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In a previous post, I wrote about Seth Godin’s theory of team contributions. One level is simply called the Contributor. Here’s how Godin describes them: “Showing up and doing what you’re asked to do, keeping promises made on your behalf.”
In other words, a great follower. Michael Hyatt writes that great leaders have almost always started as followers; he goes on to say that great followers share characteristics. First, he writes, they are clear on their role. He writes, “everyone has a boss—including you. Great followers not only accept this fact, they embrace it.”
Hyatt also believes that great followers are obedient – and claims that this is also an essential leadership skills. “No one should be allowed to give orders who can’t obey orders.” He also believes that great followers are servants; they see what needs to be done – “Then they do it—joyfully, without grumbling or complaining.”
Think about how much better the world would be if our leaders took turns being followers and practicing humility – a sort of followership sabbatical. In a world filled with hubris, humility in our leaders would be like a long drink of cool, refreshing water.
The other important part of Seth Godin’s definition is keeping promises made on your behalf. That means that you even if you have not made the promise, you’re willing to honor it. We’re promising less and less these days, it seems. The concepts of oaths and commitments of honor have fallen out of fashion; we live together without committing to marriage, and less than 0.5 percent of the population has served in the armed forces, compared with more than 12 percent during World War II.
One of the things that military members feel sets them apart if their oath to serve and protect our country. No one enlists in the armed forces without explicitly saying what they are committing to do:
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
Every 18-year old who joins up takes that oath. And they mean it. Contrast that to your last staff meeting, where a colleague comments on a tight deadline: “I can’t make any promises, but I’ll give it a shot.”
Following is as hard as leading, and doesn’t come with a lot of perks. Contrary to what you may think, it takes great strength and great courage to follow. Great followers make great things possible.