- Followership is controlled by individual employees and influences engagement
- Leaders should create an environment conducive to growth for followers
- Followers should not only know the "what" of tasks, but the "why" and "how"
Leadership is a buzzword; countless bestselling books, articles and blogs have been written about leadership. Courses and executive retreats dedicated to leadership training are everywhere. Yet, no one talks about the people these leaders lead. Followership is often overlooked, but it is just as important as leadership. Without engaged followers, leaders cannot be successful.
Great leaders have great followers. To unleash the power of leadership, engaged followership must be built.
Engaged Followership: Whose Responsibility Is It?
How can one build effective followership? Leaders can order followers to "change the culture," "be more engaged" or "follow my vision," but the reality is that followership ultimately depends on individual employees, as we all have free will.
Encouraging employees to own their engagement is critical for changing behaviors and transforming an organization's culture. Employees cannot solely rely on their manager to make them engaged, nor can they singlehandedly blame them for being disengaged. However, the manager is key to creating a foundation for strong followership.
Why would leaders want employees to take responsibility for their engagement? Because an organization that encourages followers to be responsible for their own engagement fosters creativity, innovation, accountability, agility and psychological safety. In fact, according to Gallup research, engaged employees are 10 times more likely than actively disengaged employees to strongly agree that they can take creative risks at work.
It's OK to try and fail. It's OK to disagree. It's OK to be you. The organizations with great followership persevere in tough times and thrive in good times.
Engaged employees are 10 times more likely than actively disengaged employees to strongly agree that they can take creative risks at work.
How can managers encourage employees to take responsibility for their own engagement and build a strong following?
Talented managers naturally know how to get their team excited and engaged. They intuitively reference and develop the 12 elements of an engaged workplace, break down barriers and know which buttons to push to energize their team.
They are there to listen, give advice and nurture employees' budding careers. These managers foster a sense of purpose. They point to the bigger picture and help employees see that their work matters.
They're more coach than boss, and they treat their employees as adults -- ultimately creating an environment that inspires individuals to own their engagement.
Punishment, Incentives and Employee Engagement
For some managers, engaging followers doesn't come naturally. These leaders often treat their employees like children and try to punish or incentivize them to get them to be more engaged and proactive. Punishment never works in the long term. It only discourages employees and undermines any efforts to get them to own their engagement. Forget building a collaborative and accountable culture with this kind of manager. Employees will keep their head down, feign engagement and eventually leave.
Punishment never works in the long run. It only discourages employees and undermines any efforts to get them to own their engagement.
Based on Gallup's most recent bestseller, It's the Manager, "a competitor needs to pay an employee over 20% more to get them to switch jobs if that employee is engaged. If an employee is disengaged, they will leave for almost any increase in salary."
Without engagement, an organization quickly becomes a revolving door.
Incentives could work if a positive habit is formed that in turn drives engagement. For example, if a manager routinely gives sincere praise to deserving team members at weekly meetings, that could encourage employees' desire to be recognized. And in turn, it could inspire employees to improve their performance -- seeking some praise of their own -- and begin to take responsibility for their engagement.
This approach, however, can backfire if the manager fails to address other workplace needs and issues. Employees often need their manager's clout, for example, to get the materials and equipment they need or to get cooperation from partners in a matrixed environment.
In this context, great leadership is more about being a champion and advocate for employees than being a boss.
Managers Determine the Environment
A staggering 70% of the variance in engagement scores among work teams can be attributed to the manager. In environments that allow employees to take charge of their own engagement, employees are not just told what to do -- they're motivated to understand the why and coached and supported in the how. That kind of culture holds employees accountable for their actions. It creates engaged followers.
Having strong followership means a manager can trust her team to keep moving forward if she needs to step away, or to openly tell her if she is veering off course. When employees work in an environment that allows them to own their engagement, they take action and don't shy away from speaking up to their leader. Conformity is not the norm in these highly engaged environments.
A staggering 70% of the variance in engagement scores among work teams can be attributed to the manager.
In turbulent times, engaged employees give their manager the benefit of the doubt. They support the inevitable changes that are part of the modern workplace. They come up with creative solutions to challenging situations and foster collaboration between groups to get the job done. This type of followership moves the organization forward.
If leaders want good followership, they need to create environments that allow employees to own their engagement. Without this fundamental element, work just becomes a check-the-box activity.