It is the men behind who make the men ahead.
~ Merle Cowell
The following is a summary of a more comprehensive paper. Download the full version in pdf form here.
The Importance of Leadership
Businesses need good leadership if they are to succeed. Yet despite the key role they play in corporate life business leaders are under growing pressure. Chief Executives are being criticised for not producing desired organisational outcomes and often do not have the trust of major stakeholders.
The community perception of the failings of business leaders has been compounded by the apparent failure on the part of government, business and academia to develop the capacity for creating leaders. Notwithstanding the enormous amounts of money poured into leadership training and development by business and the community there is no established formula, system or process that guarantees leaders able to produce high quality results in all circumstances. The probe has been described as a “leadership crisis”.
Revisiting the Concept of Leadership
One approach to this leadership crisis is to revisit our established notions of leadership and to try to identify any changes to existing thinking that might lead to an increase in the effectiveness of business leaders in particular.
The dominant modern view of leadership sees leaders as special men (and only men) with the intellectual ability to see things as they are, to create values and who, by virtue of their actions, demonstrate a “fitness to rule”. In America there is a “cult of leadership” in which men like Jack Welch, Lee Iacocca and in his time Al Dunlap are lauded as messiahs working corporate miracles with little help from others.
Perhaps the time is right to ask if this “cult of leadership” is based on myths serving to obscure the true nature of leadership. It is true, for example, that Leaders contribute on the average no more than 20% to the success of organisations. Those who follow the leader achieve the remaining 80%. For most people following represents 70 to 90 percent of their lives. Most people follow more than they lead.
Surely the follower has some claim to recognition as a player in the leadership game?
There is a strong case for business to widen its vision of leadership beyond a description of the actions, skills and personal qualities of the person occupying the leadership role by paying more attention to the characteristics of those being led.
Recognising the Follower
Leadership can be seen to be a two-way interaction between those who lead and those who follow. The quality of the interaction and its outcomes depends on the ability, skills, experience and motivation of all parties and their commitment to common objectives and outcomes.
In this interactive model of leadership, leader and follower are two separate concepts, two separate roles. In a perfect world, they are complementary and not competitive roles. Both leader and follower make an active choice as to the extent to which they apply their knowledge, abilities and talents to meet the responsibilities associated with the role of leader or follower.
The greatest successes are recorded when both parties are most influenced by the forces that encourage mutual engagement and ignore or are little influenced by the forces towards mutual disengagement. At the highest level the interaction between leader and follower seems to occur with perfect mutual understanding and little or no apparent communication between the two parties. In the extreme power is the only factor which separates the position of the leader from that of the follower. Trust is the glue that binds the leader and the follower.
Emphasising the importance of follower to the leadership process is not intended to deny or downplay the significance of the leader to the achievement of team goals. Rather the intention is to raise the profile of the follower and his/her interaction with the leader to the point where the contributions of both the follower and the leader are seen as integral to team success.
A Culture of Effective Following
Organisations can foster a culture of effective following by adopting a management style based on the philosophy that successful leadership is dependent on actions of the leader, followers and the quality of their interaction.
We have developed a survey designed to assist organisations to test the extent to which their employees do understand the concept of effective following and do feel that their organisation encourages and rewards team members and leaders to behave in accordance with the principles and practices of the role. Organisations are encouraged to ask a sample of employees to complete the survey and to determine, based on the accumulated outcome, whether there are significant productivity gains awaiting them by actively endorsing and promoting effective following in the workplace.
The Survey can be downloaded from our website here.
Training will be the key to the successful introduction of effective following within an organisation. Employees, many of whom will have received some training in team working and have experience working in teams and possibly leading teams, will need to be given the opportunity to explore the concept of effective following in some depth.
We are able to offer a one-day training program to help business work to the achievement of these outcomes. The program can be presented as a self-standing course, or as a major section of a longer Leadership Development program based on the idea that leadership is an interactive process between the leader and the follower.
The full version of this paper in pdf form can be dowloaded here.