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It's About Behavior, Not Position!

Why Shared Leader/Follower Behaviors Need to be Trained Now

Following While Leading – Yes, both happen at the same time.


In many organizations there are those who must lead and follow at the same time. In some smaller, medium and especially in large organizations, there are a myriad of classifications who must exercise great leadership and effective followership behaviors at the same time. The typical position classifications can vary depending on the specific organizational structure and industry or vary across different organizations, and some organizations may have additional or unique position classifications based on their industry or specific needs. In considering these positions, Let's take a look at who is primarily just a leader or primarily just a follower, and then which ones are leading and following at the same time.


Who is Primarily Leading?

Leaders and followers operating independently

Except for elected officials and a few other anomalies in society, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is the highest-ranking executive in the organization and is responsible for making strategic decisions, setting the company's vision and goals, and overseeing overall operations. The CEO may respond to or be report to a board, however, frequently the board allows the CEO the autonomy of leading the organization. This is one of the positions which is primarily leading, however almost all other positions in the C-Suite do both leading and following at the same time.


Who is Primarily Following?


Staff, front-line, or entry-level positions are non- supervisorial or managerial roles that focus on carrying out specific tasks or supporting the work of higher-level positions. Frequently, this is the largest group of employees in an organization. However, within this group of employees, there may be designated leads or trainers to help the new employees learn their roles, tasks, and performance criteria. Even within this group there can be shop stewards, and informal leaders.


Who Must Lead and Follow at The Same Time?


In almost every organization with multiple levels of organizational responsibility, the majority of middle managers are required to lead and follow simultaneously. Even C-suite employees are primarily leading and following in the same behaviors. In the C-suite positions, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the organization and often work closely with the CEO and other executives to implement strategies, improve efficiency, and ensure smooth functioning of the company. The Chief Financial Officer (CFO) oversees the financial activities of the organization and are responsible for financial planning, budgeting, financial reporting, and managing financial risks, in conjunction with and following the direction of the CEO. The Chief Information Officer (CIO) is responsible for the organization's technology and information systems. They oversee the development and implementation of technology strategies, manage IT infrastructure, and ensure data security also following the CEO’s direction. All these positions are leaders, but they are also followers, in that they lead the department based on the strategy, direction, vision, mission, etc., determined by the CEO.


We find the next level of management positions being that of Presidents, Vice Presidents (VP’s) who are senior executives who head specific areas or divisions within the organization. They often have responsibilities such as sales, marketing, operations, human resources, finance, or other functional areas. These people are the leaders in their areas or divisions, yet they follow the directions of the C-Suite officers. Directors are typically responsible for managing specific departments or functions within the organization. They oversee teams and ensure that departmental goals and objectives are met. These people are also following the directions of the CEO but are considered the leader within their departments. Managers are responsible for supervising a team or a group of employees. They provide guidance, allocate resources, set goals, and monitor performance within their respective areas. Supervisors oversee the work of a group of employees or a specific unit. They provide day-to-day direction, assign tasks, and ensure that work is completed effectively and efficiently. Team leads are responsible for leading a specific team or group of individuals within a department. They coordinate activities, provide guidance, and serve as a point of contact between team members and higher-level management. In all the positions were the majority are leading and following at the same time, we need to consider why it is important for them to have shared behaviors.


Why The Leader/Followers Need to Exhibit Shared Behaviors

Need to introduce shared leader/follower behaviors

A person who holds a role where they must be both leader and follower simultaneously, have to exhibit shared and congruent behaviors to build integrity and trust, credibility and influence as well as being a role model. Without shared and congruent behavior between the leader and follower roles it may impact effective collaboration but will also help enhance decision-making and organizational alignment.


When a person in a dual role exhibits congruent shared behavior in both leader and follower roles, it demonstrates integrity and builds trust. It shows that they are consistent, reliable, and true to their word, regardless of their role or position (leader or follower) within the hierarchy. This helps establish trust with both their superiors and their subordinates, fostering positive working relationships. Similar behavior in both leader and follower roles enhances a person's credibility and influence, regardless of their formal position or acting as a leader or follower. When they consistently align their words and actions, they gain respect and influence among their peers and superiors. This allows them to effectively lead and influence others, even if they are not acting in a formal leadership position. As someone who holds both leadership and follower roles, their behavior sets an example for others in the organization in both leader and follower roles. When they exhibit congruence, they serve as a role model for other leaders and followers. This encourages others to exhibit congruent behavior, creating a culture of consistency and integrity throughout the organization.


Displaying shared behaviors in both leader and follower roles promotes effective collaboration and teamwork. When individuals in dual roles demonstrate congruence, it facilitates open and transparent communication. This allows for better coordination, cooperation, and alignment of efforts, leading to improved outcomes and performance such as enhanced decision-making. Congruent behavior contributes to effective decision-making when a person consistently aligns their words and actions, they make decisions based on integrity, values, and the best interests of the organization. This promotes sound decision-making and helps build trust among stakeholders involved in the decision-making process. Because this causes organizational alignment, exhibiting congruent behavior when holding both leadership and followership roles helps ensure alignment with the organization's values, vision, and goals. It reinforces the organization's culture and fosters a shared sense of purpose among all members. This alignment contributes to a cohesive and high-performing organization.


