“Lead..Follow..or get out of the way” (George S. Patton)
Often when we discuss leadership, we think of it (as Dr. Palanski recently noted ) as one person telling others what to do. He discussed the idea of shared leadership, where the group decides together to take action. Beyond the idea of shared leadership is also the role that followers play in the leadership process. In a true leadership process, the followers are equally as important as the leaders.
A leader cannot lead without followers choosing to engage in the process. One way of looking at this is to think about different behaviors that we enact when interacting with others. Do we “claim” a leader role by speaking first, sitting at the head of the table, or volunteering to seek out a solution to a problem? Do we “claim” a follower role by offering to help when needed, or holding back in the moment because we have other responsibilities? Do we “grant” someone else the leader role by offering to help when needed? Do we “grant” someone a follower role by delegating a task for them? What about those who avoid taking a position at all?
Think back over your behaviors at work, at home, and in your community. What roles do you take in each of those domains? We’ve discussed quite a few ways to develop your leadership abilities over the past year, but let’s focus on followership for a second. Most of us must take follower roles in some areas of our lives; we are all too busy and only have a finite amount of resources to continually be in the leader position. So when we do claim a follower role, are we acting in good faith? Are we supporting our leaders to the best of our abilities?
Research on followership notes individuals may take different perspectives on the meaning of the follower role. In one view, a follower is anyone who formally or informally reports to an individual in a leadership role. The other approach, similar to what I discussed earlier, is the idea that the follower has an active and important role in the leadership process. This view moves beyond the idea of followers as sheep who blindly follow their shepherd to one where followers have an active duty to participate in the goals set out by the organization, family, team, etc. Proactive followership behaviors can include feedback-seeking, using influence tactics, taking initiative, and in some cases, breaking the rules when necessary.
Opportunities for proactive followership do depend on the types of leaders present. Some leaders feel threatened by proactive followers and would prefer a group of subordinates (word choice here is deliberate) that do not question the leaders’ actions. However, more effective leaders look to their followers to help accelerate the organization/team/community towards its goals. The latest research on followership shows numerous positive outcomes from proactive followers.
If you find that you are looking to be more proactive – at work, at home, in your community - the first step is to think about the behaviors you exhibit. Are you actively granting leadership opportunities to someone else, which is part of an engaged process, or are you just ceding leadership responsibilities? If you want to be more proactive, try discussing the vision or goals with your boss, your partner, or your community leader. Decide if you agree with that vision, and if not, ask questions and maybe pose some thoughts or creative solutions of your own. It does take time and energy, but the feeling of empowerment and active participation in the leadership process will positively impact other areas of your life.
What claiming and granting behaviors have you enacted recently?
I recently experienced a “gold nugget” moment in education; that is, one of those moments where a single question or piece of information can change the course of a discussion and lead to important learning.
My college was hosting a small group of business club students from a local high school. There was a scheduling snafu, and the students’ scheduled team-building activity was canceled. I happened to be in the office and had an unscheduled hour, so I hurriedly pulled together some supplies and formulated a plan. I asked the students to draw a picture of “what leadership means to me” on a small dry erase board.
Being students after my own heart (and artistic ability), most of them drew stick figures. More specifically, most of them drew some version of a big stick figure telling little stick figures what to do or, for the more enlightened students, a big stick figure working alongside the little stick figures. We discussed the implications of these pictures for a few minutes, and then I asked this question:
“Yesterday, how many of you participated in the student walk out about gun violence?”
About ⅓ of the students raised their hands. I asked a few students to tell us about what happened, and they recounted a short time of remembrance couple with respectful activism. I then asked this question:
“And who was the big stick figure who organized all of this activity?”
Finally, one student spoke up, “There wasn’t a single person. Instead, it was multiple students sharing ideas and organizing. No teachers or staff were even involved.”
We then talked about how, in this particular instance, leadership was clearly present and effective, but spread among many people as they shared responsibility and influence. Sure, there are times when a big stick figure is important and effective, but not always. Thus, by finding a clear recent example of shared leadership, the students were able to broaden their perspective about the very nature of leadership. In this case, one salient counterexample to their previous understanding of leadership helped to drive learning.
This incident caused me to ponder: what are my own deeply held beliefs about leadership, and can I think of a clear counterexample to them? What about you?
Written by Rachel Clapp-Smith
Have you ever wondered if the leader you see in yourself is the leader others see? There are a host of theories I could regale you with to explain how and why we come to see ourselves as certain types of leaders. However, on the very basic level, the question of finding congruence in how we see ourselves and how others see us is a matter of self-awareness. The most important piece about becoming self-aware is getting feedback. Many organizations implement systems such as 360 assessments and annual reviews as mechanisms to provide feedback. Sounds like a good idea, right?
Well, the problem is that organizations do a good job with building the structures, but a terrible job at the very human element of the feedback loop – how to craft feedback in a developmental way, how to absorb feedback that may not always be positive, and how to turn such feedback into actionable items for improvement. If you are human like me, your gut reaction to feedback might be dread in anticipation of feedback and sulking if it is negative. Because we all feel this way, we have a tendency to give positive feedback, which is nice to have something reaffirm how great we are, but not always developmental, because it may make us think that everything we do is just fine. The truth is, we all have room for improvement.
