Leadership has recently become a recurring topic of conversation in several of my library school classes (e.g., the importance of great leadership, characteristics of leaders, the differences between leading and managing). Consequently, it has also been weighing heavily on my mind. A couple of weeks ago during one of these class discussions I took issue with something one of my professors said. It went something like, “As archivists, we must all possess those qualities of a great leader [effective communicator, risk-taker, facilitator, etc.]…If you do not think of yourself as a leader you are in the wrong profession.” This bothered me; I am a classic Type-B personality and have never thought of myself as a trailblazer, a motivator, nor many of those other qualities inherent in most people’s conception of a leader. I am, however, a great follower. For starters, I take direction well, I work hard, and I’m loyal. So where does that leave me? How can I make a difference in this field? I don’t want to just be another cog in the machine!
Fortuitously, the day after that class someone happened to show me this short TED Talk, Derek Sivers: How to start a movement.
Silly as it may be, this video resonated with me. The world needs followers. In fact, maybe being a good follower is in itself a form of good leadership. I decided to do some more reading on the subject, and noticed that leadership and followership are inextricably tied. To illustrate, below is a brief list of common traits of great followers. It is interesting that many of the qualities of great followers are the very same characteristics often attributed to great leaders.
- Collaborate and communicate – They work well with their coworkers and superiors keeping everyone in the loop and being a “team player.”
- Carry their own weight – They get the job done and deliver on all of their commitments.
- Take initiative and anticipate – They do not wait around to be told to do something. If they see a problem or potential problem, they fix it. They find solutions, not more problems.
- Earn trust – By carrying their own weight, they prove that they do not need to be constantly supervised and can be relied upon.
- Support their leader – They are loyal, backing them up when necessary, and are sympathetic to the pressures that leaders endure.
- Lead by example – Great followers also serve as models for their peers.
As both an intern and a student, I feel I can actually aspire to leading by following. Chances are that since I’m only beginning my career, I will be working under someone who is already fulfilling the role of leader for a while. Therefore, it seems more realistic to focus on how to best support that person and learn as much as I can in the process. And who knows? Perhaps after years of effective following experience, I may end up becoming one of those great leaders we talk about in library school after all…
Good followers become good leaders.
Good leaders never stop following.