Why is it time to destroy followership as a belief? I recently attended a conference where one of the speakers spoke glowingly about the need to develop “followership.” Her logic was impeccable. Give the workforce reasons to d enjoy being followers. I wanted to scream. The very idea of “followership” is demeaning and outdated. It has its roots in a day where men (primarily) assumed leadership positions because of superior education, technical skills, or birthright. There were two kinds of people in the world, leaders, and followers. Followers were inferior. Leaders were superior through education or divine placement into the social order. it’s time to destroy followership as the outdated and demeaning value that it is.
Are You Really Excited to Be a Follower?
Today, we enjoy the most highly educated workforce in humanity’s history. In many ways, technical skills of front line workers are better than their bosses. Furthermore, who in their right mind gets up in the morning, excited that are a “follower?” There are over half a billion profiles on LinkedIn. I am confident that not one of them has placed in their profile that they are a “follower” looking for a leader. In addition, millennials and the generation behind them have made it clear. They are not interested in being followers of anyone. Why should they have been taught since infancy that they are “special” and that they can change the world?
True Story: Turning Followership Around
In his book, Turn the Ship Around, Captain David Marquet tells the story of taking over command of the USS Santa Fee. A nuclear-powered attack submarine. During the first training exercise, he rudely discovered that the Navy had trained him in a leadership system that would not work. It was based on the outdated model that there are leaders and their are followers. Leaders, based on their superior position, education, or birthright tell followers what to do. He describes the impact of this model. “Psychologically for the leader, this is tremendously rewarding. It is seductive. Psychologically for most followers, this is debilitating”.
His lesson came during the ship’s first training exercise when he became the captain. He gave a command, “head two-thirds” to a subordinate. The subordinate repeated the command to his subordinate. Except this ship did not have the ability to move ahead at two-thirds. His inexperience with this specific submarine meant that he could not just give orders and expect them to be blindly carried out.
He had to design a new system on the fly, one that abolished the notion of leader-follower to a leader-leader model. In two years, this new leadership system turned the submarine from the lowest-performing ship in the fleet to the highest performance the Navy had ever seen.
Writer and speakers still talk about the need for bold and courageous leaders. I no longer believe this. The need or our day is for to create a workforce that is bold and courageous. This means the destruction of “followership.”