Julia Zarina – Understanding followership really allows people to, not fit in, in the weak kinda sense of this word, but fit in, in a sense that you feel supported, you feel like you’re a part of the team. And you feel like everybody can see what you’re doing and can come around and support you or give you more resources or promote you or whatever your goals are.
Christopher Lawrence – Hi internet, it’s me, Christopher Lawrence and I’m here with my friend, Julia Zarina. And Julia is knowledgeable on this subject of followership.
Julia – Okay. (laughs)
Christopher – So Julia, what is followership?
Julia – So followership is all about playing that complementary role to your leader instead of trying to do either the same thing that they’re trying to do or even competing with them or doing something that will harm them in any way or the teamwork or the organization as a whole. Followership is something that I am very passionate about. This is a concept that I’ve learned a few years back when I was struggling with some stuff in my workplace and things were not going very well and you know, we are all very aware what leadership is all about, right? So, we all hear about leadership and we can read books about leadership, yet nobody is talking about followership, which is the concept explaining something complementary to leadership. So you know, I like to approach it through the perspective of dancing, because as a dancer, you know, I engage quite a lot in those activities where leaders and followers have to do things together. And so, when you look at the couple dancing, there is a leader having a leader’s role and there is a follower, having the follower’s role. And those two roles are completely different, but they’re complementary to each other.
Christopher – Wow, I love what you said there because, you know, I picked up on a lot of different things, but one of the things I picked up on is that there’s so much focus on leadership, but nobody’s telling us how to be a good follower. And we need followers.
Julia – Well, and the thing is that we don’t really have these conversations in the workplace, especially because if you look around, being a follower is not really that cool, you know?
Christopher – That’s true, yeah.
Julia – Like, who wants to be a follower? Everybody is talking about being a leader and like we only need to be great leaders and lead something, create something. If we’re not doing that, then we somehow suck at life, but it’s not actually the case because without having that skill set of being a good follower and understanding that this is a collaborative role, this is something that every one of us needs. Like every one of us has relationships. At work, outside of work, we have personal relationships, we all date someone or try to build friendships or whatnot. And in all of those roles, at some points we have to lead, some points we have to follow. Even when you’re picking a restaurant, somebody is gonna have a final say and then you have to somehow agree to it or somehow support that decision or contribute to it, to make it better.
Christopher – Right, and I think that there’s something to be said there about followership and making relationships work better at work, and personally as well, because if you’re leading all the time, you know, I think one, that can be exhausting but two, I think there’s this question about like, how much are you really getting along with people too, right? So there is something about followership. So you practice followership?
Julia – Yes.
Christopher – So tell me some of the, like what does that mean to practice followership?
Julia – Well, it’s a pretty diverse skill set and really nobody’s the leader or follower at all times. Every relationship is dynamic and we all play either role at different times and in organizations a lot of people are leading and following at the same time, right? And so working in the corporate world it’s really important to understand that this is something that you can do while doing a great job in your own role, working within the system, also making a change and also making something great for the organization, but without threatening the organization. You know, because a lot of times when people don’t have those followership skills and I’m a very good example of that because I was totally like that in the past, I have a very strong drive to lead something, and an entrepreneurial mindset and all of that, so I wanted to come and disrupt something and just do things my way because I knew better. And maybe sometimes I did, but the way I was approaching making those changes wasn’t quite right and so instead of letting me do these things better, people were getting really frustrated and even afraid. And so I spent a lot of time trying to figure out why am I not getting promoted? Why am I not getting any pay raises? I’m doing such a good job and it seems like I can do nothing right because, I just, you know, can’t seem to figure out how to fit in. So understanding followership, really allows people to not fit in, not in the weak kinda sense of this word but fit in, in the sense that you feel supported. You feel like you’re part of the team and you feel like everybody can see what you’re doing and can come around and support you or give you more resources or promote you, or whatever your goals are.
