Of great leaders and great followers #AskKirubi

August 4, 2014
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Chris KeyRuby

“Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them.”

John C. Maxwell

After several years of being on various Boards and heading various companies, one would think that I have mastered the art of leadership. Truth be told, I haven’t. It’s a continuous learning process and I have successfully paved way for other emerging leaders capable of leading and serving diligently to head these organizations.

Each one of us has someone we must follow or are answerable to. Even CEOs have to answer to the Board or their Shareholders, same way the President is answerable to his voters. However, what can we say about our organizational structures ran by managers/leaders who are more often than not defined by their own bureaucratic systems. Are there elements of followership that are important in their ability to become a great leader? Can majority of us say that our leaders are great followers? And can majority of our leaders say that they are great followers?

I believe that there are certain key elements of followership that must be implemented with subordinates. Incorporating such is a significant sign of a seasoned leader and vital to your ability to be a great leader.

Let me share some of the ways (through my experience) of how you can incorporate followership into leadership:

Learn to be coachable                                    

Most leaders think that they do all the ‘teaching’ but what they forget is that they too could use some learning from team members or subordinates. Be open to be coached by anyone. The best employees (leaders and subordinates) are those who can be coached to their strength and accept feedback respectfully when being corrected. They are actively trying to improve their performance and take quick action to correct. The best leaders are those who are coachable.

Learn to be approachable

Majority of leaders and managers, or ‘big shots’, do not have an open door policy. Now I really wonder what the big deal is in having your employees reach out to you or approach you. Don’t get me wrong…I am not encouraging them to keep knocking at your door addressing their pleas; you are not HR. I am talking of making them comfortable in your presence. Sometimes you need to let your guard down and I will be honest, this is something I learnt from my employees.

It really goes a long way in understanding the kind of people you work with, their strengths and weaknesses among other things. Get out there, greet them and ask them about their day, and sometimes about their concerns even though they are your adversaries. At the end of the day, everyone in the organization deserves your respect no matter where they sit. Just hope that they don’t end up ‘running away’ when you go checking on them…I’m a victim.

Listen and encourage new ideas from others

You have employed recent graduates or young people who are passionate and are constantly in the quest of seeking knowledge. These guys are always on the net discovering new ways of doing things and finding various solutions to problems. Listen well and encourage your subordinates. That is what a great leader and follower does. Recognize the fact that you do not have all the answers but someone else could have the answer, even someone younger than you. Learn to understand others’ viewpoints, inspire them and bring out the best in them.

Support others on the team

Leaders are known to associate with each other and not with the rest of the team (subordinates). A great leader and follower, supports everyone in the team.

Roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty (after all, you too are human), help others and move the team in the direction it needs to go. I sometimes sit with my Digital team to brainstorm on ideas and more often than not, they spearhead the sessions and my work is to follow. Do the same. Give others a chance and listen to what they have to say.

Let go when the fight isn’t worth it

Great leaders-followers pick their battles wisely, and more often than not they will let it go. If something is not a priority and doesn’t not affect the day to day principles or output within the organization then the battle is not worth. However, if at all it interferes with the work ethic or violation of rules then great leaders step into such battles. Be that great leader.

Know when to step back and let someone else lead

Now this is a great weakness with the older generation particularly those in political leadership and Parastatals. The world is changing and if we are to cope with these trends then we need to give opportunities to those who are better than us or those we see have great potential.

Stepping back and giving opportunity for someone else to take the lead gives you a lot of satisfaction. One feels proud when they see an employee rising to the role and leading the rest of the team either in a project or a meeting. It’s part of mentorship. You can’t always be the leader. Provide room for growth, recognize that someone else has something important to do, say or showcase; you will be shocked at the results it produces.

At the end of the day, be a role model. Teach as you learn and lead as you follow. It is very satisfying to see your team take charge and give you instructions on what to do. To be a great leader, you must be a great follower.

*Feel free to print this out for your boss/manager/leader and leave it on their desks. You can add that it’s my gift to them. Have a productive day!

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