It is important to keep in mind that a “follower” is not necessarily someone who never leads; rather, a follower is someone who, in a non-leader situation, nonetheless has ample opportunities to exercise judgment, demonstrate initiative, and offer support to someone who has leadership responsibilities. In other words, the terms “leader” and “follower” have much less to do with rank, title, status, etc. and much more to do with relative authority and responsibility. In the U.S. Marine Corps, for example, senior officers will defer to a non-com who possesses better information.
As I began to read Chaleff’s book, I was reminded of James O’Toole’s essay, “Speaking to Power,” in Transparency: How Leaders Create a Culture of Candor that he co-authored with Warren Bennis and Daniel Goleman As he notes, “speaking to power is, perhaps, the oldest of all ethical challenges.” He briefly discusses several plays (Sophocles’ Antigone, John Osborne’s Luther, and Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons) whose protagonist offers a reminder to leaders in our own time of the responsibility to create a transparent “culture of candor.” This precisely what Chaleff has in mind when examining “courageous followers” who, when involved in the dynamics of the leader-follower relationship, must summon the c courage to assume responsibility, to serve, to challenge, to participate in transformation, and to take moral action.
Meanwhile, Chaleff quite correctly poses this question to leaders: “Do you have the courage to listen to followers?” In the book’s final chapter, he shares his thoughts about how important it is for leaders to not only accept but encourage and indeed welcome “messages” that, although perhaps unpleasant to receive, need to be heard and carefully considered. Chaleff urges all leaders to invite “creative challenge” rather than discourage it.
For me, this is one of the most important points that Doris Kearns Goodwin makes in Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. When forming his cabinet after election as the 16th president in 1860, Abraham Lincoln assembled a cabinet whose members included several of his strongest political opponents: Edwin M. Stanton as Secretary of War (who had called Lincoln a “long armed Ape”), William H. Seward as Secretary of State (who was preparing his acceptance speech when Lincoln was nominated), Salmon P. Chase as Secretary of the Treasury (who considered Lincoln in all respects his inferior), and Edward Bates as Attorney General who viewed Lincoln as a well-meaning but incompetent administrator but later described him as “very near being a perfect man.”
It took great courage as a leader for Lincoln to include these opponents in his administration but he needed their advice prior to making what proved to be critically important decisions throughout the Civil War. He welcomed their dissent. Also to Lincoln’s considerable credit, he created a “culture of candor” in which it was not necessary for a follower to be courageous when “speaking to power.”
I highly admire this updated and expanded Third Edition of a book that can be of great value to those who must address today’s leadership crisis…and perhaps prevent tomorrow’s.
Chaleff has been named one of the top 100 best thinkers on leadership in the U.S. by Executive Excellence magazine. He lives in Washington, DC, and plays several interesting roles there including executive coach, author, workshop leader and chair of a non-profit board that studies best management and communication practices in political offices. As a coach, he provides a supportive forum for executives to examine and improve their leadership and management styles and processes, their interpersonal and political skills, and their focus on mission achievement. Chaleff’s coaching experience includes a broad range of financial, manufacturing, legal, pharmaceutical, not-for-profit and government organizations.
As an author he has been acknowledged in the Harvard Business Review as one of the pioneers in the emerging field of followership studies. One of his books, The Courageous Follower: Standing Up To and For Our Leaders, is now in its third edition and has been translated into half a dozen languages. He also co-edited, The Art of Followership: How Great Followers Make Great Leaders and Organizations with Ronald E. Riggio and Jean Lipman-Blumen, published by Jossey-Bass in 2008. He has given hundreds of speeches and workshops on this topic for a wide range of public and private sector groups and recently, with his publisher Berrett-Koehler (www.bkpub.com), developed an online version of the Followership Styles instrument he uses in these workshops (www.courageousfollower.net).
Chaleff also occupies a unique niche in Washington, DC. He has served as executive director of the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF) and is currently the chair of its Board. CMF is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that helps congressional offices serve their constituents through better communication and management practices in their own offices. From this vantage point he has a unique view of leader-follower dynamics in political cultures.
