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How Putting Your Ego Aside and Learning to Follow Can Teach You Valuable Leadership Skills

Followers–not only leaders–are the foundation for success in every business.

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BY Amy Vetter - 08 Mar 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

To be a good leader you first have to be a good follower. In business, there are far more followers than leaders, and for a good reason. Not everyone can be in charge at once, and leaders can't accomplish much without dedicated followers.

Being a good follower is a skill in itself, not everyone comes by it naturally. Think of the players on a football team or soldiers in a squadron. The success of the entire group depends not only on sound leadership from the coach or commanding officer, but on the ability of every member to do their individual jobs and be empowered to execute when needed.

However, being a great follower doesn't mean you are mindless and someone who always does what you are told, or a "yes" person who enthusiastically agrees with every strategy or course of action. Strong followership empowers everyone around them to strive to do better for themselves, their leaders, and the good of the company.

How can you become a great follower? Here are the top 5 qualities you should possess and why they are so essential to the success of a business.

1. They keep their ego in check.

Great followers exhibit great ego management. There is no "I" in any achievement. There are many times where I have thought of the idea or done a great deal of the leg work, but have given credit and acknowledgement to those around me that helped bring it to market. Even though you can tell everyone all the great things you have done yourself, it feels better for everyone that it was a team effort and anyone who has contributed feels valued.

2. They form strong credibility.

Followers give credit where credit is due, admit mistakes, and share successes. This way leaders can depend on them not to bombard them with small and sometimes petty requests that can disrupt everyone's workday. I tell my teams that when they get asked a question they don't know, go research it and then implement it. They are now the expert! Establishing yourself as a subject matter expert on a team provides you a way to gain the trust of those around you.

3. They are committed to a purpose.

Effective followers are committed to something--a cause, a product, a principle and their colleagues. Keeping this in mind helps followers focus on the ultimate goal of the business and not get stuck on what's in it for them. Everyone on my team is part of the strategic planning process. This way everyone can get their input into the process and feel they were a part of what was decided as the mission, rather than feeling like they were told what to do and didn't have a say in their daily work.

4. They focus their efforts for maximum impact.

Followers master skills that are first and foremost useful to the company overall. I have always valued the people who pitch in no matter what and without being asked. Even though we all have job descriptions, those who reach out to help others on their team always stand out. They lead by their actions and support the team in order to reach the company's goals. Their positive, helpful attitude lifts everyone's spirits.

5. They support others.

They realize that the importance of many, not the few, is what makes a business successful. It's important to be honest about what you are good at and what you are not. That way you can appreciate the strengths of each person and use each person's skills to the best of their ability rather than focusing on weaknesses. I have always looked for people that have the skills I don't. I am a visionary and love to execute new ideas, but I need people around me to look into the details, to make sure it will work, and come up with the realistic milestones of when it can get accomplished.

In many ways, great followers are just as essential as great leaders. You need both for any business to succeed. While learning to be a follower can be tough in the ego-dominated business world, the skills you develop as a follower will pay off when it's time for you to influence those around you to accomplish what you set out to do. We all are leaders, no matter the title, if we work together and actively listen to one another.

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