Characteristics of Great Followers – Part Two of Two

Most Great Leaders I’ve known were once great followers. Many still are from time to time. The skills and characteristics of great followers are in many respects similar to the characteristics you’ll see in Authentic Leaders. 

In our last post we discussed characteristics possessed by great followers. This post will address 4 additional characteristics vital for genuine Followership. 

Great followers are prepared when they request the time of their leader. They know the information they need and they know the questions they need to ask to discover that information. They anticipate the questions their leader may ask of them and they are prepared to answer them. They don’t merely bring problems to their leader, they also bring possible solutions…if they haven’t already taken the initiative to handle the problems themselves. 

People who follow well don’t say yes when the answer needs to be no. They know when to push back on the leader and when to back off. They share the unvarnished truth with their leader at all times. They aren’t afraid to point out the flaws in a leader’s thinking but they do it in a thoughtful and compassionate way. They will hold their leader accountable for the things they say and do. If that surprises you then you need to know that in the strongest organizations accountability is a two-way street. 

Great followers will be better tomorrow than they are today. They seize every opportunity to learn and train themselves for success. They don’t wait to be “forced” into training. They try new things and you’ll never hear “because we’ve always done it that way” from them. They know what works and why. They know what doesn’t work and why. Great followers know that the minute they stop learning they stop growing. Great followers are always open to trying something new.

You’ll know you’re dealing with a great follower when you see someone who is willing to invest in relationships with almost anyone. They realize the value in different viewpoints and are willing to work with the best idea even if it isn’t theirs. Similar to Authentic Leaders, great followers come from great people. 

Whether you choose to be a leader or a follower you still need to make a commitment to be the best leader or follower you can be. Whether you decide to lead or follow you still have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others. 

We know leaders can make a difference but you need to know YOU can too, even as a follower. The only question is…will you?

Well?

Everybody Needs to be Somebody

I’ve met people who said they didn’t matter and they claimed to be okay with that. I think they were so afraid that they didn’t matter that they just couldn’t admit how important it was to them that they actually did matter. 

Everyone wants to matter. Everyone needs to matter. We all want to be somebody. We want to be needed. We want to make a difference. And we want others to acknowledge that we make a difference. 

Authentic Leaders invest time daily to make certain that the people they lead know they matter. People who are fortunate enough to be led by an Authentic Leader never have to wonder if they are making a difference. Authentic Leaders communicate with specificity and frequency how each of their people make a difference. 

But here’s the thing…helping other people know that they matter in the world is not only the responsibility of those in leadership positions. We can all do that for each other and we should all be doing that for each other. Seven days a week. 

Think for a moment of the person most important in your life. The singularly most important person. When was the last time you told them that? Straight up. No beating around the bush. No worrying about looking foolish. No concerns about having your motives questioned.

Just flat out told them how much they matter to you. How huge a difference they make in your life. Told them pure and simple?

Tell them now. Tell them right now. Come back and read the rest of this later if you want but stop for now so you can tell that person right this minute. Don’t let another second go by. Tell them now!

I hope you’ve had to come back to this post and are not just continuing to read. If you told someone how much they mean to you then you’ve done a good thing. But don’t stop there. 

Pay attention to those you interact with. Watch for how they matter and tell them as well. Let them know how they are making a difference in your life or the lives of others. They need to hear it and you have the opportunity to be perhaps the first person to tell them in a long time.

Hearing that you matter to someone never gets old. Knowing people see and appreciate your value is priceless.

Be more present so you can notice the value in others. Then tell them what you’ve noticed. This isn’t hard work, if you pay attention you’ll see value in everyone and you’ll make their day, maybe their year, when you tell them what you’ve noticed.

Everybody needs to be somebody. Today, this very day, someone will rise up to become somebody. Will you be the one to help them? If you are it will be one of the best days of YOUR life. 

Promises and Commitments

Is there a difference between a promise and a commitment? The short answer to that question is YES!

I’m reminded of the story of the guy who sat down to a breakfast of bacon and eggs. There were two animals involved in the production of that breakfast. The first one was a chicken who made the promise of a great tasting breakfast. The second was a pig. The pig made an absolute commitment to a fantastic breakfast. 

I am surprised, disappointed really, at how some people make promises with no real intention of keeping them. Even though they are in the minority too many people make promises and then quickly forget about them. 

That’s why Authentic Leaders don’t make promises. They make commitments. Commitments seem to carry a great deal more emotional “weight” than a mere promise. I might be naive but I think most people have the best of intentions when they make a promise. When they make a commitment however it goes beyond good intentions. Often way beyond.

I try to never ask anyone for a promise. I try to never put someone in a position where they feel the need to offer one either. But I will ask team members, colleagues and anyone I’m mentoring for a commitment. I don’t do that for my benefit, I do it for theirs.

More people honor commitments than honor promises. Especially to themselves. If you want to lose weight then stop promising yourself that you’re going to start tomorrow. Make a commitment to begin today. A sign that you’ve made a commitment rather than a mere promise is that you’ve also carved out time in your schedule to honor it. 

