i currently read a lot about leadership – again. it has been a topic i have read and thought about a lot over the years, maybe because i really struggled to become a better (deliberately avoiding the word ‘good’) leader throughout my career.

one of the text books i am currently going through uses the word ‘leader’ for anyone in a position of authority, and subsequently a ‘follower’ is a person subject to this authority. this is very much in line with the current practice of replacing the word ‘manager’ with ‘leader’ in just about any context. i.e. these days we have leadership team meetings when previously the management team would have met. i have also met people who introduced their job title as ‘senior leader’ of something or other.

i admit have great difficulty with this apparently simple replacement of one word with another. in my view john kotter (of harvard university) made the distinction between management on one side and leadership on the other really clear in his paper ‘what leaders really do’ (2001, harvard business review). it is well worth reading what he has to say and consider how both management and leadership are required in any successful company.

there is another important point that i am missing in my current text book, which i believe is also missed by many who expect to be addressed as leaders. i do not agree that being a follower is merely a consequence of reporting to a person in a hierarchy. becoming someone’s follower is an active choice people make – or don’t.

being able to convert one’s subordinates (a horrible word, my apologies) into a group of followers is not easy. the payoff can be significant, though, and is well worth the effort. it is the difference between a team merely executing orders whether these are sensible or not and them actively supporting their (chosen) leader’s vision.

it’s might at times be harder to ‘lead’ because active participation can result in more then a leader has bargained for, particularly when team members can be more experienced, smarter or have deeper insights into the operationalisation of an instruction than their manager or leader, which i think is a good thing any leader should hope for. that can sometimes feel like a challenge but then again ideas and instructions should be challenged to test whether they are any good – and they will be challenged by ‘active’ followers.

not by sheep.


2 thoughts on “are followers sheep?”

  1. This is a very interesting item you evolve here.
    Using german language most of the time it is even more remarkable, that there is no similar distinction from a language point of view. The titel Leiter or Leiterin is not compareable to Head of , Manager of or even Leader of.
    Nevertheless my personal experiance is, that there is a difference between Management and leadership dependend on the matter you are working on. Beeing responsible for operational units much more management skills are needed, whereat developement and more creative units need leadership.

  2. du hast recht, im deutschen gibt es die trennung nicht. vielleicht ist das kulturell bedingt? ūüėÄ

    ich finde john kotter’s artikel ‘what leaders really do’ fasst das nach perfekt zusammen, wir alle haben und benoetigen ein bisschen von beidem. ich denke man kann in allen bereichen kreativitaet gut gebrauchen, es sind ja immer die loesungen die halt manchmal nach dem selben strickmuster gemacht sind, oder eben innovativ. in dem zusammenhang interessiert mich uebrigens auch sehr wie innovation und leadership zusammenspielen.

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