Research: To Be a Good Leader, Start By Being a Good Follower  

6 August 2018:

There is no shortage of advice for those who aspire to be effective leaders. One piece of advice may be particularly enticing: if you want to be a successful leader, ensure that you are seen as a leader and not a follower. To do this, goes the usual advice, you should seek out opportunities to lead, adopt behaviors that people associate with leaders rather than followers (e.g., dominance and confidence), and — above all else — show your exceptionalism relative to your peers.

But there is a problem here. It is not just that there is limited evidence that leaders really are exceptional individuals. More importantly, it is that by seeking to demonstrate their specialness and exceptionalism, aspiring leaders may compromise their very ability to lead.

The simple reason for this is that, as Warren Bennis has observed, leaders are only ever as effective as their ability to engage followers. Without followership, leadership is nothing. As one of us (Haslam) observed in a 2011 book coauthored with Stephen Reicher and Michael Platow, The New Psychology of Leadership, this means that the key to success in leadership lies in the collective “we,” not the individual “I.”

In other words, leadership is a process that emerges from a relationship between leaders and followers who are bound together by their understanding that they are members of the same social group. People will be more effective leaders when their behaviors indicate that they are one of us, because they share our values, concerns and experiences, and are doing it for us, by looking to advance the interests of the group rather than own personal interests.

This perspective identifies a major flaw in the usual advice for aspiring leaders. Instead of seeking to stand out from their peers, they may be better served by ensuring that they are seen to be a good follower — as someone who is willing to work within the group and on its behalf. In short, leaders need to be seen as “one of us” (not “one of them”) and as “doing it for us” (not only for themselves or, worse, for “them”).

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Source: Harvard Business Review

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