In 2013 I was honoured to be approached – I was going to say headhunted but perhaps that’s a bit self-indulgent – to provide a service to schools via a homelessness charity whereby I would train teenagers in (essentially) the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens. It was a Win-Win-Win for trainers, the charity and the schools involved and it was through them I enjoyed teaching a hall of 106 13-year-olds in one go.
I no longer fear crowds.
Anyhow, despite the headhuntedness, there was a selection process in which prospective trainers would give a lesson (tick), be interviewed (tick) and socialise with other people (tick). But the source of this article was the result of a round-table exercise the applicants underwent, where we discussed how we would focus on teaching the children leadership. So me being em, I took a tangential view.
I said (and I paraphrase) “It’s laudable that we teach children how to lead themselves and other people, but what about the less able kids who may never be in charge of anything? Why don’t we also teach them how to be great followers?”
I got the gig.
Leadership has become a buzzword for hierarchical management. One LinkedIn correspondent said it all when he described how administration became management became ‘leadership’ – all while teaching exactly the same ‘stuff’. It was only a slight exaggeration. Today I read about ‘leadership in a remote environment’ as an opportunistic (?) take on the magic word, but it essentially meant ‘how do we manage the production of what we produce, remotely?’ Management.
But there are books on another, related subject – Followership. They are rare and, oddly, can be very expensive.
But that’s missing a trick because once you strip away the layers of leadership, everyone else is a Follower to varying degrees. And that subject doesn’t get the level of attention it deserves.
In my training of the 106 kids from a relatively poor area of Wales, some of them expressed what ‘we professionals’ might mis-interpret as a lack of ambition. They wanted to be mechanics, taxi-drivers, and the like. Albeit their ambisions may change up a gear as they aged, instead of planting in them some long-distant dream, I just said this.
“Whatever you want to be and do, just be or do the best that you can while you’re doing it. Work hard for your bosses and enjoy what you do.” Followership, in a nutshell.
Of course, when new employees are trained they are often given the pep talk and the warning chat. I think it would be better if they were educated about what they were doing in the context of those they served, with imagination used to identify stakeholders outside the organisation as well as within. We’ve all heard the story about the bricklayer ‘building the cathedral’, but how often is that translated into the average workplace?
Incidentally, why is the Labour Party having a dig at the expression ‘low-skilled worker’? What is wrong with having a low level of skill if what you are doing has a noble purpose and provides value to others beyond your activity? A streetsweeper is ‘low-skilled’ but imagine if he wasn’t there doing his best for us? A low-skilled care worker changing your Nan’s bed – valuable and noble work. Noble service does not necessarily require high pay. And high-paid people are not necessarily providing noble service.
It’s about time we showed as much appreciation those who follow rather than just those who lead – because without followers, what would the leaders actually be for?
For more on the subject of Followership, I write about that very subject in my book, The Three Resolutions, available at Amazon now.