We often switch between leader and follower many times in a single day, and success in any job depends just as much on being a great follower as it does on being a great leader. Here are 10 ways to do just that:
- Seize the Initiative: Today's leader desperately needs followers that bring fresh ideas not passive worker bees waiting to be told what to do.
- Create their Own Job: When in a new job, identify quickly a quantifiable goal that you can achieve in a reasonably short amount of time. Then write up a plan for achieving that goal along with a weekly reporting process. Most importantly, present your plan before your boss asks for it. In this way, you will demonstrate that you can lead yourself.
- Be Coachable: Always be ready to learn and grow from the leaders around you. It is important to demonstrate that you are coachable and are paying attention.
- Anticipate Needs: One of the most humorous bits from the TV series M*A*S*H is Cpl. "Radar" O'Reilly consistently anticipating Col. Blake and later Col. Potter. They can barely open their mouths before Radar finishes their sentence by assuring them that whatever they are looking for is already done. Like Radar, great followers stay a step ahead of their boss by proactively asking: "If I were my boss what would I want next?"
- Learn to be a Great Communicator: If your boss ever has to ask for a status report, you are failing as a follower. Great leaders are great worriers. Great followers preempt worry by proactively communicating in writing.
- Be Goal Driven: Your boss is not paying you to "stay busy" or even to "work hard." He is paying you to strategically deliver on clearly defined goals that materially impact the mission. This is true no matter where you are on the corporate ladder.
- Show Don't Tell: Human beings are wired to value action and discount verbiage, use this trait to your advantage.
- Earn Trust: My number one goal upon taking a new job was getting my boss to relax. The sooner I earned his trust, the quicker he would spend his most valuable asset, time, worrying about something other than me. People who keep promises can be trusted. Those who don't cannot. Great followers keep promises. It is critical, especially early in your relationship with your boss, that you deliver on every commitment no matter how trivial.
- Offer Solutions: Any damn fool can turn his problems into problems for his boss. Great followers solve problems. If they cannot they always offer their boss solutions along with the problem.
- Be Compassionate: Often referred to as "managing your boss," great followers are sympathetic to the enormous pressure that leaders must endure. Great followers not only empathize but look for ways to reassure their boss that at least one person understands his pain and can be counted on to alleviate it.
As I hope you've noticed, many of the same traits I ascribe to great followers apply to great leaders. Great leaders not only acquire these traits as followers, but model them for their own subordinates. But most importantly their interchangeable nature makes my point: Just as the distinction between noble and serf is a thing of the past so are the distinctions between leaders and followers.