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University of Massachusetts Amherst

Family Business Center

Lead So People Want to Follow

by Shel Horowitz

The Family Business Center has had ton of programs on leadership. Now it's time to look at the other side. Without followers, a leader is not a leader.

FBC sponsors RicK Giombetti and Paul Alves showed attenders at the September gathering how to lead so others will follow.

First bit of advice: get rid of the term, "subordinate," which Alves, pointing out that it's derived form the Latin word for "under, calls "a demeaning term. We call it followership. It's a volitional choice; you choose to buy into someone's leadership quality because they have a vision. Good followers emulate, listen, self-initiate," and are loyal.

Giombetti notes that  great followers see their contribution to the whole as more important than getting ahead themselves at the expense of others. In his words, they "have positive attitude, compete with the team, not against" it. And followers also have "good humility."

This doesn't mean a follower won't question you. In the decision-making phase, that follower may argue with you-but once the path is set, he or she will be in "alignment" and publicly support the decision.

Both speakers emphasized that the old-fashioned authoritarian style doesn't create good followers. Giombetti said, "Ego is a killer. Control your dominance. We like to think in terms of humility, and   Alves said leaders need to learn "ego surrender-that's a term we hope you take away. Good leaders don't harp on how they've made the company successful." Lower-level employees "realize it's successful because of us."

What gets in the way of being a good follower? Here are a few, to start:

  • Mismanaged ego
  • Cynicism
  • Poor attitude
  • Gossiping
  • Self-righteousness
  • Personal agendas

So, cynics, whiners, gossips, and those who are secretly clawing for power need to be steered into better habits-or, if that fails, into a different company.

But leaders need to change their bad habits too, and can reap the benefits when they do. Giombetti closed the session with this note: "How can you be a good listener when you have a strong ego and are overly competitive. If you understand that you have a strong ego, manage it effectively. If you walk into the conversation and you know where you want it to go, zip it up! You may learn something that allows you to make a better decision."

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