I might suggest at this point that we all just suck it up and learn how to process feedback so that we can turn it into something positive. This isn’t bad advice and I would recommend training yourself to use a learner mindset in receiving feedback about how you lead. But this blog post is about how to get really honest and complete feedback. When you want to hear the hard news, who do you turn to? The people who know you well, who support you, and who can be honest with you. In short, where strong relationships exist, so, too, does honest feedback.
Because of this, it is almost silly to use only 360 degree feedback, i.e., only in the workplace. With 1080 degree feedback, that workplace information can be augmented by family and friends, and members of our community domain (volunteer organization, church group, sports club, etc.). This gives leaders a panoramic view in high definition. When the leader they see is not the leader others see, the 1080 view will make it clear why, because the feedback is more complete and in some areas, likely more honest.
How often do you ask your friends and family about how they see you lead? We have evidence from our research that the way they see you lead has an awful lot to do with the way you see yourself lead. Furthermore, our research shows that the more your friends and family acknowledge you as a leader, the more effectively you lead at work.
There’s a lot of power in 1080 feedback. Are you ready for it?
Last minute deadlines.
Big events to plan.
Buying a new car.
Conflict with co-workers.
Are you feeling a bit stressed reading through this list? Yeah, me too!
Stop for a moment and consider the nature of stress. When you think about stress, what are your thoughts? Is stress something that is always bad? Something to be avoided? Or can there be benefits or opportunities for growth?
Stress comes with a host of negative consequences, no doubt about it: headache, heart disease, reduced immune system, digestive problems, anxiety, depression, relationship strain, and the list goes on. But have there also been times in which our stress response can lead us to perform better, to overcome challenges, to connect with other people, and to grow.
In research, we distinguish three related concepts: stressor, stress, and strain. Stressors are demands from the environment (i.e. the list above), stress is our momentary response to those demands when we think they tax us or exceed our abilities, and strain is the effect it takes on us over time. Stressors generally lead to stress which generally leads to strain. BUT it’s not inevitable. And that’s the key here.
Stress researchers have recently discovered that how we think about the nature of stress affects how we respond to it and the long-term effect it has on us (strain). We can think about stress as something always bad that leads to bad outcomes (stress-is-debilitating mindset) or it can bring about positives as well (stress-is-enhancing mindset). Research shows that more positive views of stress (stress-is-enhancing mindset) relate to more positive physiological and behavioral outcomes such as openness to feedback, cognitive flexibility, and life satisfaction (Crum et al., 2013; Crum, et al., 2017). Stress mindset has significant effects on both physiological outcomes such as cortisol reactivity and behavioral outcomes such as the desire for feedback under stress (Crum, Salovey, & Achor. 2011; Crum et al. 2013). People holding a stress-is-enhancing mindset experienced greater increases in levels of anabolic hormones, which are associated with growth, and experience increases in positive affect and greater cognitive flexibility compared to those with a stress-is-debilitating mindset (Crum, et al., 2017).
Here are two excellent videos by the leading health psychologists and researchers summarizing this research:
In my own research, we found that holding a stress-is-enhancing mindset was beneficial for job satisfaction and turnover intentions. Specifically, the negative relationship between work-family conflict and job satisfaction was significantly less pronounced for people who believed stress could have benefits. And they were also better able to see the benefits of participation in both roles, work-family enrichment. So it helped reduce the negative effects of the bad things and augmented the good! Win-win!
The good news is that this isn’t something that you’re born with. You can change your mindset towards stress.
This past year has objectively been a stressful one for me: I started a new job, managed the logistics of an international move, managed my three kids’ emotional needs through the transition, and supported my husband in his job search. And let’s not forget the smaller ways too – weaning my kid of a pacifier, trying to make new friends in a new city, and deal with the daily hassles of life. I admit there have been so many moments where I made stress my enemy and let it all get the better of me. These have been dark and ugly moments. But I’m trying to “get better at stress” by putting this research into practice. My health, my family, my students, and my colleagues, and my friends all depend on it. These are my top 3 take-away points from this research:
1. Realizing that some stress is inevitable, so not to be so shocked by it. I’m still working to reduce it in as much as possible (especially chronic stress and shadow work). When I’m feeling stressed in the moment, I try to acknowledge it to myself. I’m really feeling stressed about something right now and that shows that I care about it. It’s important to me. And that's a good thing!
2. Reframing the physiological sensations of stress as ways my body is preparing to work through what it’s facing. For me, it’s in the heart, stomach, and head. When my heart beats fast and I feel that weird feeling pit in my stomach, I try to remember my body needs energy and it’s giving it to me. A regular commitment to exercise and giving birth three times has also helped this. I’m less afraid of a little physical discomfort and I realize it will dissipate. I trust my body a bit more.
3. Trying to “tend and befriend.” When I’m feeling stressed, I try to think of how I can connect with other people. An easy go-to here is to try to physically connect with my husband or kids. A back rub or snuggle takes the focus of me and my “hot mess.” And as Kelly McGonigal states “your stress response has a built-in mechanism for stress resilience, and that mechanism is human connection.”
I find this research really empowering. I’ll never win the stress game through elimination. I will work to reduce unnecessary stress and pay attention to when changes are needed. But there will always be stressors I have to face. I can't eliminate stress, but I can “get better at stress.” Stress doesn’t have to mean heart disease and reduced relationship quality.
Interested in learning more? Check out the Stanford Mind and Body Lab for the research evidence, media attention and to sign up for a course on Rethinking Stress.