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Effective Followership

Terry needed Mark to support the direction of the project whether he agreed with it or not, but Mark had other ideas. Followers need defined and shared goals that lead to the fulfillment of the organization’s vision. Warren Bennis wrote in “The Secret to Great Groups,” appearing in Leader to Leader in 1997, “All great teams—and all great organizations—are built around a shared dream or motivating purpose” (Bennis, 1997). Dr. Richard Steers and Dr. Lyman Porter, pioneers in goal psychology, describe four major goal functions: goals provide direction, define criteria for evaluation, lend legitimacy, and prescribe organizational structure (Porter and Steers, 1974). As an IT leader, defining and clarifying these goal functions, creating a unifying purpose, is a major element of our position.

Unifying Purpose

Followers are looking for leaders and causes they consider worthy of their commitment. As illustrated in Figure 5-1, they need a unifying purpose, vision, goal, or cause that can motivate them to contribute their best (Collins, 2013).

Followers need to feel that the efforts they put forth are not in vain, that they are making a difference. Contributing in this manner enhances their self-esteem and gives them a reason to get up in the morning. We spend more time when we are awake on our jobs than we do at home, with our loved ones. We want to spend this time in a meaningful way, a way that makes a difference, a way that is important.

Unifying purpose

Figure 5-1 Unifying purpose.

Your challenge is to develop situations, when possible, in which the organization’s goals and your follower’s goals are in sync, as depicted in Figure 5-2.

Followers need to perform tasks that the leader cares about. The follower may do many things well, but if he or she does not accomplish what the leader needs accomplished in a way that satisfies the organization or project vision, the follower is not effective. As a 19- year-old working on my first technical job, I received this advice: solve your boss’s problems first. Over 30 years later, I still apply this principle every workday.

Many followers have a burning desire to devote themselves to a common cause, to make a contribution, to be part of something bigger than themselves. Leaders are challenged to help these followers define this cause, to craft and project a vision that includes their likeness, to help them imagine themselves in action making the vision become a reality.

Followers who operate in this manner achieve their self-esteem and perhaps their selfactualization goals through followership, thereby satisfying their own inner motivation.

Your followers need opportunities to find success and happiness in their careers. They are looking for leaders who can provide opportunities to advance, make more money, and achieve their personal goals. They want to feel secure in their jobs so that they can pay their rent, purchase homes and cars, send their children to college, save for retirement, and take care of aging parents. Their reasons for being on your team are personal, and they take their experience on your team and with your leadership personally.

Individual and organizational goals

Figure 5-2 Individual and organizational goals.

Followers want to feel they are in control of their tasks and positions. They want you to provide them the authority to make decisions about how to perform their assigned tasks, and they want you to support their decisions. They look to their leaders to let them know why their tasks are important, and how their tasks fit into the overall vision and purpose of the organization; your response concerning the purpose of their tasks serves as a source of motivation. As their ability to pursue their own ideas during execution increases, so does their influence, and so does their job satisfaction. Once you empower your followers to make decisions on how to pursue project tasks, you should expect them to keep their commitments and to follow through on their decisions.

Your followers will react to your challenges; they need you to challenge them. Edwin Locke was professor of business and psychology at the University of Maryland in 1968. He found that goals cause behavior. His research found that hard goals produce a higher level of performance and that specific hard goals produce higher levels of performance than “make your best effort” goals (Maley and Varner, 1994). Give your team members specific challenges; set high standards and hold them accountable.

Your team members will be more effective and productive when you involve them in setting these high standards. Followers need to participate in goal setting in order to feel commitment and to have a sense of personal involvement—ownership—for the required tasks. Researchers have found that follower goal acceptance is a critical factor for follower performance (Porter and Steers, 1974). Followers need to feel that there is a high likelihood that they will be rewarded for attainment of a goal and must assign value to the reward in order to feel motivated to perform well. Goal acceptance and value assignment differ from person to person, so you need to know your team members as individuals to understand how to motivate them.

Like Terry and Mark, leadership and followership are ineffective if leaders and their team members are out of sync. Let’s explore the relationship between the leader and effective followers.

 
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