Morris: Before focusing on your books, I have some general questions. First, what is it about executive coaching that you most enjoy?
Chaleff: It’s rare for promising performers, mid-level managers or senior executives to stop the world for awhile to examine how they are interacting with that world, what impact their style is having, and how they might interact more effectively. Coaching gives them that opportunity.
When you make the environment safe, both through confidentiality ground rules and non-judgmental questioning and feedback, people open up and become vitally engaged in their own growth. In addition to the process being of significant benefit to them, it provides the coach with a privileged window into the dynamics of organization life. This helps me keep real and fresh when writing about leadership and followership. I also work with a terrific group of talented coaches so we learn from each other (www.exe-coach.com)
Morris: You have much of value to say about strengthening skill sets. In your opinion, what will be the most important skills that business leaders will need during the next 2-3 years?
Chaleff: Every age has its anxieties. Ours is no exception. Globalization, recession, climate change, aging populations, the mind-boggling speed of change, the rise of giant economic and scientific competitors, the 24/7 media cycle all contribute to a background of anxiety. Leaders need to possess or learn the capacity to not add to that anxiety but rather to channel it into adaptive responses. This is where leadership “being” is as or more important than “doing”.
A concomitant skill will be creating cultures that make it explicitly safe for candor between all levels of the organization. Vast knowledge resides at the bottom of the organization that must be able to reach and inform the strategic decision makers at the top. Otherwise warnings about suspect practices do not reach the top of a Lehman Brothers or an Arthur Anderson until those practices sink the organization. They must be able to hear these warnings and look deeply into the organization’s culture, its metrics and its reward systems to understand how it is creating unacceptable risk.
Leaders of the 21st century will encourage their younger staff to imaginatively utilize ever-changing technology to break down walls between levels of the hierarchy, functional departments, partner organizations, stakeholders and customers. They will encourage reverse mentoring and leadership based on competency rather than on position.
They will also understand their power to model the values and behaviors that are needed throughout the organization. These include continuous learning, self-development, authenticity, resilience and personal and social accountability. Gosh, these sound like the qualities of a well developed, mature human being!
Morris: You occupy a very interesting niche in Washington, DC. Some would say bringing good management practices to Congress is both oxymoronic and quixotic. What is your experience in this realm?
Chaleff: Congress has many critics and much of the criticism it receives is well-deserved. Yet most of its members are passionately dedicated and the legislative branch is a crucial institution for our republic. So we need to think about how to make it work better for us.
Congress operates on several levels. The primary unit is the individual member of Congress and his or her office. All members have both a Washington office and one or more offices in their district or State. Representatives are allowed up to 18 full time staff. The size of Senate office staffs varies by state population and can go as high as 80 or so. For these offices to best serve the member’s constituents they need to be well managed. The non-profit I chair has been able to make a significant difference in this realm.
The larger institution is a different kettle of fish. Some of its support services such as the Library of Congress, the Capitol police, the finance functions, can benefit from good management the way any organization can. But at the heart of the institution, which is the two chambers and their elected members, the process becomes so intensely political that good management emphatically takes a back seat to the need for principled leadership. Unfortunately, our system rewards those in leadership roles far more for party victories than for policy achievements. It is a great conundrum as to how to alter those dynamics.
There are small fixes that could curb the worst consequences of this system but the larger dynamics are unlikely to radically change. Therefore, it comes down to the values of the leadership. We need individuals with the courage to be “patriots instead of partiots.” It is said that people get the government they deserve. I interpret this to mean if we want a better legislature we need to individually and collectively raise our voices to demand dialogue instead of posturing, and principled collaboration instead of politically motivated “gotcha”. The Congressional Management Foundation (http://www.cmfweb.org) is seeking the resources to work at the institutional level and help nudge the culture of Congress in that direction. (Yes, I just slipped in a fund raising appeal!)
Read more »