‘Followship’ was the unusual title of a talk given by Allan Leighton, (chairman of the Co-op and former chairman of Royal Mail amongst other roles) at a recent business conference. True followship is not about our Twitter account but is the flip side of leadership because leadership only works if people follow. However getting a following requires both skill and character. Allan challenges business leaders to be the kind of leader that they themselves would want to follow. It is easy for someone in authority to bark orders but it is quite another thing to be an inspirational leader.


Allan challenges us all to be fully listening rather than only half listening and half thinking of our reply back to someone. Communication is key and to be a great communicator you need to be a good listener. In the run up to Brexit there was far too much ‘talking at’ the other side rather than listening. Although for those who are positive, Brexit will offer many opportunities whilst those who view it as a disaster it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The best business leaders spend time on the shop floor or on the construction site or wherever meeting the girls and guys who work at the sharp end, listening to their stories, ideas and wisdom.

A great leader will be disinterested in growing the headcount of their business but will work on brain count – appointing and developing people of ability who will engage their brains, challenge the status quo and be innovative. If we do that, Allan argues, we will have a diverse workforce as brainpower is blind to gender, race, sexuality and nearly all disabilities.

Followship requires humility. Even the very best leaders will only be right 70% of the time and so not digging in but being able to admit to a mistake is essential. Having ideas open to scrutiny by others will only improve them and to do that diverse strong boards and committees are needed.

Our military have much to teach us in civilian life about followship. To inspire usually young men and women to enter harm’s way willingly in conflict takes real leadership. Indeed it was only through the help of a military corporal that the writer of this article successfully completed the Krypton factor assault course! More seriously, many firms are missing out on an enormous pool of talent by not looking more carefully at former service personnel for roles in their firms. All too often civilian employers do not see the wealth of transferable skills military personnel bring along with strength of character and integrity. This can itself inspire others in a workforce and so develop strong and functioning teams. If anyone would like more information about recruiting such great military talent just get in touch with me.

Cutting edge companies understand followship and we at SME Strategies are delighted to work with talent management specialists to bring out the potential in a workforce and in a leadership team which can only lead to innovation, greater profitability and more satisfied customers and staff.


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