Being a good follower
Good followers must have the moral courage to express concerns. They should question why and understand the reason they do things. In doing so it is important to not undermine the leader’s authority. This can mean asking the leader to step away from the group to present your views to them on a one-to-one basis.
Effective followers should be able to reflect, adapt and take responsibility for their own actions. Once the follower has understood a decision and had their questions answered satisfactorily, they should back the decision of the leader or group wholeheartedly.
However, followership is not only about the individuals who follow within a team; it is about the relationship between these individuals and their leader. A good leader is responsible for creating an environment conducive to an exemplary followership style. In creating such an environment the leader should be prepared to:
- Explain why
- Welcome challenging questions
- Seek regular feedback from members of their team
- Delegate responsibility
- Utilise the expertise within their team
- Lead by example
- Know their team
- Share the credit with the entire team.
Mutual respect between leader and follower is a key prerequisite to success. There are many opportunities in clinical practice for doctors to show good followership and good leadership. A junior doctor can tactfully question his seniors as to why a decision is taken, understand it and then convey this with a sense of purpose to the nursing staff. Poor followers take negative attributes into their leadership styles.
A good leader is responsible for creating an environment conducive to an exemplary followership style
360 degree feedbacks from juniors, nurses or administrative staff, a key aspect of doctors’ appraisal and future revalidation, will often reveal this. Exemplary followers, when leaders, are more able to appreciate the concerns of their followers and to set the tone and vision that others will follow willingly.
Throughout their careers doctors will be both leaders and followers. By understanding these roles they can better influence decisions and ultimately be more effective. This piece is based on an article first published in BMJ Careers.2
Andrew Gibbons is a consultant in oral and maxillofacial surgery at Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, UK; Danielle Bryant is a Human Performance Specialist at the Central Flying School, RAF Cranwell, UK.