Followers and leaders both orbit around the purpose; followers do not orbit around the leader — Ira Chaleff (Disher)
I found the above quote to perfectly sum up my own goals as a manager and well as the point of The Art of Followership. Whatever agency one works for, the first goal of the employee should be to embrace the agency’s culture, purpose, and boundaries. Once this is achieved, organizational goals can be established, and each employee’s role in achieving those goals can be assigned. Because each employee’s tasks contribute to the success of the organization, each piece of the work structure becomes part of the cohesive whole.
I am fortunate to have an amazing team of staff working with me. Although our city still embraces a hierarchical scheme, each employee is valued and is allowed opportunities to act as both leader and follower in his position. An example of how this works in our library is in the cataloging of materials. Because we are very short-staffed (our department is down approximately 40% from 2007 levels) following the economic downturn of the past few years, we have had to reassign many of the duties of librarians to clerical staff while still keeping within their job descriptions so they are not working out of class. We found that dividing the collection among various clerical staff works well for this purpose. After extensive training, each clerk has become expert in a particular area of the collection, for example, DVD cataloging, audiobook cataloging, or copy cataloging of books. This clerical group works both autonomously and with each other to keep cataloging standards high. They often have the opportunity to act as effective leaders, making decisions about which donated items are added to the collection or how their materials will be displayed. They act as followers, using consortium-level cataloging standards. And sometimes, they move between the leader and follower role by proposing changes to our cataloging system (the most recent being a simplification of our DVD labeling which saves money and brings our DVD’s “look” more in line with other libraries in the consortium), then, when the suggested changes were approved by librarians, overseeing the process of the reclassification both in the database and on the physical items. I believe that by empowering these staff members, we send a message to them that we trust them to not only do a good job, but that we value them even if they are not in a managerial position.
In looking at Kelley’s model of different types of followers, what occurred to me is that employees can move from being one type of follower to another type, perhaps moving between types depending on the task assigned. I know that when I was working as the Adult Services Librarian for our library, I would move between these different types regularly. I believe that most often I fell into the “exemplary” category, particularly when developing a new program such as our Teen and Adult Summer Reading Programs or when overseeing the migration of our library to a new computer system (5 times so far!). When completing more routine tasks such as daily accounting, I would perform in the “conformist” or “passive” role. I also have to admit that occasionally I entered into the “alienated” role, playing devil’s advocate when faced with what I perceived as unnecessary changes to then-current operations. I think that managers need to be aware that employees can move between these different roles; by giving staff meaningful goals to achieve and carefully matching their interests to the tasks assigned as much as possible (the “calculative compliance” mentioned in the article), most employees will remain in the “exemplary” role.
One area that our library could improve in while developing our “followers” is in the ability to disagree with others, including those in leadership roles. While I do believe that some of my staff are comfortable questioning and even criticizing decisions made by the leaders (including me) in the library organization, most are not. This unfortunately leads to staff complaining among themselves about issues; without bringing management on board (or even letting them know there is a problem), nothing is resolved. The one way to improve this situation that I have used successfully is to adopt as many staff suggestions as possible; I hope that by saying “yes” to their ideas for change that they will feel more confident about their ideas being taken seriously. I like the guidelines presented by Smith as well, especially to provide others the opportunity to lead me.
The article has definitely provided some food for thought as I continue on my managerial path. It will be important for me to look for areas in which I can be the follower and allow others to lead while maintaining our city’s hierarchical schematic.