Followers and Leaders: When the Boss Goes Nuts…

Have you ever listened to your boss and wondered if he or she’s gone nuts? Or maybe just a little off-track? Ever had the courage to speak up… and had it go well? It’s not easy to manage the boss, but they need your participation.

The more I listen to the stories my clients tell me, the more I appreciate how hard it is to deal with some bosses. It’s difficult to appreciate the pressures on the leader unless you’ve had that position. And yet, sometimes the boss can’t see things the way those on the front lines do.

While ego-strength is a quality to be desired in a leader, it can easily be deformed into ego-driven. The pressures at the top need to be managed, and the boss needs to hear from you.

In the coaching sessions I have with executives and teams, everyone has a story to tell about their boss “gone nuts.” Yet very few believe they know how to manage the boss well, to speak up and do something when it happens.

Responsible followers can help leaders stay on track and manage their decision-making processes in the right direction. Effective followers have an important role in order to maintain a smooth-running partnership dynamics.

Some of us do these things quite naturally. But often the executive team members are hesitant to speak up when the leader makes mistakes, whether they are made from the best of intentions or the worst. After all, “She’s (or he’s) the boss.”

Although we’ve grown beyond an authoritarian leadership model where followers have no accountability, we haven’t really developed a model for responsible participation at the follower level for new participatory leadership styles.

The sooner we recognize and accept that, as followers, we are in a powerful position, the sooner we can fully develop responsible, synergistic relationships in our organizations.

According to Ira Chaleff (The Courageous Follower, 2003), there are three things we need to understand in order to fully assume responsibility as followers.

  1. Understand our power and how to use it. As followers, we have far more power than we usually acknowledge. To be truly effective, we need to understand the sources of our power, whom we serve and the tools we have to achieve the group’s mission. We have a unique vantage point as follower or team member, but we have to know that and use it.
  2. Appreciate the value of the leader and the contributions he or she makes to forward the organization’s mission. We need to understand the pressures upon the leader that can wear down creativity, good humor and resolve. We can learn how to minimize these forces and contribute to bringing out the leader’s strengths for the good of the group and the common purpose.
  3. Work toward minimizing the pitfalls of power by helping the leader to remain on track for the long-term common good. We’ve all seen how power can corrupt, and it takes courage and skill to speak up. We can learn how to counteract the dark side of power. Feedback to the leader is necessary for the new leadership styles to be effective.

I think these are pretty good ideas, but the key is in applying them in real work situations on a daily basis. So many times, we say nothing, we let things slide, then regret later on. What’s been your experience?

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