“Follower” is a taboo word.
And it’s one that I hadn’t thought much about until a beautiful book made it into my insatiably curious hands.
Lead & Follow by Sharna Fabiano isn’t your typical leadership guide. Yes, it’s crafted with love by a tango dancer and draws from her expertise with partner dance. But more importantly, Lead & Follow makes an argument in favor of followership and asks questions about the lead/follow dynamic that I rarely see elsewhere.
“Following” is the undignified thing we do if we couldn’t cut it as a leader… right?
Like Fabiano says, “In most workplaces, there is still a tendency to attribute all desirable behaviors to leadership and all undesirable behaviors to followership “ (21). Certainly, followership is considered antithetical to skills and qualities that make us likable and valuable, like strength, vision, and talent.
But there’s a healthy way and a distorted way to do just about everything, and leading/following is no exception.
Healthy >> Radical ownership…
Everything I experience originates from me and therefore I can and will improve my situation, my narrative, and myself. The follower and the leader both have agency. Indeed, the follower chooses to follow because it’s what makes them happy. It feels good. It’s who they are and whom they want to be. It’s their social-emotional DNA.
Unhealthy >> Paternalism…
The leader is the “bigger” and therefore better person who takes the blame for the follower’s mistake, as though the former were a parent and the latter a child. Leading is a superior state, a better way to be, to exist. The follower is an inferior being and exists in an inferior state.
What I love about Lead & Follow is that it positions following as a distinct, crucial, and highly valuable skill that enables leadership. Or as Fabiano says, “Leadership and followership are two aspects of a relational phenomenon” (36).
The next round of this conversation unpacks the masculine/feminine dynamic related to the leadership/followership dynamic. That will be a wild ride, full of topics we’re not supposed to talk about in public, let alone at work — What we do not examine rules us (and impacts the bottom line)… stay tuned and buckle up!