Three Mistakes Followers Make and How They Hurt, Part 2

If you’ve been a leaderhelps reader for a while now, you know I’ve been writing on mistakes leaders make. That work has been based on research on leader behaviors and followers’ responses to those behaviors. With this series, I address the other side of the leader-follower equation: Three important mistakes we make as followers.

In Part 1, I explained what I mean by the term, “follower” (and addressed the concern some people have with that word) and reviewed those three key mistakes:

1. We too often associate trust with agreement.
2. We aren’t specific/explicit about our loyalty.
3. We mistake following with passivity.

With this post, let’s take a look at the first mistake in a little more detail.

1. We too often associate trust with agreement


As leaders, we understand how critical trust is. Without trust there really isn’t a relationship.

In previous posts I discussed the research done by James Kouzes and Barry Posner in studying what competencies followers say they want most in a leader. Honesty is always at the top of the list because such elements as truthfulness and integrity are building blocks for trust. It’s difficult to trust a leader who isn’t honest with us.

Our problem as followers is that we add something to the requirement for trust. In addition to honesty and integrity we add an impossible requirement. That is, we make the mistake of thinking that in order to trust a leader we have to agree with all of their decisions and actions. As leaders we know this is impossible, as followers we sometimes slip into the trap.

Leaders report this as a prime frustration – “I don’t want to feel as if I lose people the moment I do something they don’t agree with. That’s not trust and that’s not loyalty. But sometimes it’s reality.”

So, as a follower, test yourself, answering honestly:

  • Is the leader honest?
  • In as much as  you can know, is integrity important to the leader?
  • Does the leader have the best interests of the organization at heart?
  • Does the leader care about you as a person?

If “yes” is the answer to these questions then it is likely that he/she is worthy of your trust even when his/her actions or decisions may not be the ones you would make.

So, take action. Make a frequent conscious attempt to separate trust and agreement and be determined not to give disagreement more power than it deserves in the relationship. Hold yourself accountable and be sure your standards for trust are fair.

In the next post, the question of loyalty and the second common mistake followers make.

Click on the links below for information about more effective leadership and followership.


Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It

Managing Your Boss (Harvard Business Review Classics)

The Heart of Leadership: Becoming a Leader People Want to Follow (BK Business)

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable

The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations

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