Why followership is as important as police leadership

Just as we expect our best leaders to be highly competent, credible, and genuine, we also expect those traits from the best followers


As the law enforcement profession has transitioned away from the command and control managerial environment, we have come to embrace the value and effectiveness that leadership has in helping us achieve organizational goals. 

Yet for all of the emphasis we place on the development of leaders, we often forget the importance of followership, and that effective leaders need effective followers to be successful. And like leadership, followership needs to be trained.

Defining Followership
Followership is not the opposite of leadership. Followership is not blind obedience, being a “yes man,” or being disingenuous in your support of your leader. Followers are not merely minions who do nothing to distinguish themselves. 

On the contrary, the traits of effective followership closely match those of effective leaders. Just as we expect our best leaders to be highly competent, credible, and genuine, we also expect those traits from the best followers.

Leaders as Followers
Followers have enormous value to an organization as collaborators with leaders in achieving organizational success. We expect our leaders to provide motivation, direction, and influence. Leaders expect followers to get the work done and achieve results. Neither of these roles operates in a vacuum. It is a mutually beneficial relationship and impossible to have one without the other. 

From a leadership perspective, the key to understanding the relationship between the leader and follower is recognizing that no one is either one type or the other. We all constantly juggle both roles throughout our daily duties and responsibilities. Regardless of your position or assignment, you have a followership role that is just as important as your leadership role. 

Even a chief of police can find that on certain days they may spend up to 80 percent of their time in followership roles. 

Because your role as a follower is closely intertwined with your role as a leader, you need to have an accurate assessment of your followership abilities. To determine if you are an effective follower, ask yourself these questions. 

1.    Do your leaders believe that you are a valuable member of the team? Are you actively engaged in the goals of your leader and the organization, and do you seek to provide usefulness to your work unit? 
2.    Do you actively display behaviors that show your commitment to the organization? Regardless of your personal views or self-interest, do you provide the same level of support and commitment towards organizational goals that you would expect from your own followers? 
3.    Are you able to transition from a leadership role to a followership role with ease, and with an equal amount of enthusiasm for both roles?  
4.    Do you believe that you have to be a good follower before you can be a good leader? Do you recognize that by actively seeking to improve your followership skills, you are also improving your ability as a leader? 

Effective police leaders can best serve their organizations by modeling the followership behavior they expect from others. If you are in a formal leadership position, your legacy as a leader can only be enhanced by your reputation as an exemplary follower. And if you are preparing yourself for a leadership role within your organization, there is no better place to begin than practicing the role of an effective follower. 

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