By Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK (Follow Mum Uploaded by Magnus Manske) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
There I was, about to walk into the boss’s office and close the door. He had just made it very clear the outcome he wanted the team to achieve today. The problem was that he had a severe misperception of the roadblocks being placed in front of the team by an outside organization. The outcome was possible, but the approach wasn’t going to work. The project lead tried to explain it in the meeting, but the boss was convinced of his approach. I was his deputy; I couldn’t let him fail because he didn’t understand the whole situation. I figured I might be coming out of this conversation looking for a new job, but I knocked, walked in and closed the door. It was actually a civil and insightful conversation, which I mainly attribute to this particular boss being one of the best leaders I’ve ever known, and though it was challenging, I was able to convince him of what he was missing and got our team going in the right direction. It also cemented the trust between us and our professional relationship for years after.
As I’ve mentioned before, unless you are fortunate enough to be the guy at the top, even as leaders we all have a boss that we have to report to. This means that as leaders, we also need to be good followers. This can get tricky sometimes.
There is more to be a good follower than just taking orders and getting the job done.
A good follower will anticipate what the boss is looking for. He will understand the boss’s vision and intent and try to act the way the boss would want it done without having to bother the boss with the trivial details. This means as a follower, you need to have a solid understanding of the boss’s vision and intent as well as the authorities that he has delegated down to you. See the post “What Keeps Your Boss Up at Night” for more.
Just as important as taking direction from the boss with a smile, is being straight with the boss. There are going to be times you have to tell him things that he isn’t going to want to hear. You may have heard of the “one challenge” rule. It’s pretty simple, when the boss makes a decision you disagree with, you take one opportunity to try to convince him otherwise and if he sticks with his decision you go execute it and say nothing more about it. I sort of disregarded that in the situation above, but it was a pretty dire situation and I played the technicality that I wasn’t the one who initially challenged him.
I know that challenging the boss is not an easy thing to do. It’s okay if it takes a few minutes (or hours, or days) to get your courage up to do it. Try not to wait until it’s too late for a positive outcome to still occur. I’m a big believer in the saying “Bad news doesn’t get better with age!” so try not to leave your boss with no options because too much time has elapsed.
To be fair, after that conversation described above, there were several times I felt the need to do the same thing with my bosses. Sometimes I’ve been successful at convincing them, other times I’ve left with the same orders as before looking for a way to make it work.
You owe it to your boss to be straight with him. Your efforts may not always be received in the spirit of honesty and trust that you intend. Just shake it off and keep being an excellent follower. The folks you lead will follow the example you set for them!
What other aspects of followership do you consider important? Comment below!