Leadership & Followership

training to strengthen work relationships

Follower is not a term of weakness but the condition that permits leadership to exist and gives it strength.
— Ira Chaleff

We all understand the importance of great leadership in our companies and organizations, but what about its opposite, great followership? The concept of following is usually dismissed as passive or subordinate, but what if that wasn’t necessarily the case? Instead, following can be a clear way to articulate the “yin” or receptive qualities to leading’s “yang” or directive qualities. The following activities of listening, responding, and simply getting your work done can stand in powerful contrast to leading activities such as coordinating, delegating, and developing a clear vision. Ideally, the two make one another’s work stronger and better, like well-matched dance partners.

The world economy is changing rapidly under the influences of globalization, automation, and climate change. To keep businesses nimble and resilient, employees increasingly interact with one another across departments and job descriptions. Human skills are more and more essential. When we include a sense of empowered, supportive followership in the equation of professional relationships, we get less command-obey and more creative dialogue. Less avoidance and more authenticity. We still need vertical structures to provide accountability and coordination, but we can operate more dynamically within those structures to improve collaboration and work flow. We can both lead and follow in powerful ways!

Followership-Focused Workshops

Workshop at Hopscotch Design Festival 2017

Workshop at Hopscotch Design Festival 2017

Inspired by principles of social dance, this training program explores three phases of building a great working relationship. Followership skills improve communication and engagement, reduce conflict and negativity, and make teams more productive. Workshops blend interactive, movement-based exercises with group discussion to allows participants to experience all three phases of creative relationship growth, identifying where following skills can help them meaningfully contribute to projects, effectively support their own leaders, and find more enjoyment in their work.

Phase i: Connection

Whether in the context of a dance partnership or a work relationship, connection is a meeting of action and intention. In learning to connect, followers primarily focus on what they do to continuously support the leader, where support is not an inferior, but a complementary force. Leaders cannot do their job without strong support from those below them. The greatest, most valuable employees embody the active, dependable, and engaged role of the follower, even (and especially) if they also hold a leadership title. Participants work in pairs, taking on the physical positions of both following and leading. Through this experiential work, they learn how the following skills of Attention, Engagement, and Openness are what often enable leaders to think and communicate clearly in the first place. Participants will learn how to create connection non-verbally, and how connectedness, or a lack of connection, directly impacts leader-follower communication.

1. Attention: listening, acceptance, positivity

2. Engagement: when and how to question, suggest, and inform

3. Openness: ability to receive feedback and learn through disagreement

Phase II: Collaboration

In exploring collaboration skills, participants deepen their exploration of follower-leader dynamics in more complex partnered movement exercises. Building on the foundation of solid connection skills, dancers or employees are able to transition from the outdated command/obey model toward a more empowered model of productive dialogue. They learn to express the strength of the following role, take ownership of their work, and reinforce their own accountability through the skills of Delivery, Flexibility, and Patience. They also learn that, while it’s critical for leaders to set expectations, it’s equally important for followers to activate Boundary skills by refusing a task or suggesting alternatives when deadlines, assignments, or projects are unsafe, impractical, or unethical. Rather than adversarial, the follower’s ability to establish healthy boundaries is what ensures individual well-being, ethical standards, and sustainable business practices.

4. Delivery: producing quality work on time

5. Flexibility: readily adapting to change

6. Patience: calm under stressful conditions

7. Boundary: setting healthy boundaries

Phase III: Creativity

In this phase, participants will literally move into new creative territory together through a series of theatrical improvisation exercises. This work demonstrates how followers are capable of increasing leaders’ capacity to pursue new and ambitious goals by taking bold actions such as proactively seeking opportunities to self-educate and expand their own knowledge, and offering solutions to challenges as they arise. Participants will learn how activating Bravery and Style in the following role elevates the creative potential of the entire team, opening up channels of greater freedom, challenge, and opportunity in their every day work.

8. Bravery: self-educating to solve problems, offering solutions

9. Style: experimenting, thinking critically, personalizing your work