Photo by kool skatkat
If you’re a leader, then by definition you’ve got followers. You can learn a lot about your impact as a leader by taking a good look at your followers, and in particular, how they follow you.
There are three kinds of “follower behavior” to consider. Each starts with the letter “S” which makes it easy to remember.
Most people are SUPPORTIVE.
They follow you because they believe in you, in the mission, in the cause, in the organization. They follow because they share your commitment and trust in your leadership. Their behavior is based on wanting to do what needs to be done to move the ball forward.
But, when people believe that can’t be supportive, they will turn to one of two other kinds of behavior (not necessarily in order).
Some followers SABOTAGE.
When people realize they can’t – or won’t – follow their leader, they might turn to forms of sabotage, which are often subtle but rarely unmistakable, if you take the time to sort them out.
People might sabotage when they feel they have no other option. Perhaps they can’t quit, they feel powerless to change the course, or they are afraid of you. Engaging in sabotage is a way of releasing tension that seemingly can’t be released any other way.
Perhaps they feel you don’t really have their highest interest at heart. Perhaps they feel you’ve put them in an ethical dilemma. Perhaps they’ve lost faith in your leadership for one reason or another. Maybe they’re “right,” and maybe they’re not. Either way, they can no longer be supportive.
Sabotage takes many forms, and it’s rarely the kind that makes headlines, such as violence or destruction of company property or vandalism. More often, it’s a form of “malicious compliance,” in which a person actually does exactly what they’re told to do – but nothing more, and certainly without bringing their own judgment to bear.
To make a not-too-unrealistic stretch as an example, it’s malicious compliance when a leader says to a follower, “I’m going to lunch. While I’m gone, will you watch the phones?”
The savvy saboteur will do just that: watch the phones. Not answer them, just watch them. He, or she, is doing exactly what was asked. Nothing more, nothing less.
There are other forms of sabotage. Pretending to agree to consensus on a decision, and then bad-mouthing it at the water cooler later is a form of sabotage. Spotting an opportunity to take advantage of an opportunity to further the mission, but letting it go by because one is angry or disappointed or disillusioned with one’s leader is sabotage. Leaving work as the clock strikes 5 p.m. regardless of what’s going on might be another form.
And some followers SPLIT.
They quit. They take another position somewhere else. They give up on this leader, or this organization, or this cause, and move on.
Even worse, some split but don’t leave. They retire but don’t go home. They quit on the job, devolving into the deadwood that seems to permeate some organizations. They collect their pay, but they have no more commitment to offer. They’ve been burned, and they stop giving.
Sabotage and splitting aren’t always the result of poor leadership.
It’s not always a natural response to your leadership that creates saboteurs and people who split. Sometimes other factors must be considered – home life, mid-life crises, and so on. But – it can be!
The thing that great leaders do from time to time is reflect on their own behavior to make sure that they are not non-consciously creating an environment where their followers feel disenfranchised and powerless, leaving little choice but to sabotage or split.
It’s worth asking yourself from time to time: is there something you’re doing that might be behind some confusing behavior on the part of your followers? Are you driving people to sabotage or making them split? Is there anything you could do differently that would inspire people to support once again?