Developers and Testers: How to Be a Good Follower
Traditionally, leadership is perceived as a key enabler to the success of any organization. History presents us with great examples of charismatic leaders like Steve Jobs, Jack Welch, and many more, who have made a phenomenal difference. Pragmatically speaking, leaders without able followers are somewhat like a well-articulated vision that never sees an end. Like leadership, followership is also a skill, but it is rarely given the importance it deserves. Followership is truly an underrated concept.
We live in an era where the idea of followership is probably limited to attracting more Twitter followers, but there is obviously more to it than meets the eye. Simply put, followership is the capacity of an individual to actively follow a leader. In an autocratic world, followership would mean do as I say, but in a knowledge industry like information technology, which is more participative in nature, followership means much more than being a robot who just follows instructions.
What makes a good follower? Robert Kelley, who is credited with the emergence of followership, suggests that effective followers have four attributes:
Self-Management: It refers to skills and strategies by which individuals can effectively direct their own activities toward achieving objectives. It includes effective time management, critical thinking skills, and more importantly, working independently without supervision. Good followers understand the expectations of the leaders and often anticipate well to deliver the same without being asked.
Competence: Competence refers to a possession of skills and knowledge necessary to do a job. In a knowledge industry like software engineering, a person does not even qualify as a follower if he doesn’t have necessary competence. Good followers are not only competent but also help make others in the team competent too.
Commitment: In his book The Professional Subroto Bagchi says, "The quality to do what you have said you will do, in the time you have committed to must be applied to the smallest of tasks in your life. Without it, you not only disrespect others, you disrespect yourself." This forms the essence of commitment.
Good followers understand the vision and corresponding goals, and more importantly, they have the ability to get things done. They are initiators who tend to walk an extra mile and that eventually helps to develop trust with the leader.
Courage: Courage is the willingness to confront fear, uncertainty, or intimidation. Good followers are courageous, which means that they don’t fear speaking up when they need to and even politely confronting the leader when it is in the best interest of the organization. They have impeccable credibility.
Good followers also have other traits: They do not hesitate to praise their peers in public, to demonstrate integrity, and are balanced in appraising themselves, among other traits.
Leadership is externally focused; followership is more inwardly focused. Good followers are great self-leaders. In a sense, most employees don a dual hat of leader and follower in a given role, and a better focus on being a good follower will make better leaders for tomorrow.
Software professionals—developers and testers—need to practice the their followership skiils in order to become better leaders.
Do you agree?