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Cultivate strong followership with these 7 principles


Follow to lead small.pngIt goes without saying that organizations need exceptional leadership. Leadership, we’ve been taught, is the glue that keeps groups not just together, but on track, organized and motivated. You might imagine a pyramid, with the leader at the apex and the followers spread out below. Without followers, your organization would be nothing but a single point; it would be filled with potential yet lacking the capacity to carry out its mission.

Many organizations spend a great deal of time and money cultivating leaders. But when you think about how much more of the organization is made up of followers, it begs the question: How do we cultivate great followership?

According to Don Mercer, followership expert and author of the book Follow to Lead: The 7 Principles to Being a Great Follower, great followership is cultivated not by beating or threatening followers into submission, but rather by controlling the culture of the organization.


Below, Mercer explains how great followership is achieved across the entire organization.


Establish the right culture


From ancient times to today, “beating” followers into submission is one method that has been used and, to some degree, has achieved success. But regimes and military forces that rely on this strategy tend to crumble in crisis. It’s the same for organizations and companies: If employees perceive they’re in a similar environment, they will have no loyalty and will work only as long as it takes to find another job.


Pay and benefits tend not to be the most important factors determining employee satisfaction. More important are the organization’s culture and its mission that create satisfied and loyal employees at all levels. Thus it becomes imperative that organizations establish a culture that will support the achievement of the mission.


Companies need to understand that culture is the foundation of the organization, and that it can be controlled, maintained and even repaired in order to keep the company strong. One way to accomplish this is to cultivate great followership.


Cultivating strong followership


There will always be more followers than formal leaders in an organization. While leaders focus on managing, delegating and organizing, it’s the followers who carry out the majority of tasks. They’re the ones doing the day-to-day work, but if you compare the effort that goes into leadership versus followership education, it would seem that followers often get overlooked.

That status must be reversed if organizations want to be exceptional and leaders in their own right.


What’s most important is developing great followers so that the best leaders will emerge and organizations will thrive. To do this, they must establish a followership culture: a culture that nurtures and values followers as well and as much as it does its leaders.

Below are the seven principles that make up followership culture:

1) Instant response: Great followers should begin action immediately when assigned a task; they must complete it quickly and with quality; they should ask the leader to adjust priorities if necessary.


2) Initiative: Great followers should be self-starters; they must look for problems to solve and for new ways to accomplish the mission.


3) Imagination: Great followers should share ideas daily; they should focus on the small stuff first as it leads to larger possibilities.


4) Integrity: Great followers should be honest; they should declare mistakes immediately and tell the truth without compromise; as followers prove to be trustworthy, they will be entrusted with more.


5) Inquiry: Great followers should ask the “who, what, why, where, when and how” questions. After all, leaders look for learners and those who can teach others.


6) Inform: Great followers should keep the leader updated; there are no secrets allowed; they should share tasks and ask for input.


7) Involve: Great followers know that life and work is a team effort; they participate in the whole organization and act beyond the job description.


These principles will help cultivate the sort of followership culture that translates into success—not just for followers—but for the entire organization.


Learn more about these principles and about Mercer’s book, Follow to Lead: The 7 Principles to Being a Great Follower:

Related reading: “Why some question the role of ‘IT leader’”


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About the Author


Jillian Kurvers is a writer and editor who enjoys writing about, and using, technology. She also dabbles in social media.

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