In summary, individuals who occupy dual leadership and follower roles should exhibit similar and congruent behavior in both leader and follower roles to maintain integrity, build trust, influence others effectively, and promote collaboration and organizational alignment. By doing so, they contribute to a positive work environment and the overall success of the organization.


What Are We Missing Right Now?


What we’re missing are the specific behaviors and training of those shared behaviors that we want in both leaders and followers that will maintain integrity, build trust, influence others effectively, and promote collaboration and organizational alignment. This has been an emerging area of research and focus on leadership/followership studies. In 2019 I presented "86 Shared Behaviors of Great Leaders and Effective Followers" that I’ve been studying since 2007. Several other researchers are also looking at specific behaviors and why/how they are used or wanted in both leaders and followers.


The other thing we are missing is training in shared leadership/followership behaviors, which is important for skill development, performance improvement, adaptability and flexibility, succession planning, employee engagement and satisfaction, organizational culture, and ethical behavior expectations.

Leader/followers who share behaviors can operate much more effectively

Shared behavior/skill training helps leaders develop and enhance shared leader/follower skills and behaviors. Leadership is not exclusively based on innate abilities and much of leadership and followership behaviors can be learned and improved through training. By focusing on specific behaviors, leaders can develop competencies such as effective communication, decision-making, conflict resolution, and team building. This will help improve performance. Training in specific leadership behaviors can lead to improved performance and effectiveness. When leaders acquire and practice specific skills, they become better equipped to handle complex situations, lead teams effectively, and achieve organizational goals. This can result in increased productivity, employee engagement, and overall performance outcomes.


With increased performance as both leader and follower the organization gains some adaptability and flexibility. Effective leadership requires adaptability and the ability to respond to changing circumstances. Training in specific behaviors equips leaders and followers with the tools and strategies to navigate challenges, manage change, and lead through uncertainty regardless of whether they are in a leader or follower role. It helps organizations develop the agility to adjust their behaviors and approaches based on the needs of the situation and the individuals they interact with. Increase performance also helps with succession planning. Training in specific leadership behaviors contributes to the development of a strong pipeline of future leaders and exemplary followers within an organization. By identifying and training individuals who exhibit and learn specific behaviors, organizations can prepare future leaders and ensure a smooth succession planning process. Training in specific behaviors helps groom individuals to assume higher roles effectively.

Shared leader/follower behaviors significantly impact employee engagement and satisfaction. When leaders and followers are trained in specific behaviors such as active listening, empathy, recognition, and empowerment, they create a positive work environment that fosters employee engagement, motivation, and satisfaction. This, in turn, fosters higher levels of productivity, retention, and overall organizational success. By creating shared leader/follower behaviors the organizational culture becomes more aligned with the goals of the organization.


Shared leader/follower behaviors influence organizational culture by shaping the values, norms, and behaviors within the organization. Leader/followers who consistently demonstrate and reinforce desired behaviors through training contribute to a positive and cohesive organizational culture. When there is a positive and cohesive organizational culture then the organization is usually more ethical. Training in shared leader/follower behaviors, including ethical leadership, helps develop and maintain high ethical standards. Ethical training emphasizes integrity, fairness, transparency, and responsible decision-making. It equips both followers and leaders with the knowledge and skills to navigate ethical dilemmas and promote an ethical climate within the organization.

Overall, training in shared leader/follower behaviors is essential to develop, drive performance, create a positive work environment, and shape organizational culture. It enhances the organization’s ability to meet the demands of their leader/follower roles, adapt to changing circumstances, and foster employee engagement and satisfaction.


Why this training is important now:


There is currently a focus on transforming of a leader/follower structure from a parent/child or superior/subordinate towards more of an equal co-facilitative role and position. The philosophy of leader/follower has also begun to change in the way high-performing teams train and operate. An example of this is in the U.S. Naval Operation of MH-60R (anti-submarine) helicopter crews. Although the pilot and co-pilot are officer ranks (traditional military leader role) and the aircrew members in the back of the helicopter are enlisted personnel (traditional military follower role) yet frequently the enlisted personnel are directing the tactical response of the aircraft because they have the “best tactical information” and better information for coordinating the tactical response that the pilots will not have. One aircrew member said, “There is no rank in the chopper. When we’re on an operation, as the tactical lead, I tell the pilots and others what they need to do to meet the tactical objectives. If I fail, or they fail, it is bad for the entire chopper crew. If we all work together, regardless of rank, then we all succeed in the mission. The mission is what’s important.” This same idea is spreading in corporate America, where you don’t have to have the title or positional power to be the most effective member of the team. And isn’t your mission what’s important?


Contact Dr. Chris Fuzie, CMF Leadership Consulting, to learn more about the new training now available.

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