Sometimes it can feel like leaders get all the glory. They do the planning and oversight. They are the face of the operation, and may get more of the spoils. Indeed, leaders have a tough job. But if they don't have the people to execute the plan and do it well, all that leadership is for naught. One of best TED Talks of all time is about being a great follower. In under 3 minutes, Derek Sivers explains that what makes a movement isn't the leader - it's really all about the first follower.
In the United States, the soldiers and sailors of the armed forces are elite followers - and I mean that as the highest praise. Being a good soldier is about belief in the system, a deep understanding of the steps it will take to achieve the objectives, and agreeing to put aside personal gain for the greater good. It's not an easy job.
On Memorial Day, encourage your team to look at the American soldier as an example of the strength of great followership. Here's what you can do to encourage this kind of performance in your own company:
It's tough to over-prepare. Knowledge is power, and generally, the more someone has it, the better decision they can make. When your team has the full scope of information, they can appreciate exactly how their seemingly-small role is actually a critical cog in the wheel that keeps the team moving. It also empowers the person to make good choices that help the team whenever they're faced with a decision. Finally, it builds trust between leadership and team because it demonstrates your trust in them.
2. Lead by Example
It's awfully difficult to demand a certain performance that you're not willing to perform yourself. You need to hold yourself to the same exacting standards to which you hold your team. If you expect your team to communicate with each other, demonstrate that by communicating with them.
Leaders have a lot to juggle. They have to determine the goal, design the plan to get there, and keep everyone on track. It can feel like there's barely time to gather enough information, let alone listen to individual issues and feedback. Listening to team members is absolutely critical. It can make you aware of situations that might become problems in the future, and give you the opportunity to solve them now. Soldiers may also have great ideas from their experience in the trenches that could improve processes dramatically. The more you listen, the stronger your bond with your team will be, and the better able you will be to put them in the best position for success.
4. Commend Superior Performance
Pay attention to your team. When you see someone going above and beyond, acknowledge them publicly. Your soldiers are already giving up personal gain for the greater good, so make sure you recognize their efforts. Remind them of all they're achieving and what a difference each one makes.
Sometimes accountability has a bit of a negative connotation, hinting at a punitive side that may drive away some people. In fact, accountability attracts and retains the exact type of people a leader should want. When you've been communicating well with the team, they'll understand that you're not asking them to complete a task for the power trip - they'll see how it connects to the overall objective. Make sure you hold yourself accountable, too. If you make a mistake, own up to it and correct it. Accountability breeds trust, both between leader and follower, and among the followers themselves.