Connect Is The New Follow

"You are my follower.” His inflection caught me off guard. Put me off a tad, too. In my mind, we had simply connected via social media.

Yes, I had clicked a button labeled follow on his page. By doing so, I committed to learning more about him, but I certainly wasn’t thinking in dictionary terms of being an adherent or devotee of a particular person, cause, or activity.

Shoot, I hardly knew the guy. The coffee meet-up was supposed to change that.

“Interesting. Could it also be said that you’re my follower? Something reciprocal?”

“No, I connected with you first. I took the lead, you followed.”

Given my fascination with power and stereotypes, what a fascinating comment. One that highlighted an outdated and misdirected mindset: the view that the leader is dominant and the follower subordinate.

The rank, authority, and blind obedience thing. Ugh. An orientation that’s ego-based, not character-based.

It’s an outlook that’s also out of step with the reality of today’s flatter, more technologically driven workplaces. As Carnegie Mellon professor Robert Kelley notes:

“Most of us are more often followers than leaders. Even when we have subordinates, we still have bosses…so followership dominates our lives and organizations, but not our thinking, because our preoccupation with leadership keeps us from considering the nature and the importance of the follower.”

Even if a boss/employee relationship does exist, taking orders and direction doesn’t automatically make someone a follower. Being a follower is a conscious choice, one rooted in managing from the mind and leading from the heart.

Kelley describes effective followers as competent, courageous, honest, and credible people who are self-directed, self-motivated, and take risks. Don’t leaders do those same things?

To me, leadership and followership are the two sides of the same coin. One can’t exist without the other, and one isn’t better than the other. I see both as intentional attitudes that require us to be self-aware and to self-regulate our actions.

12 Thing Leadership & Followership Have In Common

Both roles have many things in common:

  1. Both require us to stand up for what we believe and stand up to those who would hold us back.
  2. Neither is a status to be entered into blindly, passively, or indifferently.
  3. Neither condition is a job title. They’re roles we willingly choose to fill.
  4. Both come fully loaded with negative stereotypes and connotations to be overcome and changed.
  5. In either leading or following, we can expect days where our best efforts won’t be enough and will be under-appreciated and under-valued.
  6. Both require fluidity of thought and a willingness to practice reciprocity as we shift between filling both roles.
  7. Both require equal paradoxical focus on results and relationships, structure and consideration, and individual and team.
  8. The best of both practitioners intuitively understand that the less ego that’s involved the better.
  9. Both roles recognize the value of moral courage.
  10. Neither status is hung up on labels or categories of who should or shouldn’t take the initiative to make things so. They just do it.
  11. Both require us to practice critical thinking as well as active participation and engagement.
  12. Leading and following are both an art and a science in which we use our heads to manage and our hearts to lead.
“Increasingly, followers think of themselves as free agents, not as dependent underlings.”
~ Barbara Kellerman, Harvard's JFK School of Government

In effective leadership and followership, there’s no keeping score about who went first.