I’ve written two posts about following in the hope of redressing the balance on LinkedIn that’s currently vastly in favour of tips on leadership. Followers make up the majority of our human population and the professional population LinkedIn addresses, though sometimes in some contexts we lead and in others we follow.
I’ve suggested that in following we don’t always have to do what we’re told. Even in the military, and even in war, there are limits to obedience. But how we deal with uncongenial demands is important. A good follower criticises constructively, but is capable of compromise and compliance when led reasonably and openly. Sulking, sullen non-compliance is an unwise strategy. Better, if compliance is impossible, to get out of the situation entirely.
I’ve led two companies for more than twenty years – LLP Group, a regional consultancy and software reseller in Central and Eastern Europe, and systems@work, a software author specialising in professional services and expense management systems. If there is one thing I’ve learned about management it is that there aren’t any failsafe formulas.
I’ve worked extensively for international companies as a consultant and I’ve been impressed by how methodical they are in what they do – in marketing, finance, HR, and operations. When they arrived in Central and Eastern Europe in the early 1990s they brought their procedures and manuals with them. And to some extent these work, but they must always be interpreted rather than blindly followed. Standard procedures must be adapted to local contexts and cultures.
If there is one area where I’ve always seen procedures fail it is in the are of motivation. What works in Manhattan doesn’t always work in Moscow.
In my experience you must understand each of your followers individually if you’re to motivate them well. Some staff need constant attention and reassurance, even, in some cases the kind of micro-management that others abhor. Some want to belong to a well defined team, whether it’s the whole of or only part of a company, and love team-building activities, and other kinds of company jolly. Others want to be left alone and have no interest in the ‘group’. Some need public recognition, through a job title, others want more money. Some must be allowed to be creative, others just want to do what they’re told. The variations are as many as there are human beings in the world.
Leaders must be sensitive and percipient. Followers must be open both about what they want and what they don’t want. A good follower can help his or her leader by saying or showing what he or she needs. Nothing is worse than hidden resentment. Resentments so often end with terminal crises.
Some years ago I visited one of our subsidiaries and spoke to everyone in the company. There was a feeling that morale was low and I wanted to understand what was wrong. What I found was that our employees didn’t feel appreciated, and that in many cases rewards had been promised but not delivered – a car, a salary rise, a more generous bonus, a promotion. But everyone wanted something different.
If you’re a follower, think about what you want, and make it clear. Don’t demand. Ask nicely! And if something has been promised to you and not delivered, remind your leader gently. He or she may, albeit unforgivably, have simply forgotten.