Blog by Anna James
I am not a natural born leader. This is what I have been telling myself ever since primary school, where all the kids would eagerly raise their hands to be team captain in a game of softball. I would stand there, raise my hand to a barely noticeable height, and then pretend to look disappointed that I wasn’t picked with the other 19 unlucky kids who weren’t given such an honour by the teacher. Secretly though, I was thrilled to not have to deal with the stress of picking teams, taking a role of authority, and taking the blame if (god forbid), my team lost. I remember thinking to myself ‘why on earth would someone want to deal with that kind of pressure?’ It just didn’t make sense to me. Over the years I have told myself, and experienced, that being a follower is just something I am better at. I don’t consider myself an uninvolved or disinterested person, but at the same time I know there are more suitable candidates than myself to be Prime Minister, or a large business owner, or even a prefect at school. However the way society tells us that we should think about leaders lets me know, in no short supply, that this should upset me and I should be striving to be different. After all – who ever achieved greatness being a follower?
We all know that being an excellent leader is often regarded in very high praise. Some of the greatest leaders we know have, with no exaggeration, changed the world. Martin Luther King Jr, Churchill, Hitler, Mandela. Whether famous or infamous, the leaders are the names we remember, the faces we recognize, and provide the lessons we learn from. But what about the faces we don’t see? The people that act as tools that sculpt these leaders to be symbols of hope, inspiration and motivation? The people that helped them get to where they are?
In generic terms, the concept of being a ‘follower’ is fairly straightforward. It is the ability to take direction, be part of a team, and deliver what is expected of you. This in itself is a particular skill set, but generally it is not one we regard with much acclaim. Why is it that we put so much emphasis on leadership? There is no denying it is important to have a leader; someone who can guide and provide vision and instruction, but at the end of the day it’s those who are following that are getting the equally important jobs done. No army ever won with just a leader, right?
If someone has a reputation as an ‘excellent leader,’ we tend to view that person with a high level of quality. However, when was the last time you heard someone say ‘wow, you sure are an excellent follower!’ …it seems like somewhat of a backhand compliment. But the fact of the matter is – followership matters. A good follower will support a leader when they are doing well, and will have the courage to stand up to a leader and tell them when they may not be doing so well. They will provide ideas, and be able to help a leader head back in the right direction if that is what is needed.
But what does this have to do with me, you ask? Let’s take it to a level we can all relate to; the workforce. Leaders and followers. Bosses and employees. The reality of life is; most employees will not end up as leaders or bosses. But every leader has also once had to be a follower. Perhaps being a good follower is, in actual fact, what makes a good leader. Assuming said leader is not a power-hungry, autocratic dictator, it is likely that he or she will understand and remember how they liked to be treated when they were followers. With a little luck, they will be able to use this in order to provide a positive, motivating and pleasant environment for his or her employees to work in. So why is it that these days, bosses seem to consistently encourage their employees to take leadership roles, or suggest leadership training courses? The reality is that there are going to be far more employees than bosses in a company, so doesn’t it make sense to nurture and develop the skills of these employees, instead of encouraging them all to strive for a position that there are only going to be a handful of anyway?
While I am never one to discourage people from aiming high and dreaming big if leadership is something they are passionate about, it seems like a waste of valuable resources to encourage leadership in all, or at least the majority of employees, when the focus should be on how to make these employees be the best they can be in their role. This will show who is naturally going to display traits of leadership. You may think that my life of being a follower may not live up to the glamour and allure that we associate with leaders; but it has also taught me that there is no way the world could function without them. My focus is doing my job (and doing it well), being part of a team, and contributing my thoughts and ideas where I know they will be valued.
However, in order to achieve this I need to know exactly how to do my job well. Whether a leader or a follower, there is something that almost everyone will agree is important in business; customer service. Customer service is something that all of us will deal with at some point, and how you treat your customers is of the utmost importance. We at Rapid Results think that by encouraging your employees to have some training in customer service, you will not only be encouraging them to shine in the role, but you will also be showing them that you are investing in the growth and development of their career.
We will be holding a Customer Service Excellence & Handling Challenging Customers course in Auckland on February 16th, 2016. This popular 1-day course is a fantastic way for your team to improve their performance in customer service skills. The day will cover a range of topics relating to customer service – from building rapport, to questioning and listening skills, to attitude and dealing with difficult customers.
For me, any opportunity that arises in which I can better myself in my role is something I welcome. Learning and up-skilling is something I am always striving for, and I have found that training courses are an enjoyable and valuable way to do this.
So here is my little pearl of wisdom to the kids in PE class who, like me when I was a youngster, don’t want to be picked when the teacher asks who wants to be team captain: ’Remember – just because you are not the face of the team, doesn’t mean you can’t be a big part of the brains behind it!’