In the American workplace, followership has become a four-letter word. We equate being a follower with being powerless, insignificant, and unimportant. We focus all our energy on leadership development and seem to forget that most of us are not in leadership roles – at least not exclusively.
Well, we are taking a stand to give followership a seat at the table and hope you will join us in embracing the “F” word.
First, let’s get a few things straight. We are not talking about blind followership – aimlessly following a poor leader with 100% support. We are also not talking about timidly approaching your career to avoid conflict or decision-making. We are advocating for taking the role of follower seriously – from a place of choice and strength. This is what Managing Up is all about. We believe that becoming an empowered follower is the secret to your best possible career and will prepare you to be an awesome leader when your turn comes around!
Even those of us in leadership roles need to know how to follow – we all have a boss. We might have a supervisor, manager, CEO, or board of directors to whom we report. Even entrepreneurs have clients to please. Bottom line: we all have workplace relationships that are important to our career and managing them is crucial to our success.
So, what does being an empowered follower look like? Here are our top 5 tips to get started:
- Know thyself. Before trying to understand others or improve your workplace relationships, it is important to first understand yourself. What is your personality type? What are your workstyle preferences? What are your priorities at work? What other factors impact your decisions at work (family, commute, professional development, etc.)? Self-awareness and clearly defined goals and values will help you evaluate your current job and your next steps to Managing Up.
- Evaluate objectively. This one is tough. In any relationship, it is difficult to step back and try to see conflict from a fresh perspective. But, it is imperative to view your relationship with your boss (and co-workers!) with fresh eyes. Try to approach your frustrations at work with curiosity and understanding. Additionally, think about how you have contributed to the relationship and honestly assess if you are bringing your best self to the workplace.
- Align and adapt. One of the key principles of Managing Up is adapting our preferences to better align with our boss’ priorities and workstyle. The expectation here is not to conform completely, but to find at least a few ways to better mesh with your boss. If your boss tends to work late and you don’t mind shifting your work hours, go for it. If your boss often forgets important information in a meeting, offer to take notes or send a quick recap email. You don’t have to be like your boss, but you do need to show that you take your role in the relationship seriously.
- The choice is yours. No matter what level you are in the workplace food chain, you have choices. Managing Upis all about managing relationships and in relationships, everyone has agency. At the foundation, we all have the following options: 1) Leave the situation; 2) Accept the situation; 3) Change the situation. Even if you choose to accept the situation, you are still making a choice. Opt for making this choice from a place of strength and if you are choosing to make a change, you’ve already overcome the biggest hurdle to embracing followership.
- Leaving is a choice, too. Although not everyone has a great boss, most are okay or mildly difficult, at worst. There are the few, though, that are truly terrible. Managing Up is not effective with a boss who is a tyrant, bully, or screaming psychopath. Only you can decide if becoming a better follower is worth it, but a good start is taking our short quiz: Truly Terrible or Just Difficult? Whatever you choose, knowing when to quit is a healthy part of being an empowered follower.
So, let’s put the “F” word back in our vocabulary and spend just as much time and energy developing followers as we do leaders! If you’re ready to start Managing Up, the next step is to learn more about your boss. Managing Up the book covers the gamut of workstyle preferences and the most common difficult bosses – from the Workaholic to the Narcissist!