Organizational psychologist Don Grayson wonders what’s so wrong with being No. 2. “It seems in our culture we only have room for winners and that means leaders,” says Grayson, a consultant and part-time instructor at Alliant International University in San Diego, Calif. Grayson thinks that if you admit to being a follower, you get a bad rap. But every leader needs followers and, frankly, most people aren’t leaders. “Followers are essential to getting the job done, but for some reason we don’t seem to adequately respect that,” Grayson says.
Mitch Simon, president of the Simon Leadership Alliance, a coaching and leadership development firm, doesn’t think the term “follower” applies in today’s work force. “Follower is dead,” he says. “It’s like the word typewriter. It had a time but it has no purpose today.” Simon suggests that the people we once identified as followers are now people we call team players. “Fifty years ago, we had people who listened and followed the orders of their bosses. You weren’t asked or expected to do anything more. You took orders from the person who controlled the information, and you did what they told you to do,” he says.
Today is different. We want workers who think for themselves, make decisions, show us the best way to get jobs done. Information now flows freely, accessed by both the top executives of the company and those working for them. It gives us the chance to tap everyone’s creativity for a better company. Yet, Simon thinks both leaders and their team members need to be accountable for the relationship they develop together.
Leaders need to inspire others, communicate a vision, help others develop, hold them accountable and constantly be a model of commitment and integrity. Team members need to let their leaders know when they are not inspired or can’t clearly read the vision. They need to accept responsibility for their continuing development, make certain the leader maintains vision and integrity, and hold the leader accountable for the potential of the team. A respectful relationship between leaders and the people who work for them is essential in today’s world.