Successful inner leaders must master two techniques: leadership and followership. Being a good leader also mean that as the situation warrants it or the needs of a follower dictate it, the leader will subordinate himself or herself to a follower. Thus, inner leaders sometimes allow followers to lead out in a given phase of a joint task. Followership places the inner leader in a collaborative partnership with other members of the work community. Subordinating their judgment to their subordinates’ is part of the inner leaders’ role and assumes that there will be situations when these leaders will lead and times when they will be called upon to follow (Carson, 2001). This is not an abdication of leadership, a passive acceptance of another’s lead, but a proactive and often courageous act of leadership. Only when the leader’s past actions have created a partnership, when the leader and the follower are united by a common sense of purpose and direction (Carson, 2001), does the leader master followership.
Followership is a fundamental skill that should be a part of any effective leadership development effort. The idea of inner leadership as service suggests that people lead because they choose to serve (follow) others. Being a leader asks us to both serve one another and to serve a higher (work-community-wide) purpose (Senge et al., 1990). Inner leaders have to lead and follow or get out of the way.
Learning the techniques of followership is a key part of inner leadership. Good leadership demands of each leader preparation, practice, hard work, and appropriate attitudes. Mastery of those leadership attributes first come as leaders see other leaders act in these ways and then model their leadership after these examples. The people inner leaders choose to model may be friends, teachers, or some one of the great present or historical hero leaders they honor by copying their behavior. Whom the leaders follow and what principles of action they emphasize determine the course of their leadership life and what kind of leaders they become.
Of course, inner leaders need to learn to follow their bosses so they can honestly teach their followers to also follow them. Acceptance of the follower role helps leaders develop the ability to respond willingly and openly to their bosses. As inner leaders accept instruction, they gain greater wisdom through observation and emulation based on acknowledgment of the skills and talents of their bosses. These actions awaken a sense of assurance that the boss is, in fact, worthwhile and someone from whom they can learn.
Good leaders accept the challenge to greatness inherent in the follower role. They are excited by the challenge and willing to subordinate external influences of peers, programs, and prestige in accepting unreservedly the follower’s program and leadership as their own. As leaders submit to the authority of coworkers whom they recognize as worthy of emulation, they open themselves and their work community to progress.
The following paragraphs describe some of the attributes, behaviors, and characteristics inner leaders acquire through their followership experiences that prepare them for effective leadership.
As they follow others, inner leaders are able to overcome routine and change their past ways of working and even the nature and character of the work they do. Following the lead of others actually changes them. They become different people as a result of acceptance of the demands of service to others. They are removed from their ordinary pursuits and become leaders and models of the highest potential in leadership.
Follower leaders get personally involved with the programs of their work communities. They immerse themselves in these programs. They become doers of the work, not just overseers of it and in this process learn more about their common work and about themselves.
Inner leaders pick outstanding people to model and follow. In this way they learn intimate details about coworkers and are better assured which coworkers are prepared to practice leadership successfully before they subject themselves to those followers’ guidance.
Inner leader followers learn to look beyond the surface reasons to see the basic nature of the situation. They learn the nature of the program or procedure but strive also to see through outward appearances and discern the character and worthiness of their associates and the ideas and practices being promulgated. Then they use this knowledge as a way to help others.
Effective inner leaders explore their own thoughts and attitudes, compare them with those of their followers, and alter their behavior as needed. They do not succumb to the temptation to rationalize.
Inner leaders in their follower role try out ideas and information received from their leaders-in-training to discern their utility in helping the work community succeed. They reject the dross and integrate the good parts to further prepare them for future work-community (and leadership) success.
Following their coworkers’ lead causes inner leaders to be more receptive to other people. They learn to treat all coworkers with equal respect and dignity. Contrary to a popular misconception, advancements in the corporation are not always based on office politics (Serven, 2002). Leadership advancement often comes out of demonstrated competence, respect for coworkers’ needs, and a desire to more fully serve coworkers and the community vision.
Followers of others learn to listen with understanding. Active listening requires leader-cum-followers to concentrate on both oral (conversational) and emotional (feelings and attitudes) levels in their communications with others (Braham, 1999). Real understanding comes as the individual is able to expand his or her capacities. Only as inner leaders accept other people as equals and come to the relationships with an open mind can they expect to learn and grow (Cashman and Burzynski, 2000).
In follower roles, inner leaders are often in a better position to find out the truth about work issues. And as they apply this truth in their actions, they gain freedom to direct the work community along desired paths. As followers, inner leaders are in a better position to seek advice from all those around them. Truth and wisdom are not always resident just in one sophisticated, experienced worker—even if that worker is the leader. They can be and often are present in almost anyone.
Following others lets inner leaders recognize that just because they have the title of leader does not make them superior to other workers. Followership teaches these leaders to accept the fact that personal maturation comes in direct proportion to one’s contribution.
Followership asks inner leaders to ignore much of the personal acclaim that might come as a result of the adoption of their ideas or plans. Followership is an exercise in humility. It challenges leaders to anonymous service. Unselfish service is the mark of the successful follower—and the successful leader in the middle of corporate action.
Followership is not constraining of independent action. Rather it is an opportunity for the inner leader to use his or her experiences, expertise, and personal capacity to actively advance the work community’s agenda.
Followers typically engage in prospering the work of the work community. And in doing this they do many things on their own initiative, things the putative leader may not have even thought of in first announcing the program and making assignments for its execution.
Being followers helps inner leaders be more conscious of their need for further training, of what they yet need to learn. They know that success in one branch of work community knowledge does not always immediately transfer to success in another.
In follower roles, inner leaders get the chance to view their special qualities and talents—and those of colleagues—as corporate assets and acquire a sense of responsibility toward their proper use. They learn to view these coworker strengths as a trust and to recognize the need to be vigorous in their use. They understand that talents not used, or improperly used, pay off for neither themselves nor their work community. Further, they come to know that life requires consistent effort. An occasional “big push” will not serve their needs or those of their community members.
Being followers lets inner leaders learn to respect others, to not ignore or belittle their fellows. They come to recognize the accomplishments of others and their dependence on the accomplishments of many as the basis for their own success. While what an individual coworker does may be important, it has greatest relevancy in context of the pioneering vision and work of all other work-community members—both present and past.
Followers find it easier—necessary—to practice the common virtues. They recognize that the work community is powerful only when they use their talents in helping others. Inner leaders learn in their follower roles to be considerate, slow to anger, and good tempered. They learn that they can manipulate the principles of human relationships only on these terms. They come to understand that their individual effectiveness depends on their character as they become free from pride, vanity, and arrogance. Then their lives change and they begin to be spiritually minded (Caill, 2000).
Inner leaders learn in their years of following the leads of others to use the qualities of personality and practice described here. It is a part of their preparation for effective leadership and a significant part of practical leadership.