Organizational success is clearly linked to good leadership. But, what’s often forgotten is the need for good followership. Simply having followers is not sufficient. One of the things that good leaders and bad leaders have in common is that they both have followers.
Barbara Kellerman in her book, Bad Leadership, identifies reasons why people follow leaders regardless of their goodness or badness. These reasons range from having their needs met as individuals, as members of groups, or by satisfaction of their personal interests. But good followership distinguishes itself by certain traits of the followers and of the leaders. Furthermore, good leaders nurture those traits and qualities in themselves and in their followers.
In Followership: Leading Is A Skill; So Is Following, by Alden Solovy, several traits and behavior themes of good followers are identified: self-management, communication, teamwork, personal development, commitment, credibility, honesty, and courage. These behaviors and traits are linked to organizational success. Interestingly, John C. Maxwell, in The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader, leadership skills associated organizational success are consistent with critical followership skills: self-discipline, communication, servanthood, teachability, commitment, character, generosity, and courage.
Leading in the today’s difficult climate of stress and change demands that leaders pay more attention to this. One of the key leadership attributes that Woodard and Tager discuss in Leadership in Times of Stress and Change is the need for empathy: the ability to put yourself in the shoes of your followers and to really know and feel what they are going through.
These soft or people-centered skills may appear to be an inadequate substitute for outcome oriented leadership and followership behaviors – especially in an engineering culture as NASA. But it can make a real difference to outcomes and productivity during today’s turbulent times. After all, it was honesty, sincere communication and commitment of a brave little boy that helped the unclothed emperor see the leader that he needed to become.
Linda Cureton, CIO/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center