To Be The Driving Force, Consider Followership Instead Of Leadership

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Credit union executives today need a new model of leadership. Yesterday's autocratic and chain of command models don't fly anymore. Today's independent, self-directed employees simply won't stand for it. At the same time, those same associates, clamoring for security in our still tenuous environment, also need assurances that their leader has a strong and motivating vision.

I propose a new, two-dimensioned focus for leadership, with an automotive metaphor to illustrate. This new model of leadership challenges us to drive ahead, wipers on, with constant vigilance, looking forward through a sometimes mud-spattered windshield. This new model also demands we regularly check our rear view mirror to insure we haven't left the team behind-that we're not on the road all alone.

A New Definition

A new definition: "Leadership is sustained followership toward a shared vision."

Why followership? What is a leader without followers! CU executives today must remember that charging ahead on a future path without ensuring team buy-in can lead to factions, power-struggles, and doubt. Communication is essential. (Many years of CU employee research have taught us the key question of "Why" tops the list of associate concerns.)

Sustained followership demands the continuing connection with and engagement of associates. Leaders don't need followers for the moment; leaders need followers for the long term. Sustained followership asks you to regularly look behind and insure you bring the team on board. Leadership today requires communicating with, listening to, and learning from, associates. It also means, whenever possible, giving associates a true role in creating the future. It means moving from empowerment (the ability to be a meaningful player in the game) to authorship (responsibility for creating the game itself). How engaged are your team members? How much authorship and input have they had in creating your future?

The Shared Responsibility

Now I'm not suggesting the cart be put before the horse here. This is not about relinquishing responsibility. It is still the leaders' role to lead. Today's leader must, however, enroll and employ team members in their areas of responsibility and expertise. Leadership today is a shared responsibility.

Why "shared vision?" Employee engagement is built in part on sharing in the belief that we, collectively, are moving in a direction that is bigger than ourselves and will ultimately be successful.

Shared vision means that we are working toward the realization of purpose and goals…together. In the ideal, shared vision is built on a calling or cause bigger than ourselves, driving and inspiring the team to achieve.

"Leadership is sustained followership toward a shared vision." To what extent have you defined, and are you driving toward, a compelling, collective purpose? To what extent have you checked the mirror to ensure the rest of the caravan is driving with you?

Neil Goldman is CEO of Goldman Consulting & Strategy, and can be reached at (310) 968-2007 or

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