Project Management

Ten Ways to Grow your Followers into Leaders

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The Scenario: 

Frank and his new boss Phil are discussing an upcoming major project that Ann, the CEO, has tagged Phil to own.

“Frank, we need to talk about Apollo. Ann is very focused on its delivery and has specifically asked me to be the project sponsor.

“OK,” Frank said confidently, expecting Phil to empower him to lead Apollo.

“I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and I’m going to ask Beth to lead Apollo.”

Frank’s heart sank. “Beth?”

“That’s right,” Phil said. “I know that you’ve been wanting to take on something big like this, but I just don’t think you’re ready for Apollo.”

“What do you mean?” Frank asked.

Phil leaned forward. “Frank, I’ve got no doubt that you’d burn the midnight oil to deliver Apollo. The truth is that I just don’t think your team is ready for it.”

“My team? How so?”

“Apollo is huge and it’s going to require a strong team to get it done. Beth has done an outstanding job of investing in her team and growing them to be able to take on challenges like Apollo.”

Frank tried to appeal. “But you know I’d put everything I’ve got into delivering Apollo.”

“Frank, that’s exactly the point. I believe you’d put your all into it. It’s not about just you, it’s about the team you’ve been entrusted to grow. They’re Just not ready for Apollo. There will be other big projects in the future; let’s work to help you get your team ready for them.”

The Message:

Perhaps you know a Frank (or maybe are one yourself); a leader who will work himself to the bone to get something done but fails to grow and leverage a team of followers to help deliver results. Common excuses like, “I’m the only one who can do it,” “My team doesn’t have the experience,” or “It’s quicker if I just do it myself,” may be true in the moment, but they do nothing to build and leverage the skills that the leader’s team can bring to the table. This is a primal failure of what I call followership stewardship; the cultivation of followers to help them grow into leaders so you as a leader can scale into a leader of leaders. It’s every leader’s responsibility to acknowledge that a core purpose of being a leader is delivering results and growing followers. A leader who isn’t intentional about both delivering results and growing followers won’t scale into a leader of leaders. At some point the leader will not be able to deliver on bigger problems because he lacks the leverage of well-equipped followers to deploy. Sadly, this usually becomes evident when a leader fails to solve a problem that is too big for him or her to solve.

Do you need to work on being a better followership steward to deliver results and grow followers? Here are ten nuggets to consider:

  1. Watch the leader/follower skill gaps – Be mindful of having too large of a skill gap between you and your direct followers. Big gaps, even if the leader has high-potential followers, can cause the leader to take on more work by having to bridge the skill gap between the leader and follower.
  2. Have at least one follower who can do your job at a moment’s notice – Secure leaders don’t view followers as a threat. Quite the contrary; secure leaders cultivate followers who can fill the leader’s shoes with minimal business disruption. Have at least one follower who can fill your shoes in the event you are unexpectedly out of pocket.
  3. Find strengths that complement your weaknesses – Leaders who understand their own weaknesses need to seek out followers with strengths in the leaders’ weak areas. The leader not only supplements the team with strengths he or she doesn’t possess, but also provides an opportunity for both the leader and follower to learn from each other.
  4. Be disability inclusive – 26% of the US population has a documented disability. Only one in four working-age disabled people have jobs. Employee turnover is 48% less for those with a disability. Leaders need to actively look to the disability community for talent.
  5. Actively encourage being challenged – Leaders need to promote an environment where followers feel safe to challenge the leader’s thinking. Leaders don’t have a corner on the wisdom market and shouldn’t behave as if they do. Set and expect a respectful tone.  
  6. Call out “yes people” – Followers who simply agree with everything the leader says not only can be labeled as “sucking up to the boss” but also don’t get an opportunity to demonstrate critical thinking. Let followers know that you don’t want to build a team of brown-nosers; just make sure you follow up the words with actions and encourage being challenged (see point 5).
  7. Always have a succession slate – Leaders need to be intentional about having a candidate list of people who can take the leader’s job. Once you have the list, make sure you have a plan to cultivate your succession candidates to minimize disruption in the event you move on.
  8. Don’t make your job look so ugly no one would want it – Leaders who appear to work day and night, never take a peaceful vacation, or can’t enjoy their kid’s soccer game without being interrupted harm themselves in two ways. First, they become prime candidates for burnout. Second, they make their job look incredibly unattractive. Why would a follower who tries to keep balance want to be promoted into the leader’s 24/7 job?
  9. Promote “leverage a skill to learn a skill” – Leaders need to set a tone for followers to both bring a skill into an assignment and learn a skill from an assignment. Assignments that don’t have growth opportunities for followers are lost learning opportunities. Be deliberate about ensuring followers not only bring experience to a situation, but also gain experience from it.
  10. In-the-moment coaching while delivering – Leaders who combine the delivery of results along with in-the-moment coaching to followers provide far more value to the follower’s growth than any amount of sitting in a classroom. Capitalize on learning opportunities by providing timely and candid in-the-moment coaching.

