I love the concept of partnership from Ira Chaleff’s book The Courageous Follower: Standing Up To and for our Leaders. I’ve written about partnership the most in my articles “Accept Responsibility for Yourself,” and “What Type of Followers do You Have?” But I need to elaborate even more.
Partner followers are purposeful actors. They behave as if there is no substitute for performance, so they give their best effort all the time. But they also challenge processes, policies, and behaviors that either constrain performance or are contrary to the purpose.
Is there any reason YOU would not want all partner followers?
When I ask this question to groups, most people have no problem with the give 110% effort part. But many balk at the thought of a follower challenging. If you have a problem with the thought of being challenged by a follower, I would encourage you to take a hard look at your power paradigm. Are you building a culture of performance around the shared purpose, or a culture of personality around your authority?
True partner followers challenge the leader, but they also assume responsibility for correcting the situation they are concerned about. The rhetoric of partnership sounds something like this: “This does not seem to be working and I think we can do better. Have you considered these alternatives/options? Here is what I would be willing to do to help.”
Partner followers don’t “dump” on leaders. The rhetoric of the individualist sounds something like this: “This sucks (and so do you) and YOU need to fix it. What’s wrong with you?”
Please don’t be offended by the individualist! Take the fact that they are complaining as GOOD news. As I’ve written here before, if your employees never disagree or dissent, that is bad news for you. You need to hear their complaints, but you also need transform complaints into more effective behavior. Help your followers learn to assume responsibility for becoming part of the solution.
Your challenge is to develop the individualist into a true partner. Thank them for their concern, but don’t accept the dump. As a first step, ask for recommendations, suggestions for improvement. See if they would be willing to work together with you on their suggestions. When they are comfortable coming to you with suggestions, then work on encouraging them to come with actions they are willing to commit to in order to remedy their concern. Encourge them to work autonomously to make improvements and to view you as a resource, not the source. Be patient.
I’m not naïve enough to believe that everyone will ultimately become a partner, but I also think it is critical to behave as if anyone could become a partner. Give everyone permission to give themselves permission.
The paradox of partnership is that even if your leader does not invite you to become a partner that does NOT relieve you of the responsibility to develop yourself as one. I strongly believe that if you don’t learn how to practice partnership as a follower, you will NEVER learn to appreciate and nurture partnership in others when you become a leader. I also believe that your work as a leader will be much easier, more effective, and more enjoyable if you are surrounded by true partners instead of sycophants and sheep.
You are responsible for your behavior; you are not responsible for how people respond to your behavior. Find the courage to do the right thing.