Debunking Common Fallacies On Followership

There is a widespread belief that a company's success is primarily attributed to the charisma and capabilities of its leader. Consequently, there is a considerable emphasis on identifying the qualities of great leaders and devising strategies for recruiting and retaining potential leaders to steer organizations. The fashion industry, in particular, exemplifies this belief by frequently rotating creative directors, especially when sales performance declines. However, leadership alone, without willing and proactive followers, amounts to little. Unfortunately, followership receives significantly less attention than leadership, creating a gap in organizational understanding. Many entities struggle to grasp that nurturing effective followership is as crucial a strategy as addressing leadership gaps during performance declines. Several misconceptions about effective followership hinder management from reevaluating their company training strategy in fostering this essential aspect.

Misconception 1: Followership is "Do as You're Told"
The confusion between management and leadership contributes to the misconception that company guideline orientation, operations, and skills training are sufficient for building an efficient team. Rational individuals grasp the necessity of voluntarily adhering to rules within a formal contract and understand the consequences of non-compliance. However, individuals may resist having their values, meanings, moods, and orientations managed. This is where leadership, not management, becomes crucial in helping individuals align their identities and values with their roles at work. To achieve this, individuals must be guided to develop mindset skills that enhance greater self-awareness. A self-aware individual is more likely to handle dissonances between their work role and intrinsic values effectively, fostering trust and cooperation. Yet, the misconception persists that building self-awareness is solely a trait for leadership, leading to the next misconception on followership.

Misconception 2: Effective Followership Erodes Order
When cultivating followership, the organization aims to develop individuals who are well-balanced and responsible, proactive, and confident in the value they bring to the organization. Ideally, effective followers can operate independently in the absence of direct leadership. This concept of followership might initially appear threatening to managers. If fostering effective followership encourages self-governance among individuals, wouldn't that risk undermining established rules and order within the organization? Managers, therefore, may hesitate to embrace this approach. However, the benefits of effective followership outweigh these concerns; it does not eliminate the need for leadership but rather empowers managers to oversee progress and change more effectively.

Misconception 3: Fostering Followership Is Ostensibly Empowering Individuals But Conditioning Mindsets In Reality
I recall sharing my experience of introducing coaching into 72 Smalldive's work training programs to promote followership. Some questioned if these programs were subtly trying to shape mindsets. A training initiative fostering effective followership should aim to cultivate greater self-awareness. The potential long-term impact might involve individuals outgrowing their roles, and seeking new opportunities. This could be an unspoken reason why our emphasis on self-awareness is often limited to leadership roles. The concept of "quiet quitting" underscores that, despite company perks and motivational slogans, individuals won't let formal rules dictate their feelings, values, and identities. Any attempt to cynically influence individual mindsets by employers is likely to falter from day one.

Misconception 4: To Foster Effective Followership, A Rigorous Interview Process Suffices
Selecting the "right" individuals is undeniably a critical aspect of constructing a team of effective followers. However, organizations must not stop their effort to foster effective followership in the hiring process. While certain tools facilitate identifying individuals' fit, evaluating a person's character and motivations can be more challenging than assessing their potential contributions during interviews. Achieving “on-point” hiring is often elusive. However, onboarding the newly hired individuals with personal development and mindset training may inspire them toward greater followership.

Leadership thrives on willing followers, therefore cultivating awareness in followers is crucial for them to understand their role and purpose in assigned tasks. In a 2019 study by MetLife, 88% of employees expressing a strong sense of purpose also reported high job satisfaction. Uninspired employees, on the other hand, are prone to premature departure or may merely coast through their tasks as highlighted by Brian Creely who coined the buzzword “quiet quitting”. The above fallacies would only lead business owners and managers to overlook a vital human aspect of enabling employees to thrive and thereby reduce work collaboration to a mere hierarchical process of planning, controlling, and staffing.

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