The principles of courageous followership have found their way into many aspects of our culture. In California, for example, The Police Officer Standards of Training have for many years included The Courageous Follower in the year long sergeant level training program.
There is now a new arrival in the application of courageous leadership and courageous followership values and strategies. Robynne Sherrill who focused her doctoral dissertation on the relationship of leaders and followers in the law enforcement community has published a workbook titled “Discussions Matter To Law Enforcement” with an accompanying facilitators guide. Roy E. Alston, Ph D and police lieutenant with the Dallas Police Department has written the foreword and , at Robynne’s invitation, I have written the postscript.
These days there is no shortage of scholarly work on followership emerging from universities. What is in short supply, however, is the creative application of research findings to real world people, groups and problems. Robynne Sherrill’s work is an important exception that is beginning to correct the imbalance. Shifting productively between the lead and follow role is an important element to healing in those communities where the social contract with law enforcement has been strained and frayed. It does not substitute for work on race and economic issues but is a vehicle for the authentic communication these need to be candid and meaningful.
As her book approached publication, Robynne wrote on Nov 17 of last year
My writing coaches, Lieutenant Roy Alston, PhD – who also wrote the foreword for my book, and best selling author, Ira Chaleff – who wrote the Postscript, have truly blessed me with their guidance and expertise.
While Robynne’s words are appreciated, it is Robynne who is blessing us with her determination to make the principles for which we each stand more accessible to law enforcement officers and communities throughout the country.
The historical moment in which we find ourselves drew me to reread Maccoby’s work. His observations are uncanny descriptions of our new national leadership.
There is general agreement that for too many years there has been dysfunctional gridlock in our national government resulting in failure to address trends that adversely affect millions of citizens. The political consequence was a tide of resentment that swept into office an outsider who has the forceful personality to break up existing patterns, offering the hope of more responsive and effective government. However, as Maccoby notes, this same personality type has the capacity to undo their own successes and lead followers down painfully destructive paths. This is very problematic in high office.
Here is Maccoby’s list of weaknesses of the productive narcissist.
Oversensitivity to criticism
Anger and put-downs
Overcompetitiveness and over control
Exaggeration and lying
Lack of self-knowledge
As you readily see, Maccoby, writing ten years ago, is frighteningly descriptive of the weaknesses of our new head of government and state.
Because of the very traits identified here, the closest followers, the senior aides working for the narcissistic leader, have little chance of helping that leader self-correct. Nevertheless, they must try. If they do, the leader will break logjams that hold unsustainable patterns in place and restore the capacity of government to productively address problems. If they don’t, the narcissistic personality will create havoc that will not be easily undone.
The best chance of getting through to the narcissist is to frame issues in light of the potential opportunities for his success, or of the potential danger for tarnishing his reputation. Many people are counting on the skill of these followers to contain the excesses of the narcissistic personality. We fervently wish you success.
A peaceful but seismic change of government occurred this weekend in Washington. The newly sworn in President chose to describe the national landscape as one of “carnage” that was difficult for many to recognize. In the midst of the uncertain course of this presidency it is important to not lose sight of the capacity of this country to reflect on its flaws and take steps to remedy them. One such step occurred this week.
This is how citizen-centric democracy works. It is how it must continue to work from the local level upwards. Those on whom we confer the authority of the state largely exercise that responsibility with care and professionalism. Nevertheless, for a multiplicity of reasons, at times that power is not optimally used and is occasionally abused. As long as we are committed to dialogue, reflection and reform we will continue to make the adjustments needed to create a more perfect imperfect union. From the local level to the national level.
Thank you to all who participated in making this timely improvement in law enforcement.
I teach a class at the Federal Executive Institute (FEI) to government managers on transforming hierarchical relationships into powerful partnerships. In the middle of the week, participants go on field trips to observe leading and following in significantly different settings than their usual work environment.
This week a number of participants in my class chose the field trip that took them to the local high school. They shared with the rest of the class their experience observing young people learning and practicing leading and following in the orchestra in which they played.
Contrary to the cultural belief that everyone is supposed to be a leader, these students understood their role in this situation as followers of the conductor. They reported that several things made this a satisfying role. The leader respected them. She listened to their input. They felt heard and respected, whether or not she accepted their suggestions.