Christopher – I love this concept and, admittedly, it’s quite new to me and I only heard about it from you. And so, I’m so glad to be here today learning more about it. So, what are some of the problems that happen when we’re not consciously practicing followership? ‘Cause it does seem like it has to be a deliberate, conscious thing right? We’re so focused on life leadership, personal leadership, professional leadership, and we’re conscious and deliberate about practicing these things but we’re not conscious and deliberate about practicing followership, I would say most of the time. So what happens when we’re not practicing followership?
Julia – There’s different things that happen, depending on who the person is, of course. We’re all different humans and for some people, following is easier than for others. Like if you look at the entrepreneurs, following is really challenging for us, right? And I’ve developed some sort of a motto for that and I have this category of people that I call rebels. And those people who are rebels, in the workplace and in life, yes, they are usually very smart, very driven, amazing individuals who are capable of many, many, many things. However, they would struggle with micromanagement. So one of the issues that I personally was facing, in the workplace before, was micromanagement. I just couldn’t stand how people were trying to tell me what to do or checking my work all the time and just being so annoying and all of those approaches that made me feel very limited. And when I discovered why they were doing all these things, and why I discovered that part of being a good follower is understanding the requirements of the leader and what their standard is and it may be very different from the vision that you have from your own work and so one of the issues is micromanagement. Another one is feeling not noticed or acknowledged or not accomplishing some of your goals because you might feel that, you know, I’m just doing everything that I can and I’m really putting in my best effort, yet nobody can see what I’m doing. Nobody acknowledges me. Feeling unappreciated and feeling in some way, unworthy, maybe of a promotion or something that people sometimes work towards and they come around and they start blaming themselves for these issues, however it’s not themselves, it’s really the skill set that is missing and it can be learned. And so that’s how followership played a major role in my life because, in fact, I learned it at the time when I was struggling a lot with my work related mental health issues. And that’s when I realized that something needed to change and it likely wasn’t gonna be my managers, so (laughs) that’s when I started really paying attention to that and I went to this conference when I learned about followership and since then it’s just, my perspective shifted. And I didn’t change as a person, I didn’t become weaker, I didn’t become like a yes-man type of person, I didn’t become anything that I’m not, but that skill set is really allowing me to achieve my goals and to be the person that I want to be in the workplace without having to sacrifice other things.
Christopher – I love that so much because I think when we hear followership, the sense is that we do have to give something up and it’s almost like what you’re saying is that, actually I’m not compromising anything, what I’m doing is giving myself permission to empower myself in a different way, that doesn’t require me to be fighting for that leadership space that so many people are fighting for. What if somebody wanted to start consciously followership, what’s one or two or three things that they could start to do to practice followership?
Julia – Well it’s a whole skill set, right? That starts with communication, for the most part and my mentors actually advised, that you approach your leader if you’re having some challenges in the workplace and you can’t quite manage what’s wrong or whatever, or maybe you feel micromanaged, chances are that you’re leader might be feeling a little threatened by what you’re doing or they may not be trusting you that much. So, one of the really interesting approaches that I have tested personally in my workplaces, and it works amazing, is making a declaration of a follower, to your leader.
Christopher – Wow.
Julia – So, it works really amazing when it comes from the good place, when it comes from the right place and we say, okay, I want to really practice this and I would like to set a meeting with my leader to talk about our relationship or how things are going and share some of my feelings, which sometimes may be uncomfortable, however, when you state that you are there to serve them and you just open up like that and you tell your leader, look, I see there is some tension. I see that we’re not quite getting along very well and maybe we’re not building trust in the way that I would like to be trusted, so I want to make sure that you know, that I’m here for you. I’m here to make your work better and I’m here to support you, whatever that means. So, why wouldn’t you tell me, how can I do that better? How can I support you in your role so that you feel like you’re not doing everything by yourself and you don’t need to come around and check my work because you’re wasting your time doing that, practically, because you know, I do a good job. So how do I build that trust with you, how do I support you in a way that you know that for a fact to be true? So, that’s one of the really good ways to start. And then practicing decision supporting.
Christopher – Yeah, what’s that mean?