While a promise can quickly slip into the “afterthought” area of your brain commitments tend to remain top of mind much longer. They kind of peck away at your consciousness until they are honored. 

I feel bad when I break a promise but I, like most people, get over it rather quickly. The very few times I have failed to honor a commitment I feel terrible, for a very long time. 

If you think the difference between a promise and a commitment is semantics then stop making promises and start making commitments. Especially to yourself. You WILL see and feel a difference and you’ll accomplish more than you knew you could. 

You’ll gain greater respect from your peers, your friends and most importantly, your family. 

Promises are nice but they are as easy to break as they are to make. Commitments mean more and are more likely to happen as a result. 

Whether or not you enjoyed your breakfast doesn’t matter to the chicken. They are going to lay another egg tomorrow either way. The pig however gave (well maybe not gave) their life in pursuit of a perfect piece of bacon for you. If that’s not commitment I don’t know what it could be.

People with good intentions make promises. People of good character make commitments. Which person are you?

Keeping Score

I was recently invited to join a Saturday morning golf league. I’ve never been asked to join this type of very unique league before. What made it so unique was that they don’t keep score. Apparently not keeping score is supposed to make the game more fun. 

I know there will be people who disagree with this but I see no point to playing golf…or any sport if you’re not going to keep score. I kind of understand the people who say that very young kids should be allowed to play sports without the “pressure” of keeping score but I’m not entirely bought into the idea. 

But for adults I believe keeping score in most areas of life is essential. 

Professional sales people who don’t know their percentage of wins vs opportunities have no way of truly knowing if their approaches are effective. Companies who don’t track their market share have no idea if they are gaining or losing customers. Retailers who do not track the amount of customers entering their establishments have no clue if their marketing and advertising is working. 

The “score” is simply a reference point on your journey to ultimate success. If you don’t track what actions and tactics are working for you then you’re very likely to get lost on that journey. 

How often do you stop to check your personal success score? Do you invest time to reflect on what’s working in your life? What’s not working? 

Most everyone I talk to claims to want a better tomorrow. They seek improvement in many areas of their life. But many of them want the improvement to come without making any changes. They want to do the same thing today as they did yesterday but they want a better result. That is not very likely to happen. 

Improvement doesn’t come from making changes. Improvement comes from making the right changes and the only way to know what changes will be the right ones is to keep score. 

The “score” is your result. Measuring results informs our decisions on what we need to change in order to have that better result we seek.

One more point, when you keep score make sure you’re being honest with yourself about what’s working and what’s not. Accepting responsibility for your actions or inactions is step one on the road to improvement. 

Denial might get you down that river in Egypt but it won’t get you far on the road to success.

So…do you know your score?

I HAVE to add this very last point. Keeping score in relationships is a losing game. It’s a losing game because believing you can “win” an argument with someone is a fool’s errand. The sooner you realize that fact the sooner your relationships in life will begin to improve. Sorry for kinda tacking that on to the end of this post but I felt it had to be said. 

Expand Your Circle of Acquaintances

Remember when you were a kid, maybe even an older kid, and making friends was easy. Anyone you came across was a potential new friend. We didn’t prejudge them, heck, we didn’t even judge them after we knew them. 

Sometimes it turned out we didn’t like them so they didn’t stay friends for long. But that was determined by how we got along with them, not how they looked, dressed or talked. 

It seems like with every passing year it becomes more difficult to make new friends. Research shows most adults haven’t made a new friend in over five years. A friend is defined as someone you willingly share a good deal of time with outside of work experiencing common interests.

That lack of new and varied relationships tends to make us stale. It also makes it difficult for us to accept new concepts and thinking that is different than our own. 

When we do make new friends they tend to be people who think, talk, act, and even look like us. That just solidifies our stale thinking. 

So push yourself out of what people who know about this kind of stuff would call your comfort zone. Push yourself to strike up a conversation with people you normally wouldn’t. The opportunities to do that are limitless if you’re open to them. In line at the grocery store. Waiting at the doctors office. A networking event…speaking of networking events I’m always amazed at people who go to networking events and only talk to people they already know. Stop that!

Don’t worry about looking like a knucklehead, remember, they don’t know you so it really doesn’t matter.

Make yourself listen to different opinions. Really really listen. Then consider them. Don’t automatically dismiss them because they may be different than your own. People with “fresh” thinking are always willing to consider the possibility that they could be wrong. 

Expanding your point of view doesn’t come from knowing more people. It comes from knowing more people who are not your philosophical identical twin. 

Expand your circle of acquaintances until your next social gathering looks like a mini United Nations meeting. You’ll know more and even if your opinions haven’t changed they will be better informed opinions. 

The Balance Between Office and Remote Work

I didn’t think I’d be writing about this topic again anytime soon. I wrote a post on why companies needed to allow their people some flexibility when it comes to returning to the office. I also wrote a post on why people needed to return to the office. 