Equally important, they were motivated by the mission – to make good music. They diligently practiced at home because they did not want to let their fellow team members down through inferior performance. In the high school setting, two musicians shared a music stand and they needed to coordinate who would turn the page when the other was playing. They practiced doing this smoothly.
Perhaps the most interesting lesson came when the government manager was invited to conduct the orchestra. The musicians recognized that their new “leader” lacked the skills of their trained conductor and compensated for this by quietly following the student in the “lead chair” who did know the music, its pacing, its variations of intensity and other elements that create a good musical performance.
This was a great example of people owning the lead and follow roles, being flexible in them and using each team member’s gifts to accomplish the highest level of performance of which the group was capable. Good lessons for managers everywhere!
The fifth “courage” in The Courageous Follower model is the courage to take an ethical stance. One of the more significant ways of taking an ethical stance is tendering one’s resignation to avoid colluding with ethically questionable behavior and to bring attention to that behavior. In US governance this option is exercised less frequently that in other systems such as Britain or Japan. Today’s resignation by the Canada’s chief statistician in protest of his agency’s loss of independence is a principled and courageous action. Click here for the full story.
Star Trek Next Generation fans know that Lieutenant Worf is a Klingon, a race of fierce warriors. Wesley Crusher was a young ensign who aspires to be accepted into Star Fleet Academy. He is about to undergo the final test which is a psychological test that will have him encounter his worst subconscious fear. Worf inquires about Wesley’s obvious distress. The exchange that follows between them is an important lesson for Wesley and for all of us.
Wesley Crusher “I thought there was nothing a Klingon warrior could fear.”
Worf: “Only fools have nothing to fear.”
Courage is not the absence of fear, it is what is needed in the face of fear
Anne Aden is an organization development specialist who performs her work through her company Wellspring Praxis. She has introduced the subject of courageous followership to high level government clients who have integrated it into their leadership development programs. I received a message from Anne today that I am proud to share.
I was just rereading your preface to Courageous Followership. This book and Intelligent Disobedience both have much to offer given the current political environment. I want to thank you again for the thoughtfulness and depth of your material. It is a reminder that we, individually and collectively, have the moral responsibility to not only respond when abuse or even suggestions of abuse arise, but to actively build the expectation and capacity to do so into the fabric of our culture. Perhaps this chapter of US history will both remind us that our veneer of civility, integrity, and compassion is thin, and serve to galvanize the generations going forward.
We are in a topsy turvy situation when our elected representatives, who are inside the establishment, must resort to civil disobedience, a tool traditionally used by those outside the establishment, in order to have their voices heard. Just as we learned that our primary voting laws and convention delegate rules need to be thoroughly reviewed and reformed, we are now seeing that so must the rules of the House (and the Senate for different reasons).
Democrats led by Rep. John Lewis staging a sit-in on the U.S. House floor, in a dramatic push for a vote on legislation to enact universal background checks on gun sales. (Courtesy of @repdonnaedwards)
When a system does not provide legitimate means for dissenting voices to be heard, let alone voices that represent a significant majority on a specific issue, eventually those voices will go outside the system, and sometimes will bring the system down. All systems must have meaningful dissent channels built into them or passionate ideas will create their own channels as we are witnessing with the sit-in on the House Floor being transmitted through the twitter app Periscope.
We saw an example of an institutionalized dissent channel earlier this week when 51 mid level employees of the US Department of State signed a dissent memo urging the Obama administration to reconsider its policy toward Syria. The use of the dissent memo may have been an embarrassment to the White House but it allows divergent views to be heard without having to leak them to a reporter in a basement garage. Dissent channels are both safety valves and self-corrective mechanisms for the system.
The House of Representatives needs to examine how it can give the minority party a sufficient voice to work within the system. If there were a way for the minority to bring an issue about which it feels passionate to the floor for debate and vote, it would not now be sitting on the floor.
Intelligent Disobedience is an act of declining to be part of a specific action deemed to be wrong within a system that is generally regarded as fair. Civil Disobedience is a protest against the unfairness of the system itself and an attempt to transform or overthrow it. It is time for both political parties in our system to sit down and rework the rules to ensure fairness regardless of which is in power. That would be a healthy institutional outcome of the chaos ensuing as this is written.
