Following the leader
I have a very good job at the moment. And the one I had before that was also very good. But the one before that had a particular charm of its own.
Let me explain. My current job, as you can see on the right, is as editor-in-chief of the bi-monthly business communication magazine Business Spotlight and its ancillary products (exercise book, audio, website etc). Before that, I was editor-in chief of the monthly general English magazine Spotlight. And before that? Well, I was deputy editor of Spotlight.
And what is so special about being the second in command? Surely, it is better to be the editor-in-chief, the boss, the big cheese? (In reality, the middle-sized cheese in my case, but let's not quibble.)
In many ways, of course, it is preferable to be the number one. You have more decision-making power and can attempt to put your vision into practice. You also have, let's be honest, more kudos and money. On the other hand, you have more responsiblity, including personnel responsibility, and more bureaucracy to deal with.
As the deputy, you also have a certain kudos. And you have a very important, and potentially very rewarding, role: supporting the leader.
In my 20 years as editor-in-chief, going back to February 1995, I have been lucky to have excellent deputies. They have been supportive, responsible and excellent at their jobs.
My take on on the role of the deputy has always been that you should support your leader 90 per cent or so of the time — assuming that he or she is not constantly doing stupid things. For the other ten per cent, you should be prepared to question the leader, for example by asking, "Are you sure you're not making a complete idiot of yourself with this decision?" (Depending on your relationship, you can substitute stronger words for "idiot".)
This type of role depends both on the deputy having the confidence to ask such questions and on the leader being prepared to listen and question his or her decisions. In other words, I've always thought that both follower and leader have essential roles to play in this relationship.
I was therefore fascinated to read a recent article in The Wall Street Journal about a new management buzzword— "followership". The word itself is ghastly (and is meant to be the converse of "leadership") but the concept makes sense.
Learning how to be a good follower — supportive but not sycophantic — is an increasingly important business skill. And as human-resources manager Michelle Buczkowski points out in the article, "a key component of being a good follower is providing honest, candid feedback up the food chain". I'll second that.
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