SkillsAct4Vet – Training

Module 1 - Before the mobility

Unit 3: FOLLOWERSHIP

Short definition

Followership is the ability to support the boss (or the leader) at your workplace, taking responsibility for the common goal and actively participating in any task assigned. It is the ability to demonstrate collaboration, trust in the group members and cohesion capabilities. Followership also includes critical thinking and autonomy.

Difficulties to which this skill responds

When a company decides to accept and host a trainee, it also agrees to slightly change the routine, its procedures and rules to introduce a new “inexperienced” person into the team. The company here is understood as all the people involved at all stages of the activities in which the intern participates: tutor, project manager, colleagues involved in the same activities. The success of the internship depends a lot on the way the company prepares itself to host the trainee, but even more on the way the trainee fits in that company and its aims and goals.

Followership is the ability to support other members of the team, such as the tutor, the manager, another colleague, and be actively involved in the definition and pursuit of a common goal.

One of the misconceptions about this important soft skill is the idea that leaders are active and followers are passive. It’s a false assumption that contributes to misinterpretations of the organizational functions of superiors and subordinates. Behaviorists now recognize that active followers influence leaders at every level of the hierarchy, and that leadership itself is a process, not a person.

There are many myths about followership:

  • It is a lesser role.
  • It is just preparation for being a leader.
  • It is managing up, brownnosing or ‘being political’.
  • Once you are a leader you are no longer a follower.
  • You have to be a good follower to be a good leader.
  • Following is passive. It’s easy.

Effective followership training in the classroom is challenging because of media messages that promote leadership, students’ negative idea about followership, and cultural biases against it. Undergraduate and graduate students tend to be resistant to the idea of followership and interpret it as poorly enacted leadership or as settling for a lesser position. In recent years, attitudes have begun to change and students have noted that following is an expected, healthy part of a reciprocal relationship in social media and that it does not carry negative connotations.

Short-term interns stay in a company for a limited time, and not always they can participate in a complete process (for instance a project). Most of the time they can contribute only to a part of it. Given these circumstances, it is key that any intern feel like a part of a more complex picture, where any part, also the last arrived, is crucial for the success.

Students may also feel like the less skilled, as they are in a learning process and may be entrusted with basic tasks, especially at the very beginning of their internship in the new company. Training their followership and making them aware of the importance of this ability will project a huge difference on their approach to the experience abroad.

Behavioral indicators

There are certain behavioral indicators, or behavioral patterns, that can help mobility students develop followership:

  • Supporting the manager or boss, appreciating their humor, for instance;
  • Promoting a collaborative and respectful working relationships, reducing complaining or negativity;
  • Being committed to the job, focusing on the main, final result besides the individual, specific tasks;
  • Feeling engaged and involved in the team work, cooperating with others, and showing an extra effort if needed;
  • Helping colleagues even if there is no personal profit, for instance to meet a deadline;
  • Aligning with the group goals;
  • Feeling responsible even in challenging situations, and taking the responsibility for possible errors, not blaming the circumstances;
  • Supporting colleagues who are going through difficulties;
  • Expressing your point of view in a positive way, avoiding any criticism,
  • Enjoying receiving feedbacks and sharing ideas with supervisors;
  • Your contributions are considered constructive by the bosses.

Why is this skill important for mobility students and which sub-skills are associated with it

Good followership is characterized by active participation in the pursuit of organizational goals.

This means followership is the skill that allows the student to work independently, to be accountable for his/her actions, and to carry out necessary tasks. When the student starts a work experience in a new company of course no one can expect her/him to take full responsibility or to be absolutely independent, but having an inclination to work independently may convince the company to give the student more interesting tasks to do.

In fact, followership entails a bigger and stronger engagement with the group, in this case the host company, and engagement is key for a successful mobility abroad.

The student can show engagement towards the host company, but also the Project (i.e. ErasmusPlus project), or the school that gives him/her the opportunity to go abroad.

According to many experts, a person with followership competences is more willing to become a good leader. Actually, in the essay “In praise of followers” by Robert Kelley published in 1988, and still considered one of the masterpiece studies about leadership (and consequently followership) the leader’s contribution only affects results in 15%, while the rest depends on collaborators. 

Here is a set of certain sub-skills a good follower should have: 

Technical skills:

Investing in continuous learning and technical skills are signs of good followership, as the leader and the team must trust in the competences possessed by the rest of the colleagues. 

Willingness to learn (continously):

A good employee/ coworker/ colleague takes care of his/her training continuously and never stops the self-improvement.

Critical spirit:

A real follower is motivated by the good of the company, and not his/her personal interest. He or she understands that the main goal of criticism is a general improvement for the whole team.

Self-organization:

Strictly related with time management skills and proactivity.

Team working abilities:

The achievement of team’s goals, not glory and self-promotion, is considered a real success.

Courage:

To take responsibility for his/her decisions and actions.

To express his/her opinions.

Sincerity:

Never lie about your mistakes. It´s better to admit them and immediately think of a way to fix the situation, instead of inventing excuses and justifications in front of the superior.

Never lie about the achievements of other people, and recognize their merits.

Sources

  1. https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/importance-of-effective-followers-5887
  2. This article describes followership as a complementary aspect of leadership:
    https://iveybusinessjournal.com/publication/followership-the-other-side-of-leadership/
  3. This video, from the Ted.ED repertoire, shows the strict relation between followership and leadership through the metaphor of dance:
    https://ed.ted.com/best_of_web/ypFEhSjj
  4. This article appeared for the first time in the Harvard Business Review in 1988. It highlights the benefits of a followership attitude in teams, through practical examples and showing 5 different followership patterns:
    https://hbr.org/1988/11/in-praise-of-followers
  5. This Tedx Video shows as Followership and Leadership are the results of the same creation process:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWfqWy3Gfmg

How to use the exercises

Further in this section, there are two exercises for the teacher to use in order to demonstrate the importance of followership. The first exercise is meant to be carried out individually, while the second one is a group activity. The exercises help to develop the soft skill, offering a metaphor of real life situation.

The following information will show in what way the exercises constitute a training tool, revealing also the strategy to effectively train Soft Skills.

Learning outcomes

Learning outcomes for the trainers:

  • Understanding of the definition of “followership” within the context of mobility for students
  • Understanding of behavioural elements linked to followership as a soft skill to be applied in short-term mobility experiences abroad
  • Recognising sub-skills related to followership, reflected in students’ behaviours

The trainers will be able to guide students to:

  • Develop a collaborative attitude
  • Show stronger dedication to the project/internship/training activity
  • Be more responsible towards the mobility and related activities (also in challenging situations)
  • Be sincere while giving feedback
  • Apply time-management and communication skills while working in a team