Tuesday, February 01, 2011


Thoughts on Leadership and Followership in Corporate America

Over the last seven years of blogging, I have been careful to not use the words leadership and management interchangeably unlike many in large enterprises and have always stated that leadership requires followership and not just abstract authority. Today, I will revisit the notion of followership and how it can be both a best and worst practice...

At The Hartford, I would frequently executives wax loquacious on the importance of leadership. When I was less mature, I found these speeches highly motivating, but now understand that the real message they're conveying has more to do with followership than leadership.

Executives in corporate America are encouraged to instill an ethic of followership in the organizations they manage.The leader, as they see it, is an elite, and the great mass of (unwashed) workers is supposed to follow that elite. The challenge with an ethic of followership is that it makes leading the exclusive domain of the anointed elite.

For a moment, compare the companies that are growing in a down economy to those who are slicing jobs, have declining morale and otherwise are mediocre at best. What you may find as a difference is that the great companies have no ethic of followership at all. Think about your current organization and then compare its leadership approaches to that of Google or Apple and maybe you will see something that you didn't before.

I am not saying that the top organizations don't have followership, but I am saying that the top organizations do not have innate followers. In such companies, leadership is everybody's business and following someone who's got the inspiration of the moment is also everybody's business.

The best of corporations understand that leadership is a rotating function, not something for the anointed few. They also equally understand that followership should be harnessed and not turned into a worst practice.

Leadership is not restricted to acting only downward along the lines of organizational authority. The bread and butter acts of leadership that makes companies healthy involve people leading their bosses, leading their peers, leading those in peer organizations and so on all without being granted the official power to do what they're doing.

Enrolling someone who is distinctly outside the scope of your official power base is what constitutes real leadership...

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