Followership: The Other Side of Leadership

These days we have increased interest in Leadership and its development. Almost every organization wants to improve and nurture this capability within its participants.

I believe that there is a more practical truth in the other way around. We can call this idea – ‘Followership’.

A Leader Without Followers

We demand initiative, responsibility from almost everyone. We ask everyone to own it up, to forward – to lead. But who is a leader without the followers? What is the purpose of leadership, without having none to lead?

We do need people who would conform and do the tasks assigned to them. No, we shouldn’t be all blind followers of orders, but I suggest there needs to be level of enough understanding of our tasks and its fitting into the big picture of it before we could resist taking orders. We need to appreciate its existence in the first place and then get a first hand experience of actually accomplishing the task and then take the liberty to reflect upon its outcome.

Here comes that follower.

  • He does his work for the sake of work.
  • He doesn’t over-identify himself with it.
  • He is detached.
  • He knows he is not his job description, but never does he fails to accomplish the tasks given to him.
  • He has the commitment and drive to help him complete the task
  • He is keen on delivering the best quality work.
  • He takes responsibility for the job and could see the big picture of what it could mean.
  • He moves on.*

He doesn’t consider any job as menial; he doesn’t think that he is better than his job or that he deserves better.

He takes his job at hand as a duty to be performed as citizen of the company, as a contributing member of the society. So he gets paid. He does take his pay, so as to take care of his physical needs, to run his household.

But that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t love his job that he is doing it mechanically or he is doing it for the sake of money. He has in fact chosen his job, for the love of it. Agreed it wasn’t a perfect marriage, but he strives on to achieve that perfection. He sharpens himself against the demands of his job. He moves on.

Being a Pro

Steven Pressfield calls this as being a ‘Professional’. The detachment is a magnificent twist in his definition though it’s not implicitly stated by him. I find it resonating with the ancient wisdom of India. He himself refers to Bhagvat Gita,

‘Do your work and there it ends!’

The Eastern mind asks you to give your all for the cause, for that higher goal, but do not expect a success from it. ‘Do your work and it ends there’; ‘Ask nothing, want nothing in return’; ‘Give, do not wait to be given’.

Swami Vivekananda goes on even criticizing that we are having a mind of trader; to buy and to sell; to give and to take. But he asks us to just give, it may come back to us thousand folds greater. But that shouldn’t be our expectation. We should just give our best.

Detachment and Equanimity: A Paradox

This mentality I believe will give us the magnanimity not to feel cheated or have high hopes, rather give us even headedness to accept and treat victory and failure alike. This equanimity itself will give us that necessary detachment from our work and reduce our anxiety towards performing. In fact, Swami Vivekananda actually says that this detachment will in fact make us better performers and increase the quality of our work. Though it sounds like a paradox, it isn’t it.

We need such followers, we need such yogis of work – who get their job done well. In the process, I believe we are making this world a little more better and a little more beautiful.

* – The pronoun ‘he’ is used for convenience than to denote gender bias. Please don’t feel offended by its usage.

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