Everybody, regardless of official occupational title, has the ability to gain a followership that can be established through simple, intentional interactions. A follower can be considered anyone within your sphere of influence – whether that be an employee, co-worker, board member, volunteer, community member, relative, or even a friend – who has an invested interest in you and your personal or organizational mission. One important way to keep your followers positively invested in you and your organization is by implementing ways to allow these individuals to grow and succeed. A leader should be aware of both the personal and professional goals of their followers and provide their people with opportunities to accomplish these goals. This can be achieved by communicating with followers on three key concepts: Approach, Strengths, and Weaknesses. We’ll be unpacking each one individually throughout this three-part blog, but for now, sit back and enjoy the first key to setting your followers up for success.
From an organizational standpoint, one of the leading causes for individuals stepping away from their organization is the feeling of being powerless within their positions. They might make comments such as, “No one was interested in, listened to, or paid attention to my questions,” as well as, “I had no input into an important decision that affected the way I did my work.” (Posner) A leader’s role is to make their followers feel able and supply them with the tools and resources that allow them to succeed.
Larissa Fasthorse, an award winning playwright, actor, and choreographer, is a great example of how to be inclusive in the decision making of projects. Her leadership approach resembles a horizontal model, where everyone on the team is responsible for reaching a mutual decision before moving on. Larissa, although the designated leader, always makes space to listen to and apply the best idea in the room, even if that idea comes from someone in an internship role. Once a mutual decision among the team is made, it is then Larissa’s responsibility to support her team by providing them the resources for them to be successful.
When approaching a project, a leader should include everyone who will have a direct responsibility in the success of the project. Questions can be framed in many helpful ways. For instance, “How do you see your role on this project being played out?” “What skills do you hope to learn or develop during this process?” “How can I help you be successful?” This last question is perhaps the most important since it fosters a direct and healthy line of feedback between leader and follower.
Of course, It is not enough for a leader to just ask the questions. They have to follow up with what was discussed! The followers should be given the creative freedom and trust to complete their portion of the project based upon what was talked about and agreed upon within the original meeting. The leader should then check in throughout the process, not as a micromanager, but as a support. They should ensure that their followers feel confident about the quality of work they are creating and ensure that the entirety of the team is still focused on, and working towards, the same overarching goal or mission.