He who has no faith in others shall find no faith in them.—Lao Tzu
We hear a lot about leading. There are best-selling books on the topic, courses in leading, articles on leading, and admonishments to lead. But is there an art to following? Many of us work on our leadership skills. We spend time trying to better understand those around us and their motivations and interests. We attempt to identify their strengths and engage them in projects that match their skills. We learn to give feedback in constructive ways so that others can improve. We try to understand the other’s perspective.
But when it’s our turn to follow, are we as diligent?
Regardless of our role at the hospital, within our group or in our medical community, we need to follow as well as lead. We may be a leader of our group, but a follower with the rest of the medical staff. We may lead some aspects of patient care, but follow on other aspects. How does our performance as a follower affect the group’s outcomes? Does it matter?
Some would say that there are four fundamental responsibilities of a follower.
Responsibility #1: Don’t act like a victim
As a project or program gets underway don’t be defensive or whine. Attempt to understand the rationale behind the project. Most leaders don’t wake up and invent things to keep people busy. They have a goal that usually addresses underperformance in some area. Operating room turnaround time may not seem important to you—discover why it matters to someone else. When a plan is presented, approach it with an open mind and suggest ways to improve the plan or its implementation. Even if the advantages of change are not apparent to you, give them a try before you make up your mind; you might discover that the new way is an improvement. Be straightforward with your concerns, but once the decision is made, play with the team.
We all knew families of brothers who seemed to fight among themselves. But if an outsider picked on one of them, the group banded together to defend each other. Make sure your team knows that they can count on you. Withdrawing from participation is certain to sabotage a project. Once your behaviors establish your reputation as a person who acts like a victim, you can be sure to be excluded from future projects or participation.
Worse than withdrawing is commiserating with others about your bad situation and demoralizing the group you are in. If you believe that the activity is unfair or dishonest, get outside opinions from other colleagues. Someone who is in another group or another field can be very helpful. In other disciplines (business, agriculture, manufacturing, and law), what you are being asked to do may be accepted as part of change. Solicit several opinions (and not just your family members). And when all is said and done, give it a try. Nothing is forever and every great journey starts with a single step—you might be in for a pleasant surprise.
Responsibility #2: Engage Yourself
Almost no one gets it right from the start. If you have ideas on improvement, not only speak up—take responsibility. Work with the project leader to supervise some part of it or assist in creating a monitoring tool or feedback loop. Every project has a number of tasks that need to be completed; volunteer to take responsibility for some part.