A friend passed me this CBC radio program just before I left for the leadership course a few weeks ago. I wish I would have listened to it before leaving. http://www.cbc.ca/player/
This short program talks about the relationship between leaders and followers. The researchers explain a study they conducted on guppies (tropical fish). Apparently amongst guppies there are leaders and followers. The leaders are the fish who head out into the tank in search of food. The followers are the guppies who chase around after the leaders and get their food as a result of the leader.
The researchers then separated the leaders and follower guppies. Each group had their own tank. Apparently neither group did as well as when they were together. I will admit this kind of struck me as interesting, as my instinct would have been to say the leaders would do their own thing and the followers would starve. But that’s not what happened. Apparently neither group did as well as the two of them together.
My experience in a fish tank
The course I attended has been running for around 50 years now. So lets just say they are really good at creating a great learning environment. In my observation everyone on this course is already a strong leader. I’m honoured to have spent the week with all of them.
After returning home I listened to the CBC radio program. Suddenly I just clued into what was happening at the start of the course. Think about what would happen if you take a room full of experienced leaders and give them a task to do. They lead right? The problem is we were all leading. There were no followers from what I remember.
We’d receive a challenge to over come as a group. My intuition said as a group of successful leaders it should have been easy to overcome every challenge. However, the biggest problem is no-one was following. We’d all start employing our leadership to try to move the group forward, and although there was action it didn’t move us closer to the real goal.
At one point our team seemed close to achieving an impossible goal. We were excited to think we might actually do this. Of note there were three of us sitting back looking at the situation, and we were mumbling about how it was going to fail. The curious thing is not one of us said “give it up it’s hopeless”.
Honour your followers
For a team to succeed you need leaders and followers. A leader needs to know when it’s time to lead, and equally when it’s time to follow. The problem with many leaders is they are promoted from within a team because they’re really good at what they do. (Promoting from within isn’t a problem of course)
One common pattern I’ve observed in this situation is where the leader acts from a position of knowing the work better than anyone else on the team. The reality is as soon as the leader was promoted the culture of the team changed. How work moves through the team changes, the informal leadership changes, how the followers follow the leader changes and more. It may take time for this to become obvious but it does happen.
When the leader doesn’t allow followers to step forward, it becomes much the same as the environment I was in. People just doing, no-one questioning, more blame than responsibility, and many more dysfunctions.
Leaders succeed because of the team behind them. What is happening in your organization to make following as important as leading?
Well, I have to say that just yesterday me and the scrum master team where facing the leadership no followers pattern that you mentioned, but what is revealing to me, is that we stop leading, thinking that we knew the right think to do and we follow. What make it more interesting is the fact that we are so not use to doing it (to follow), that it felts that we were cheating our own values. Amazing perspective Mike, thank you for sharing your thoughts, I have something to share tomorrow with the rest of the team.
I have always been interested in this particular question, I have always seen leaders that are not able to follow and they remain always in the same place… But last year I was lucky enough to work in a hotel with a GM and a Deputy GM that are leaders and followers at the right time. And that develops very strong work relationships among everyone. And the fact that they are humble enough to listen to everyone’s opinion and even follow their orders if it needs be, made of them very respectful people. And everything is reflected in the company as our costumer service improved 10% since they were working together for a year.