (you’ve got to add his deep Southern accent when you say this for full effect) to build an “All-Star Team” and then challenge them to truly collaborate and see what was possible.
Gary tragically passed away years ago, so I can’t verify whether the “experiment” was real. But whatever he did worked. It was not without turmoil, but at the end of the day, we developed a deep respect for one another, blew away results, most of us ended up in senior-level roles in a few years.
AND THEN: He Challenged Us to Be Followers
I’ll never forget the day the union went on strike. Gary pulled his cahoot experiment team into a conference room and warned us:
Here’s the deal. Each of you are going to spend the foreseeable future doing union jobs, climbing poles, driving forklifts, answering phones. Sometimes these situations can become dangerous–the union is not happy. There are a lot of smart people who have been working for months on how we should respond to this. We can’t explain it all. So for now, I don’t want you to be leaders. Until this strike is over, we don’t need your vision, we need you to step up and be the very best followers you can be.
You can learn a lot about leadership when you concentrate on improving your following skills.
My friend, a retired Baltimore City Battalion chief goes to a similar place whenever we talk about growing leaders.
Karin, yes, we need great leaders. But when the building is on fire or the drug raid is underway, you don’t need 12 great leaders. You need one solid leader and 11 highly skilled followers executing the plan.
Five Critical Follower Behaviors to Train, Develop and Encourage
Following is an undervalued competency. We seldom train or recruit for it.
And yet, there is huge ROI in training key following and collaboration skills.
If you’re an individual contributor looking to rock your role, or you’re a manager working to get your A team to A+, work to build and reinforce these five critical behaviors.
- Holding Tough Conversations: Oh, it’s hard to have a tough conversation when you’re the boss, but exponentially harder when you have no power. Equip your team with the same skills you develop in your managers for giving and receiving effective feedback. I.N.S.P.I.R.E. great communication up, down and sideways.
- Thinking Critically: The last thing you want your followers doing is following your stupid mistakes. Train your team how to evaluate nuanced circumstances, ask the right questions, and make the right call.
- Managing Time: Your team is a whirlwind of urgent requests from you, from your customers, and a bunch of crap you may not even fully understand. Help them identify the MIT (Most Important Thing) priorities and behaviors and build a system for managing their day.
- Connecting What to Why: We teach this to leaders all the time. But it works even better when you can get the whole team thinking this way. Why are we asking our customers to do this? Why am I performing this task this way? Why are we doing this thing no wants to do? Building a deeper connection between what your team is doing it to the deeper why.
- Building Trusted Peer Relationships: In a stack-ranked world, with limited resources creating trusted peer relationships is a fine art. Your team needs tools and practice–and support from you to reach out and build relationships even with the most frustrating folks in other departments.
This year, what will you do to build followership competence on your team?