The Fine Art of Followership
Watching geese fly overhead we can observe an incredible art of organization where one is in the lead and others follow, in a very specific pattern. When milling about on the ground, a similar pattern emerges. One bird leads, gives a signal, or begins progressing to another location and the group quickly follows. The birds communicate in some way that allows all participants in the group to understand what is expected of them in order to fulfill their role.
I am not an expert on birds, but I am an observer or nature and the real world we live in. In all the years I have watched the geese fly overhead, I have never seen other geese fighting for control or demanding to be heard. The birds successfully move and migrate in an orchestrated effort yet it is clear that only one bird is in the lead position. I have yet to see any of the geese rebel against the leader or manipulate another bird to get a better position. The birds all seem to know their place and they fulfill their role without insubordination, antagonism, or undermining of the lead bird.
Leaders in organizations are often placed in positions after earned accomplishments or they are hired in for known competencies. Once in the position, they are regularly engaged in improving their leadership skills. Leaders across the industry spectrum attend leadership seminars, read leadership books, and attend leadership workshops. In other words, leaders are constantly working on becoming better leaders and an entire industry has built up around this reality. How often, however, do you hear about employees trying to become better followers? Leaders cannot lead if others are unwilling to follow and without role clarity the group resides in a place of disorganization and chaos.
Followers have a role and a responsibility to the overall function of the organization as well. Unfortunately, rather than encouraging good followership, people are often now applauded for obstructing authority and “resistance” has become virtuous. This current reality is probably doing more damage to organizations than we realize.
We may need to revisit the value of followership and recognize the importance of it. If the geese functioned the way many people staffed organizations do, they would be flying in circles overhead with no hope for a safe winter. They would be disagreeing and attacking one other for better positions. Those without a good sense of direction might end up spending the winter in Alaska. The bird with the nasty attitude might get ditched by the rest of the bird community.
If we encourage followership skills, we may find that leaders can then be more successful and less encumbered. Surely, we can be as effective as a flock of geese.