No one ever aspires to be a follower, but they're needed more than ever in offices inundated with leaders.

Employers are slowly beginning to stress the joy of following, but it's not an easy sell. Consultants Marc and Samantha Hurwitz recently told The Wall Street Journal that employers often ask them to not use "the F-word" when they hold corporate-training programs in followership. They suggest calling it leader support instead.

However, most good leaders once excelled at being followers. So, it's important to train your employees in "followership," which does not encompass catering to your boss's every whim.

Here are three reasons why followers are needed in the workplace:  

1. Leaders often clash.

Assertive people often butt heads when working together. Adding a skillful follower to the mix can make the workplace significantly more efficient. In fact, Robert Kelley, a professor of organizational behavior at Carnegie Mellon University and author of The Power of Followership, estimates that about 70 to 90 percent of all work is completed by people in follower roles. 

This overlooked role goes beyond "managing up," which involves manipulating the boss, or just purely working well in a group. A good follower needs to think independently and take responsibility for shared goals. And sometimes that entails backing off and letting other people lead.

2. Higher ups need to be kept in check.

"Just as leaders are responsible for bringing out the best in their followers, followers are responsible for bringing out the best in their leaders," Ira Chaleff, a consultant and author of The Courageous Follower, recently told The Wall Street Journal. Followers are often deterred by their fear of being killed as the messenger, but a good approach to take is asking about the logic behind a decision, which tactfully invites the leader to reconsider. 

The art of critique is so important that airplane crew members are specifically trained to speak up if they notice a pilot making a mistake. This became a requirement after a plane crashed due to a pilot's decision to overlook the crew members' warnings about low fuel. 

3. Honest feedback sparks positive change.

It's important to foster a culture where people feel comfortable enough to speak up because the workplace can benefit as a result. When employees at Consol Energy Inc. were asked to give honest feedback to a panel of senior executives, many felt hesitant to speak their thoughts. Their suggestion about eliminating the amount of time that went into perfecting internal reports to top executive was, however, well-received and implemented.

Joint Commission, a leading hospital-accreditation organization, promotes this type of work environment by requiring surgeons to take time out before operations to ask subordinates questions about the surgery. This gives them the chance to voice their thoughts. 

Published on: Sep 30, 2015