The Leadership Lie: Why and How to Recruit Followers

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“Leadership is alluring because the mere mention of it implies prestige and power. We have forgotten how to be led, how to listen, and how to be collaborative. Leadership can often be minimized to a medium of ambition and achievement, but what happens when there are too many leaders, too much power, too much ego? What is accomplished then? We need to develop a level of discernment and flexibility as leaders where we understand when our leadership is needed and when it is most advantageous for the best outcome for us to be led instead.” — Janine Dennis, founder and CEO of Talent Think Innovations 

Recent McKinsey research shows that 82% of Fortune 500 executives don’t believe that their companies recruit highly talented people. Many leaders blame that on external factors like the economy or their talent acquisition team’s inability to do a good job. 

But what if the problem is that we aren’t actually recruiting the people we need because we are instead recruiting the people we think we need? 

The Leadership Lie

Most companies think they want “leaders.” So much so that they spend $366 billion a year on leadership development training to increase top-rated leadership skills like coaching, communication, employee engagement, strategic, planning, and business acumen. Meanwhile, despite such significant investments, the single greatest cause of voluntary employee turnover is people wanting to get away from a bad boss.

The truth is that companies don’t actually want true leaders. Leaders are naturally skeptical, questioning, probably difficult to manage, and like working on their own ideas. What’s more, “real leaders usually don’t even want to be managers in organizations because they can have a much larger impact if they are mentors, start their own companies, or spend time outside of work being active members of their communities,” explains Matt Charney, leader of recruitment solutions and strategy at QuantumWork. 

“The word ‘lead’ itself is often a lie,” adds Katrina Kibben, founder & CEO of recruitment marketing consultancy Three Ears Media. “We’re really looking for people to execute projects, not lead anything.” Which explains why managers make terrible mentors and why people need mentors who aren’t their boss.

At the same time, if you’re consistently hiring people based on leadership criteria, then your teams will be doomed to fail. You cannot have an effective team composed entirely of leaders. We all know what happens when there are “too many cooks….” 

I think it’s about time we stop trying to recruit who we think are “leaders” and focus on hiring folks with often overlooked sets of skills. Skills like “low ego.” Skills like “works well with others.” Skills that are reminiscent of — dare I say! — followers. 

Focusing on Followers

What is a follower? Let’s start there. The dictionary definition is “one in service of another.” If we’re being honest here, considering that every single employee — including the CEO — is in service of the organization, wouldn’t that mean everyone is technically a follower? 

Now, before you get super-offended, why don’t we look at what hiring more followers would mean for our workplaces.  

A not-so-recent Business Insider article mentions that “good followers can put their own egos aside and do what you want done, whether or not they think it’s the right thing to do.” They can “put their creativity to work, not in setting grand visions, but instead by finding better and faster ways to do what you want done.” And, no matter how smart they are, “they still trust that you know how they can best apply their brains and talents for the greater good.” That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? 

With all that in mind, how would we even go about finding followers?

Employer Branding to Attract Followers

One of the strongest employer (or overall) branding techniques is to speak to and through your company’s culture and values. Setting a core value related to teamwork and collaboration (i.e., think this) can be a great way to incorporate followership into your talent attraction messaging. This will allow people who have follower qualities and skills to feel comfortable in taking a back seat and working as part of a team…

Source: ERE

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