To Be A Leader, You Must Learn How to Be a Follower
As Leaders of Leaders we have our two leadership tables. The one we sit on as team leader and the one we sit on as a team member. It is making visible and developing the attributes sitting at the table as a team member that is the biggest leverage point in your organisation leadership training – for the individuals and for the organisational success.
CEO’s believe talent short supply is already an issue and is worsening, which is a barrier to innovation and achieving strategic imperatives. Work being redefined furthers the complexity as organisations have to develop or hire skills not currently in the core operations. Strategy execution is increasingly about forming teams of different shapes, integrating different skills and profiles, collaborating. It is a red flag where CEOs or HR Executives do not have this central to the people strategy supporting their Organisational Strategy.
For Leaders, this means they will increasingly play roles supporting others, not only the titled Leader, also team member colleagues with skill and knowledge gaps or very different skills to their own.
It’s not your titled leadership, it’s your team builder role, when you are not the team leader that amplifies impact.
Let’s imagine a couple of scenes.
This one is common even in reasonable performing settings, where the leadership group come together for key meetings, then disperse back to their office or team to “get things done” before the next review point. All the responsibility to connect-the-dots intellectually or pick the gaps of emotional engagement are with the titled Leader of the group.
As the Leader at the table, most of us would like to think that we do a good job of this. After all that is the role and the focus of most leadership development.
The increasing number of organisations being challenged and cases of dramatic disruptions when we look back over recent decades, along with the alarmingly low levels of positive engagement in most organisations that we have discussed previously put that into question. However, let’s put that to one side at the moment.
A new-to-industry, organisation, or novice titled leader is an increasing part of the landscape. Factors we see around us include Industry convergence as technology reshapes work and markets, organisations turning over leaders in turbulent and changing times, major generational changeovers that are part of the demographic shifts.
At this leadership table who really builds the team? Who really transfers the impact across the organisation?
There is the unsung part of being a Leader on a Leadership Team. The team builder, when you are not the Team Leader. Some call this “followership”, however that seems to have a passive connotation. The role when practiced most effectively is intentional, active, and inspiring.
There is a shift in mindset for the dynamic on a Leadership Team, seeing yourself as a creator of the environment for other’s success, more than as a highly professional colleague doing our bit.
I was already well into my early Executive career the first time I had experienced generous and powerful ‘followership’. I had already had the good fortune of generous Mentors and support in delivering significant step change in performance. In this case, I was the titled Leader at the table in a turnaround period of a large, complex and long-standing organisation.
We could not have achieved what we did without the intentional and active leadership around that team. Not only were they inspiring to their teams they were inspiring to me and their colleagues. John translated our ‘management speak’ and took us to obscure meetings and work areas so that our message resonated with all parts of the organisation. Simon role modelled a level of engagement and technical problem solving that I could point to, but it was his demonstration that was the base for transferring this at pace. Around that leadership table myself and others new to the industry were given space and support to get up the learning curve.
“Not finance. Not strategy. And not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.”
– Patrick Lencioni
To dial up being a team builder, when you are not the team leader the key lessons from “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni are a useful guide.
- Trust Each Other
- Master the Art of Disagreement
- Fully Commit to an Agreed Plan of Action
- Hold Yourself and Others Accountable for that Plan
- There’s No “I” in Team: Focus on the Collective Result
To that, we can add take it upon yourself to nurture the leadership of others, particularly those that lead you and lead beside you.
Rob Asghar captured this as “Stop being a consumer and start being a producer. Don’t see yourself as an impatient judge of talent, only able to be satisfied by the very best. See yourself as a scout, producer, and nurturer of talent that others might overlook.”.