Leading and Following

[Post by Chuck Krugh, September 23, 2022]

Most of the time when scholars and experts discuss leadership, they focus on the development of leaders and how leaders interact with the people they are leading. However, all leaders have “bosses.” Some bosses can be front-line supervisors; others are managers, directors, vice presidents, presidents, CEOs or customers. How you as a leader interact with your boss defines the type of leader you are. The most effective leaders are good followers.

So what does it mean to be a good follower? I would guess you haven’t spent much time thinking about it. Let’s explore what I mean about being a good follower.

Learning to follow effectively means being supportive of your boss. If you think about the responsibility that you have as a leader, your boss has even more responsibility than you do. When you help your boss handle their responsibilities, you are supporting them. This doesn’t mean taking on more responsibility. The more effectively you manage your responsibility and the better your team performs, you are actively relieving your boss from having to devote energy and time on that portion of their responsibilities; you are allowing your boss to focus on other areas that demand attention.

When you manage your responsibility, you are helping your boss become more successful. I always want my boss to be successful. That’s part of being on a winning team—and I like to win! (As some of you know, I really hate losing.)

Following, however, does not mean blindly doing what your boss says to do. More often than not, you and your boss are generally aligned in the daily/weekly tasks that it takes to build a ship. Sometimes, though, you reach a point where you disagree with the direction given. It is OK to disagree as long as you both handle the disagreement in the right way.

I have told people who work for me that we can certainly disagree, and―most certainly―I’m not always right. Effective leaders will take into consideration what their team is telling them. I have learned over time that if someone is passionate enough to confront me, then there must be some significance to what they are saying. It comes back to how you handle it.

The best way to handle this kind of situation is to have an adult conversation in an office—usually with the door closed. In that safe space, you should be free to say what’s on your mind, express your reasons for disagreeing and find a path forward. If you have the conversation and the direction changes, then good for you in bringing your points up to your boss. At the same, if the leader decides to stay on the original path, then you have had the opportunity to express yourself and can move forward.

Being a good follower means that you can disagree but still move forward in cases where you don’t agree. Time will tell who is right, but you cannot lose focus on the tasks before you because of a disagreement. Close ranks on the job and get it done!

This is the last blog post related to leadership as it relates to the Standing Apart blog post on August 26, 2022. Next week’s blog will explore one of my favorite topics–Can-do attitude!

President, General Dynamics Bath Iron Works

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