I have long been a student of leadership. I’ve read books, taught classes, was a student in many classes, discussed and examined leadership in many aspects. I’ve worked hard to hone my leadership skills. That is to say, I’ve tried to learn how to get things done through people, not by force or coercion but by convincing them of the necessity and finding common ground in our mutual values. It always surprised me that so many people think that the police chief has no boss; or is an independent entity. The Police Department is a DEPARTMENT of the city. We are not a legal entity by ourselves. So on the organizational chart–I am a follower. I am appointed by the city manager with the approval of City Council.
Lately, I’ve been reading a book on followership. the book is Followership by Barbara Kellerman of the Center for Public Leadership at the JFK School of Government. She has some interesting ideas that followers actually have more power than they know. Particularly in this day and age of social media. Do followers, using social media, influence the course of action of leadership? Is that good or bad? Should an anonymous person behind a computer have the power to impact public decision-making without making their identity known? Take newspaper comment sections as an example–almost no one uses their real name. Should that type of comment influence journalism or outcomes on topics of public discourse?
I believe that for successful organizations to operate at their best, leaders must see themselves as also followers. In a sense the organizational chart should be inverted. My job is to see that the police have the equipment, training and processes to enable them to do their best work in the community. I work for them and they work for the citizens.
So despite what may be the conventional idea that followers are less than leaders, maybe in fact, it is followers who shape organizational outcomes. Maybe followers need to see themselves as having a duty to influence leaders toward high goals and aspirations.
Maybe that is what representational government is all about.