It was kind of a point / counterpoint couple of posts. I covered both sides of the issue and I was done. Or so I thought.

Except I received a ton of feedback in the form of emails, phone calls and even some hallway conversations. I’ve learned a bunch. One thing I’ve learned is that there are more than two sides to this issue. In fact, it’s not an overstatement to say that if a company has 500 employees there very well could be 500 sides to the issue. 

That makes it a wee bit complicated for companies. But as I wrote in my first post, companies need to figure it out anyway.  Especially if they hope to remain competitive when it comes to recruiting new employees. Going back “to the way it was” will not work anymore.

There is no doubt that at least some of the hesitancy to allow a flexible work schedule has to do with a misguided effort to “control” their people. Too many companies don’t yet understand how to implement the practice of “remote accountability.” That has caused problems during the pandemic. 

To assume that an organization’s leadership team could suddenly convert to remote leadership with no specific training in those skills, which are distinctly different than “in office” leadership, was a mistake often made during the core pandemic times.

Some employees clearly took advantage of the opportunity to work from home to slack off and they failed to earn their pay. They basically stole from their employers week after week. How frustrating do you think that would be for a company’s leadership team? 

That, as much as anything else, is driving companies to try and regain what they believe is control over their employees. Which is unfortunate for the people who really figured out remote work, often without a ton of support from their leaders. 

But I must say on balance right now if I had to pick a side I’d be on the side of the companies. Organizations big and small have made a much better case on why they need people in the office.

Companies are making compelling cases around the power of collaboration. Around productivity and teamwork. Companies are talking about coming together again to achieve strategic initiatives and growth goals. Their “talking points” are grounded in logic.

People have some compelling cases too. Child care issues in the short-term is a very legitimate concern. Perhaps some near term health issue would be another one. But most of the individual concerns seem to be built around the issue of convenience. Their “talking points” are sort of floating in emotion. 

I’m dumbfounded by the number of people who have told me that they had “made other plans” for the summer. Those plans didn’t include returning to the office. I’m trying not to but I just can’t stop myself from thinking those other plans might also have included doing as little work as possible. 

That by the way is something a leader trained in the skills of remote accountability could easily spot and quickly correct. Leaders need to understand that if the only place their people can be held accountable is in the office there are two possibilities. Either they aren’t leading or they have the wrong type of person in their organization.

I continue to believe the better organizations will find a way to strike a balance between full time office work and some level of work-from-home flexibility. I continue to believe the better employees will be accepting of that balance. 

As I wrote in my first post on this subject, the work from home genie is out of the bottle and no company is going to successfully force it back inside. Balance must be found. If your company made it possible for you to work from home during the pandemic then consider yourself very fortunate. There were millions of people who didn’t have that option and many of them lost their jobs completely. 

If you’re an employee who has an expectation that working from home full time will last forever then I’m sorry to tell you that except in rare cases you have some very unrealistic expectations. 

I’m as big a believer in work-life balance as you’ll find. But I also expect that sometimes work won’t be as convenient as I’d like it to be. I think that’s a much more realistic expectation. That could also be why it’s called work. 🙂

Don’t Start Unless You Have a Plan to Finish

Starting a new project or task is easy…at least when compared to finishing it. I think the vast majority of people start a project or task with the full intention of finishing it. The problem is that the road to failure is paved with those full intentions. 

You don’t need any intention of finishing what you start if you have a plan to finish it before you start.

Step one in that plan should be a decision. The decision that no matter what, the project or task will be completed. If you’ve begun looking for excuses to delay the completion of something you started do not allow yourself to start anything else until what you’re working on is complete. The longer your list of things “in process” the harder it will be to complete any of them. 

Don’t be afraid of saying NO when someone asks you to start something new. Don’t be worried about saying NO to someone who asks for your help if you already have 12 balls in the air you’re trying to juggle. 

Remember, “NO” is a complete sentence. No explanation should be required.

The plan should include what actions you will take each day to move closer to the completion of your task. Even a huge task can be divided up into doable daily tasks. If you can only afford 15-30 minutes a day towards a task you are still making progress and building momentum towards completion. 

Be sure to block that time in your calendar and neither take or make any excuses for using that time for something else. 

Be sure your first 15-30 minute block of time begins immediately. Not tomorrow, not next week, begin immediately. If you’re not sure what I mean by immediately I mean begin in the second after you have made your plan. 

Add a completion date to your plan. You need to be realistic here. You can’t allow yourself 53 years to complete a task that should take a couple of weeks of focused effort. Put a “drop dead” date on your calendar and complete the task by that date. If you don’t then that task is likely as dead as your chances of success. 

Share your plan and progress with a mentor or an accountability partner. Nothing is more helpful in completing a difficult assignment or task as having someone hold you accountable for the commitment you’ve made to get it done. 

You must know that you have the ability to finish what you start. You can create within you the discipline required to do it. You can have tremendous success in all areas of your life as a result. 

The one question that only you can answer is….will you?