The Consequences:  Not being an intentional followership steward can lead to the following:

  • Your followers won’t grow – When the leader doesn’t walk the talk on growing followers then – guess what – followers don’t grow. Imagine that.
  • You won’t grow – Stagnate followers mean stagnate leaders. Your growth comes in large part through the growth of your followers.
  • You won’t scale – When your growth is limited then your ability to take on larger and more complex areas of responsibility also becomes limited.

The Next Steps: 

  • Review the 10 tips to be a followership steward.
  • Decide which ones you need to improve.
  • For any tips you’ve identified as needing work, put an action plan together to address those followership steward areas.
  • Use a trusted advisor who can hold you accountable to be a better followership steward.
Posted on: August 18, 2022 12:00 AM | Permalink

Comments (12)

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Luis Branco CEO| Business Insight, Consultores de Gestão, Ldª Carcavelos, Lisboa, Portugal
Dear Lonnie
The topic you brought up for our reflection and debate is very interesting.
Thanks for sharing, for the "ten nuggets to consider" and for your opinions

We agree with: "if we want to go fast it's better to go alone and if we want to go far it's better to go together"

Coaching and delegation and a lot of training (work to be carried out) are three excellent tools to support our team members to grow

Stéphane Parent Self Employed / Semi-retired| Leader Maker Prince Edward Island, Canada
The best followers are leaders in their own right. Always make sure that your team members, including yourself, have an understudy.

Project managers will become Servant leaders by giving them empowerment and make them from followers in to leaders .

MUZAN MOHAMED Project coordinator | AD Port Group Khartoum, Khartoum, Sudan

Vagner Antonio da Silva São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil
The leadership queue will move, that is not negotiable. Participating in this process with the shared tips could make birth a win-win relationship among the team(s) and its (their) members, consolidating a WoW on this matter in favour of the projects and organizations. Congrats for the insights.

Latha Thamma reddi Sr Product and Portfolio Management (Automation Innovation)| DXC Technology Mckinney, Tx, USA
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Project management!

Maxim Shevelev Haifa, Ta, Israel
Thank you, very much!! The topic that you brought to our reflection and debate was very interesting.

J SURING Malaysia
Golden nuggets! How about having a mentor-mentee program or a happy hour session?

J SURING Malaysia
Pull staff up.

Jihad Hamdan Projects manager| Arrand engineering consultants Beirut , Haret Hrek, Jem, Palestine, State Of

Tiago Lourenco MSc, PMP Candidate Project Manager| High Profile Magazine (12-month contract) London, Eng, United Kingdom
Interesting topic. It is important that we learn to pass on the knowledge and wisdom, we need to mentor so we can have allies with enough to progress on their own as well.

Tiago Lourenco MSc, PMP Candidate Project Manager| High Profile Magazine (12-month contract) London, Eng, United Kingdom
Interesting topic. It is important that we learn to pass on the knowledge and wisdom, we need to mentor so we can have allies with enough to progress on their own as well.

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