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Followership styles: a neglected aspect of personnel management.

In the interview suite at a prestigious university, a young woman waits to be called. She is apprehensive, well aware that she has only modest academic credentials. Overhearing other candidates being asked for examples of their leadership ability, she grows restless, knowing the she has never so much as led a group prayer.

When the question is finally put to her, an inspired response bubbles forth: "I'm not a leader, but I'm a terrific follower." The surprised but pleased interviewer hires her on the spot.

This is a true story. If the interviewer's hiring decision seems somewhat surprising, perhaps it's because we pay too much attention to leadership styles, while neglecting the different kinds of followership. Remember, all leaders are also followers at times. Even the chief executive officer of a corporation becomes a subordinate when he or she serves as a member of a community service committee.

Some otherwise capable managers fail because they haven't learned to be good followers: others, because they apply an inflexible leadership style to all situations and all subordinates.

The manager with little finesse in followership tends to disagree with his supervisor, constantly taking opposite sides because he feels he knows best. He will ignore requests and do what he thinks should be done. This type of manager can also be an obstructionist at committee meetings, trying to dominate the group even when he isn't charged with leading it.

A leadership style must suit not only the leader but the particular activity and the characteristics or needs of the followers. Insecure or immature followers need close supervision, while mature, experienced employees probably respond better to a more participative style--one that gives them more responsibility and leeway in decision making.

One method of classifying followership styles of employees is based on how willing they are to take risks. Risk takers are motivated by self-enhancement, which reflects a strong desire for recognition and rewards. They will seek increased responsibility and accept more risks. Non-risk takers, on the other hand, seek self-protection. This usually reflects a fear of failure, and it is manifested by defensiveness or apathy. Such employees dread changes in their work methods, assignments, or responsibilities.

With these concepts in mind, let's look at seven common followership styles and how a manager should respond to them.

* Solid citizens. Also called modest achievers or soldiers, these employees form the backbone of a laboratory. They are productive, reliable, loyal, and demonstrate moderate self-enhancement and self-protection.

If dissidents attack your decisions and actions behind your back, solid citizens will defend you. They also have the courage to challenge your judgment in your presence. Rarely self-serving, having only modest ambitions and ultimate goals, they accept responsibilities that don't necessarily lead to promotion or recognition.

An appropriate management style to use with these employees is participative. Allow them greater freedom in how they get the job done, while viewing yourself more as a resource person than a boss. Don't take them for granted; give them the praise and recognition they deserve.

* Workaholics. Some workaholics are invaluable. Benign workaholics are solid citizens with a very strong work ethic. They are productive and reliable, but also compulsive and impatient, and they work best alone.

On the other hand, employees whose workaholism is based on psychological maladjustment can cause problems. They often need constant clarification of immediate laboratory goals so that their efforts are properly channeled rather than just blind attempts to keep busy. These employees require a lot of supervisory feed-back and patience.

Try giving workaholics solo assignments when possible. But remember that you might have to point some of them in the right direction before letting them run.

* Rockets. Another name for this group is kamikazes. Their instinct for self-enhancement is at a maximum, but self-protection is minimal. Full of explosive energy and enthusiasm, usually extroverted and innovative, they take risks and relish change. Although they can be real movers, they also can get themselves and their bosses in trouble. They tend to jump to conclusions, make waves, and create resentment. Immaturity and insensitivity are among the negative characteristics that contribute to problems.

Their energy must be kept under control, but not bottled up. They may get restless and look for a job elsewhere if challenges or opportunity for advancement are not provided, but their limits of authority must be carefully defined. Assign them tasks that other employees have failed at.

* Innovators. These employees are also referred to as "inventors," "artists," or "long hairs." Their creativity makes them excellent researchers. Routines bore them, but if the work is stimulating, they can be very productive. They never deem a task finished, often wanting to make changes or even to start all over again. Self-enhancement and self-protection are commonly not among their drives.

Innovators are often impractical--ignoring rules, assignments, and deadlines, and choosing the wrong priorities. They may not be good teammates. Indeed, they are frequently not understood by others and are regarded as "a little funny."

A variant is the typical Mr. Fixit. He always has a screw-driver close by and loves to repair balky instruments. He may keep things running but can also wreck them.

Most labs have room for innovators because they can be worth their weight in gold--when they are not menaces. Meld their goals with the department's. You may need close reins to keep innovators on track, but this will succeed only if they like that track. They rebel against an over-the-shoulder manager or one who won't let them express their creativity.

Obviously, an eclectic management style must be employed. Coming up with the appropriate supervisory approach can make the difference between having a happy, useful employee with unique talents, or a frustrated "square peg."

* Bureaucrats. Here we encounter strong self-protectors who are willing to sacrifice self-enhancement if need be. They will risk unpopularity with the boss in order to maintain the status quo.

In the Navy, we called them "sea lawyers." They know more about rules and regulations than they do about the technical aspects of their jobs. Low risk takers, they protect themselves by always offering reasons why new things won't work. Their productivity varies from low to medium depending upon how well they are led. Their peers may not like them but are apt to select them as union stewards. While dependable in repetitive task positions, they are deadweights in a laboratory undergoing change.

Bureaucrats present few problems in large, slow-growth organizations where they often rate as good workers. Don't depend on them for problem-solving help, except as devil's advocates.

People-oriented managers can be taken advantage of by bureaucrats. Such managers want staff input and may bend over backward to accept advice of bureaucrats. What they will get are imaginary or unclear obstacles backed up by citations of rules. This hamstrings the organization. These employees respond best to the task-oriented authoritarian who assigns them repetitive non-threatening tasks.

* Outsiders. They view their jobs only as temporary, and act as observers or critics: Outsiders never really join your work team. Their major interest is elsewhere, and clockwatching is characteristic. They work in spurts, as if performing distasteful jobs that are not commensurate with their ability.

Absenteeism and turnover are high among these employees. Self-protection outweighs self-enhancement, but neither urge is very strong. Their behavior often compensates for a low self-image.

Your management style should aim at coaxing these employees into the fold. Try to get them involved in team efforts. Combine nonthreatening delegation with psychological support. Avoid favoritism, though. If job modification and delegation don't work, relegate outsiders to minor roles.

* Plodders. Every lab should have some of these. Often regarded as dull or lacking ambition, plodders are not stupid or even slow workers. They enjoy repetitive tasks with a steady pace and lack interest in advancement. They are ideal candidates for positions regarded as boring by others. They don't like change and become upset when their duties are altered. Their sense of self-protection exceeds that of seld-enhancement.

A benign authoritarian style is appropriate here. Plodders must be instructed thoroughly, but once they get the hang of their jobs, they are productive and reliable workers. Since most managers are ambitious and energetic, they find it difficult to understand these employees.

Plodders may be looked down upon by other employees in the lab, so supervisors must make a special effort to express appreciation for what they do. Avoid altering their work or giving them additional responsibilities.

Try to recognize the followership style of each of your employees, and adjust your leadership mode accordingly. Pay close attention to the factors of self-enhancement and self-protection. Put to productive use the energy and drive of those who seek self-enhancement; provide reassurance to those motivated by self-protection. Improved morale and productivity will be your rewards.

And while you're at it, how about taking a second look at your own followership style?
COPYRIGHT 1984 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Umiker, William O.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Feb 1, 1984
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