Sometimes Followership “Trumps” Leadership

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Can I follow President Elect Donald Trump? This question has been a part of my inner dialogue ever since witnessing the shocking U.S. Presidential election results. Many of you (Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike) may be wondering the same at this time when prominent leaders from both major parties are calling for Americans to put aside their differences and bridge the deep divides created by this election cycle. Love him or hate him, our democratic process has empowered him. Now he must lead…and we Americans should do our best to follow. Yet, how do you follow a leader you do not love? I offer a few thoughts on followership for you to consider in regards to this election, and potentially apply to your workplace as well.

1.      “Follower” is not a bad word – People love leadership. We often attribute positive results to “strong leadership” and we aspire to be leaders ourselves. Yet, followers tend to be those people who are, well, not leaders. They are sometimes considered second class citizens in our social hierarchy. Cast aside such beliefs! To lead, one must first be able to follow. Furthermore, every leader, even the President, answers to stakeholders and must follow at times. Once we recognize value in good followership, we can begin to practice it.

2.      Find some faith – Good followers adopt the belief that “no one shows up to work to suck.” That is, leaders are doing their very best in any given moment. If we don’t believe intentions are well meaning, it’s hard to trust and support. Mr. Trump has the very difficult challenge of making upcoming decisions where some 50% of his constituency will likely disapprove to some extent. Good followership in these moments is having faith that he and his advisors have diligently thought through their positions and acted on what they thought was best for most Americans (given no decision is perfect nor can all stakeholder needs ever be met). Likewise, leaders in your organization are probably doing the best they can…extending faith their way enables them to better serve you.

3.      Exhibit loyalty – Leaders are often working against the status quo. In doing so, they are sticking their necks out. Leaders need to know their followers have their backs through thick and thin. Mr. Trump’s campaign inspired a loyal base, and it also alienated many. He will need to work hard to repair trust with many Americans and inspire new loyalties. Good followership under these circumstances might start with simply not being outright disloyal. Then, if sincerity, courage, humility, and competence exists, one can extend loyalty gradually. In the workplace, it’s no different. Good followership is wholeheartedly extending loyalty to leaders when it has been rightly earned, regardless if we love them or not.

4.      Appropriately Dissent – All leaders are fallible. Part of good followership is respectfully pointing out our leader’s mistakes and challenging questionable decision-making. Undoubtedly, even The Donald will make some mistakes along the way. Americans must do their best to share the negative impacts of any newly enacted policy in a productive way. The emphasis being on productive! The same goes in the workplace. Leaders need your feedback to get better. However, be tactful and exercise political savvy when challenging authority.

5.      Take action – Implementation and execution are the bread and butter of good followership. Leaders depend on the hard work of followers to make their visions a reality. President Elect Trump, like President Obama, will be challenged in getting congress’ support for his initiatives. Will enough healthy compromise take place for Democrats to exhibit good followership and support? Or will we see more obstruction and polarization? In regards to our own organizations, we have similar choices. Good followership is having a bias for action, proactively taking on the tough assignments, and ensuring removal of obstacles versus acting as one.

Only time will tell if President Trump turns out to be a good leader. One thing is certain. The burden of leadership is great and a leader’s success largely encompasses follower support. In both our personal and professional lives, we should be mindful to exhibit good followership—even in circumstances we find less than ideal. Besides…your next leadership opportunity may be right around the corner, and how you handled yourself in challenging times may prove to be your “Trump” card towards seizing it!

Note: The intent of this article is to use current events to examine good followership, not to provide a forum to debate politics. Please be respectful of this in your comments.

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