After the Webinar: Understanding Followership. Q&A with Dr. Ed Pallas

Webinar presenter Dr. Ed Pallas answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Understanding Followership: The Other Side of Leadership. Here are just a few of his responses.


Audience Question: Thinking about that matrix that you shared, how do we turn that yes person into someone who thinks critically and has the courage to challenge their leaders? 

Ed Pallas: So great question. Generally, what happens is that yes person didn’t start out as a yes person. They started out as that exemplary followers. They worked for a, let’s say, toxic leader who didn’t want ——– . And every time they spoke up with an idea, there was no psychological safety. And so, they quite literally got hammered from that upper right quadrant down to that lower right quadrant. In other words, they stuck their head up enough times, and every time you stuck their head up with a new idea and maybe they said, “Hey, boss, you might want to turn the ship, there’s an iceberg,” they probably get their head bitten off, or they got written up, or maybe they got embarrassed in a meeting. And what happens when that happens to us a couple of times? We just stop speaking up. And so, even if we know the boss is steering the ship toward an iceberg, “Hey, I’ve had my head bitten off enough times. Hey, boss, you’re doing a great job. And so, we create these yes people, not always, but that’s been my experience, is most of them are created by poor or bad leaders.


Audience Question: Almost everybody believes they’re a good leader and almost everybody believes they’re not a follower. How can one go about making others understand that to be a leader, one also has to know how to be a good follower? 

Ed Pallas: So, I would suggest, the best way is to lead by example. In other words, how do you talk about your boss? How do you deal with a decision that comes down from above? Do you bad mouth your boss? Do you bad-mouth the decision? Because if you do, you’re leading by example, and you’re teaching them that it’s okay to bad mouth you. In other words, you’re being an alienated follower. So, what I would suggest, and believe me, I’m far from being on the pedestal because I wish I could say, I did this because I’ve been a horrible follower throughout my career, not my entire career. But this is kind of the thing where you go up and down through your career. I’ve done myself and almost all of those quadrants, and I remember the time when I was a very bad follower, and I’m embarrassed by it now, but you know what happens. But I can tell you that when I was a poor follower, I was setting the example for the people that I lead to be poor followers, and that’s not the way to do it, the way to do it is to be that exemplary follower, in return, you’ll be seen as an exemplary leader.


Audience Question: Should we assume or think that being a good follower prepares you to become a good leader? And what are the most important characteristics of followership that we should carry on as leaders? 

Ed Pallas: Jean? I think that’s exactly what makes you a good leader is being a good follower. And if you remember, Chaleff in particular talked about wanting more responsibility. That’s when your leader is not already doing this. Like, personally, I think our job as leaders, half of our job, is to prepare people to take our role. Like, I know, I’ve got 2.5 years left in my department. I’m trying to consciously. I have one particular lieutenant, I’m trying to consciously prepare him for being, for being a captain. I want to see him get to that next level, and I want to do everything I can to encourage that. I don’t think we see that enough. And so, the leader has to reach down. For those that want to. Not everybody wants to. I do address this in the last chapter of my book. I pull them up their own leadership mountain – help, coach, and mentor them. Whereas followers, if your boss isn’t doing that, reach out to him/her and say, “Hey, boss, I’d like to get to your level. Can you help me?” If they’re not willing to find another coach, find another mentor, find somebody else to help you. But demonstrate to your boss that you want to do that by asking for extra responsibilities at their level. So that you’re kind of mentored into doing that. I had a great sergeant, ——- who did that with me, it says ———. He kind of let me take the reins a lot, but he would be there as my safety net. So that if I screwed up really badly, he kind of swoop in and save the day, so nobody got hurt, but being a mentor to people that are your followers. And if you’re a follower, reach out to your boss and say, “Hey, how do I get to your level, help me out?”


Audience Question: What’s the difference between being a follower like you’ve been talking about followership versus being a team member?

Ed Pallas: So, I don’t think, again, like leader-follower. I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. There’s a big overlap, and I’ve been in a lot of teams throughout my career, and I have not always been the best team member, but the best team members I can think about were also the best followers, since they were also informal leaders, and we’ll kind of get into this, but just because you have no brass on your collar or stripes or whatever, I think we all can agree. it doesn’t make you a leader. I’ve had several leaders in my life that have had none of that. They’ve been team members, and they’ve been informal leaders.


Audience Question: How can you be a good follower with a bad leader? 

Ed Pallas: That’s probably the most challenging situation, but it also can kind of be the most fun. Because if you have and I do address this. So, for instance, micromanaging always comes up. And I’ve been asked, how do I avoid the boss who’s a micromanager? The idea is, if they’re a micromanager, then you over-deliver to them. If they want a 10-page report, that’s single space… You just make sure you get everything they want, and you overdeliver. So, the idea is, once they feel that you are competent, they will focus their toxic lenses on somebody else. So, the challenge when you have a bad leader,  the main reaction of the most common reaction is to push back. But it’s kind of judo, embrace them, and try to over-deliver to them, over-serve them. I hope that helps.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Understanding Followership: The Other Side of Leadership.  


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