Followers Can Be Lead Targets in the Chain-of-Command

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Almost anyone who draws a regular paycheck is required to attend leadership training. But what about followership training? We never hear about that. Yet it is the good followers that are targeted by management to be the next leaders.

So, here you are, installing carburetors or putting bolts into holes, hour after hour. You talk with co-workers when you break for a smoke or wolf down your bologna sandwiches and try to put your body in “rest” mode for 15 minutes.  Then, out of the blue, the boss decides to put you on swing shift. And you think, “What am I following this guy for?” Perhaps it is a test. Maybe you are unknowingly in training.

It takes just as much training and self-talk to be a follower as it does to be a leader. And it’s a tough job to be your own person while following someone else’s directives to the letter, sometimes shouted at you from a distance. The assembly worker who has a great attitude and works hard might someday become the boss. But even if that never happens, being a good follower will make your work life less stressful.

white and blue calendar with a checkmark

Take it one day at a time: This is the place where you are right now, so live in the moment. Work hard for your whole shift but, before you get home, take off your inner factory clothes and change into Dad or Mom, card player or country music buff. If you try to plan for weeks or months, you won’t be flexible enough to switch to some new orders or different responsibilities.

illustration of a smiling baby

Nobody’s a nobody: What you do for a living is not the same as who you are.  You don’t need to treat yourself the way a lousy boss might treat you. Remember, while you pick up parts or tighten screws, that you might be a great guitar player; maybe you just bagged a 10-point buck or became a parent for the first time. Be happy in that part of your life!

illustration of an arm with a suit giving the thumbs up

“Yes” might be a doorway to success: when the boss asks you to take on an extra job or two, be ready to say, “yes.” If you’re already up to your eyeballs in work, this is the time to have a two-minute meeting to ask your boss to help you prioritize work. “Yes” might mean “I’ll do it this minute” or “is it OK if we plan this thing for a few days out?” Saying “yes” lets your supervisor know you’re ready, willing and able to fit the bill. Even if “yes” feels hard, you will be seen as reliable and able to manage a heavy schedule.

illustration of a red haired man carrying boxes

Do what you do well: If you’re careful and thorough at your job—even if it is dirty, rough, or hot–you’ll know how to keep these same ethics throughout your life. Besides that, you might save the company money because you’re less likely to break a machine or let expensive parts fall on the floor.

illustration of a cranky looking mouse

Don’t let rudeness change you: Don’t let dirty talk, or even racial or ethnic slurs, poke holes in you. You’re better than that! Yelling back with another snide remark won’t help your life. Try to build your life with good things and can let the other stuff go.

four hands that are different shades of blue and purple, laying over one another in a square

Your factory is your embassy: Become an ambassador for your company. Help with tours. Ring bells for the Salvation Army. Involve yourself in the good work of your community, especially when your company sends 10 or 20 workers to rake yards, spruce up a building or help children become better readers. Learn about the good things your company does, even if you feel you don’t get your share of those things.

illustration of a cool person wearing sunglasses

I know my stuff: Carry yourself as one who is confident and competent; a person who loves life even during days when you feel at a loss or wonder if you left your brain at your back door. Even then, you are growing your own personal excellence where you are and how you are. Everybody can pretend they own an ivory tower; it takes real maturity to remain true to yourself. You never know; that ivory tower could catch fire and topple at any minute.

In the end, followership training just might remind you of the kind of person you would like to be, or the person you’d like to be your friend. Management seeks out good followers in the hope that they will also be good leaders. If that promotion comes, you’ll be a leader of others. Then you’ll have another leader higher up the ladder for you to follow. It never stops, does it?

  • Beverly Mapes

    Beverly is a business owner and operator since 2008 and is actively involved in the human resources functions and employee management of her team members.

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