I am delighted that the Wall Street Journal is recognizing the importance of Followership. In addition to quoting my work they quote my colleagues Robert Kelley and Marc and Samantha Hurwitz who have written important books on followership and my client Brent Uken from Ernst & Young who contributed his own chapter on followership to The Art of Followership, which I co-edited. My only disappointment is in the graphics their art department chose that reinforce the outdated stereotypes of followers and do not support the message of the article.
Many offices are finding they have plenty of leaders but not enough followers. And it isn’t easy to follow well.
[…] We hear a lot of talk promoting leadership in the workplace. But few people aspire to be followers…
… Most offices are populated with too many leaders and too few followers as a result. Now, some employers are training people in “followership.” That doesn’t mean being a doormat or a docile sheep, but taking responsibility for shared goals, being a self-starter and telling leaders the awkward truth when they mess up…
… The follower role is hard for people to embrace, researchers say. Good leaders are seen as the heroes of the American workplace. Employees imbued with an “up-or-out” model of career management often assume there’s something wrong with them if they don’t aspire to leadership…
… But following doesn’t reflect innate weakness…
Following well doesn’t mean giving up all agency or supporting a boss’s every idea. Skillful followers are self-starters who think independently, notice and solve problems, help the boss meet goals and deliver criticism to higher-ups when needed…
… A key component of being a good follower is providing honest, candid feedback up the food chain, being willing to go to your boss and say, ‘I think we might be doing this wrong,’ or, ‘There might be a better way,’…
“Just as leaders are responsible for bringing out the best in their followers, followers are responsible for bringing out the best in their leaders,” says Ira Chaleff, a Huntly, Va., consultant and author of «The Courageous Follower»…
… Using diplomatic language can help. If the boss strikes out in the wrong direction, an employee might say, “Help me understand your thinking on this,” tactfully inviting the boss to reconsider,…
…About 70% to 90% of all work is done by people in follower roles,… But followers aren’t rock stars in corporate America yet. Only 362 books listed on Amazon.com focus on followers, while nearly 154,000 examine leadership…
… Interest in the topic has risen, however. Growth in work at home and other remote locations makes follower skills more important,…
… the growing use of social media, where people frequently take on the role of follower to join a discussion or obtain information, has led people to understand that “following is a critical part of any healthy, reciprocal relationship.”…
My fellow authors and remarkable Followership trainers, Marc and Samantha Hurwitz of Toronto, Canada, recently included the following in their www.flipskills.com newsletter:
A few weeks back, Marc and I were in Orlando, Florida at a conference. We did a session and had a book signing in the conference bookstore. We arrived at the bookstore nice and early, as did Marshall Goldsmith. Marshall has the #1 bestselling business book in America right now and is considered the top coach of CEO’s and executives in the world. Although we hadn’t met face to face before, Marshall had been reading our ideasletter for a few years and generously supplied an enthusiastic endorsement for our book. We were excited to connect with him, hang out, and have an opportunity to let him know how much his work has inspired us.
Marshall and I popped off to get a coffee together before the signing and had a lovely chat. As I do executive leadership and followership coaching, I was dying to ask him, “Of all the CEO’s you are coaching right now, how many are you coaching for followership rather than leadership?” Marshall looked away for a quick second, then smiled and nodded, “Four!” or about half.
Interestingly, this has been my experience, too. About half the people who come to me for leadership coaching actually need followership coaching, and sometimes, quite desperately!
Why Followership Coaching?
Like leadership, people can be good, indifferent, or simply awful at followership.
We don’t talk about followership – it can be the ‘F’-word in organizational life. Because of this, feedback, training, and mentoring of it are almost always insufficient.
Executives who only focus on leadership often derail – poor followership is the leading cause of careers going off the tracks
Good followership is empowering. It greatly improves and expands a person’s influence in an organization – more broadly, more strategically – and not just with the leader.
Bad followers devilishly suffer from the Pitchfork Effect, i.e., it doesn’t matter how good they are at everything else, poor followership is what gets noticed and taints whatever good skills they have! This is the opposite of the Halo Effect, when being good at one thing is taken as a sign of being good at everything.