Julia – Well, it’s really simple. If you’ve ever led a team, you know that somebody on the team has to make a final decision and if you don’t happen to be in the leadership role when that decision is being made, a lot of people who don’t understand followership will sit back and say, “Well, whatever, if you don’t wanna hear my things, if you don’t wanna hear my input, I’m just gonna let you do it, seems like you know what you’re doing, so whatever.” That’s a really bad practice, because first of all, you’re pissed, because you’re not being involved in decision making. You’re leader is likely pissed, because you’re not supporting them in what they’re trying to accomplish, right? And everybody wants to be helpful, and so, the better approach to that would be like, okay, I understand that I’m not in charge here, how can I contribute what I know to this decision? Maybe you know something that can make it better. Maybe you know something that could prevent something bad from happening. But coming from that place of really being a team player, really contributing to that final decision, rather than reacting to the fact that you are not in charge for doing it, that could make a really good impression on, not just the leader, but on the team as well and can also make people feel way more engaged and involved in what they’re doing because if you’re supportive, you’re gonna be heard.
Christopher – Hmm, wow, I love this, Julia. I think it’s incredible, actually. So, Julia, where can people learn more about followership?
Julia – Well, there’s books about it, but what is happening this summer, that I’m super excited about, is a conference that we are organizing at the University of Waterloo in Ontario. So, it’s gonna be July 26th to 28thand it is the first Global Followership Conference and we’re bringing together the Global Followership community, you would think that I made this up, right, but I’m not making this up because there has been there’s been a lot of research done on this topic and there’s a lot of people who are very passionate about this. It’s just not very well known. And so, this conference is gonna bring together the academic world and the people who have done research and other organizations that are gonna present their findings on the topic of followership. It’s also gonna bring some of the practical advice and some of the activities that people will do to practice and learn what they’re learning. And also we’re gonna be the students. So, as we all know, there’s a huge cohort of people around you in the workplaces, so those are students or just somebody new to the workplace, you know, that people don’t necessarily come with, you know, a manual on how to succeed in the workplace, so they might be able to learn some really good skills in that conference there.
Christopher – Amazing, so say the dates of the conference again. When was the conference?
Julia – July 26th to 28th, this year.
Christopher – And what’s it called?
Julia – It’s called the Global Followership Conference and you can find us online.
Christopher – Yeah, so where can you find it? Perfect.
Julia – You can find us online, it’s followership, just like leadership, but followership, conference.com.
Christopher – www.Followershipconference.com, and we’re gonna put a link on this video so that you can access it nice and easily from this video.
Julia – Yes.
Christopher – Julia, is there anything else that you would like to say about followership.
Julia – It’s worth learning.
Christopher – It’s worth learning.
Julia – I would say that it’s, I mean there hasn’t been any research done in terms of how followership effects mental health, but I can tell from personal experience and from working with clients that were struggling with workplace well-being and happiness and satisfaction that learning some of the things around this concept have really helped them.
Christopher – Amazing. So, if you have questions about followership or questions about the conference, Julia says that she’s more than welcome to contribute to those answers. So, make comments below, you can send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will forward those on to Julia, and she’ll hop onto the forum, as well, and answer some of those questions. Really cool concept, thank you so much for being here. I’m so glad you agreed to do this.
Julia – Thank you for having me.
About Christopher James Lawrence
Christopher is the Chief Value Officer and Founder of Change My Life Coaching and Co-Founder of Change My Business Coaching and the Healthy Transformations Weight Loss & Inflammation Reduction Program. Change my Life Coaching is a fast growing whole-life, leadership and business coaching company, and the only one of it’s kind. He is also the author of “Go Beyond Passion: Discover Your Dream Job”. Christopher spent 15+ years working in the corporate world with a plethora of industries and companies. His focus was primarily in planning, strategy, and leadership of change management and communication. Christopher is a Certified Master Coach Practitioner (CMCP), trainer and facilitator, and a passionate public speaker who truly cares about the success of each and every single person he comes into contact with. You can reach him at Christopher@ChangeMyLifeCoaching.ca.