Being a good follower is as equally important as being a good leader.
Most people play both roles, leader and follower. Being good at both will make a difference, especially in a crisis scenario. After all, following is ultimately an act of leadership.
As I strive to be a better follower, below are beliefs I have formed about good follower-ship based on recent experiences:
- Listen well and listen intently. Own your responsibility for understanding what you hear. If you do not understand something ask clarifying questions especially when there is room for interpretation. For example, “end of the year.” What does that mean? For educators it may mean the end of the academic year. For accountants it could mean end of the fiscal year. For most, it would mean the end of the calendar year. It is better be vulnerable and ask for clarity than to act on your own interpretation and to share misinformation.
- Be precise in your communications. Own your responsibility for sharing information in a clear and organized manner.. Think about word choice and avoid jargon. The use of direct, clear and commonly-understood language is key. If you use a word others may not be familiar with, define it for them.
- Keep up. Stay diligent and responsive to incoming information, questions and requests for feedback. Form a personal system for keeping up with the constant (sometimes overwhelming) flow of information from multiple directions. Create a tracking spreadsheet, organize tasks in Outlook, color code, copy and paste information into one document…whatever it is, use it. Even if you think you don’t need it, the time spent keeping information organized will pay dividends at some point in the evolution of the crisis scenario.
- Don’t take things personally. If you are legitimately concerned about an issue or oversight, initiate a discussion in a professional and calm manner. However, avoid adding another layer of stress by reading more into a situation than is really there. If you were offended, the offense was most likely unintentional.
- Accept necessary culture shifts. Decision making processes may be less inclusive and more directive than usual. Time is often of the essence. Sometimes leaders need to make a decision you may not agree with or without your input, especially in a culture where doing so happens under normal circumstances. Recognize the context of the crisis situation and be willing to adjust to the temporary realities of necessary changes.
- Be flexible. During a crisis (even one that lasts an extended amount of time), circumstances constantly change and new challenges arise. Therefore, adjustments have to be made as new information becomes available. Be willing to adjust to new decisions and changed directions.
- Be comfortable with ambiguity and vagueness. In an extended crisis, many unknowns (especially about the future) remain unanswered. This can be especially difficult when you prefer black and white over shades of grey. Know clarity and direction will be available as soon as possible.
- Be patient. Your leaders are doing their best with the best information they have.
- Extend grace. Recognize your leaders are also under tremendous stress. While no one should be bullied or treated unprofessionally, don’t take it personally if your leaders’ emails are shorter than usual, comments are more direct, or the tone shifts. Likewise, extend grace to yourself. Recognize your own stress and acknowledge its effects.
- Take initiative. If you recognize an emerging problem or something that needs to be done, go ahead. Leaders do the best they can, but cannot think of everything.