The first step to leading is… following?
We live in a society focused on leadership. If you’ve ever been to the Career Center, I bet that at some point in your meeting with us, the topic of leadership came up in some capacity. It makes sense; outside of work experience, opportunities to take on leadership roles have been rated by employers as one of the top characteristics they look for in candidates. Sometimes, when this topic comes up, students feel somewhat unqualified because they don’t have leadership experience. While it’s true that not everyone gets the chance to be a leader, does that mean that you don’t gain valuable skills that are applicable to your life and work? Absolutely not! Followership, and the skills you develop while being a follower are, in many cases, just as or even more important than leadership.
What are some of these skills? Critical thinking allows you to make sense of what is being asked of you and prioritize how it will get done. Communication, empathy, and respect are integral to building the relationships necessary to collaborate in a team setting. Your sense of commitment provides you with the motivation to achieve, and your competence in your role lets you actually get it done.
Think about it; not every follower becomes a leader, but every leader had to be a follower first. In fact, in cases where individuals are simply placed in positions of power without following first, they tend to fail as leaders. Why is this? Many of the characteristics touted as those of great leaders are skills that are honed whilst being a follower—you can make a case for each quality I listed in the last paragraph! Additionally, the experience of simply being a follower gives great perspective once one becomes a leader; you can better understand the feelings of your team if you have been there, too. Without the foundation built by followership, the ability to properly lead suffers.
So, the next time you’re thinking about your positions of leadership as they relate to your career, I encourage you to think of your positions of followership, too. What skills have you gained along that journey? Where do they come in handy for your career and your life?
Of course, if you’d like to talk it through with us, we’re always here to help.
In followership, Amy
Amy Smith, Associate Director of External Relations