The Value of Dutiful Followers
Doris was the type of employee you could set your watch to. She arrived at 7:50am each day and left no later than 5:10pm. Her day was spent doing administrative work—much of it routine, identical to the day before, and the day before that. The phone would ring from time to time and there would be the occasional office party. But for the most part, each day was remarkably indistinguishable from the day before.
Through the years everyone got used to her reaction to change. If her schedule was interrupted, you needed to give at least a 48-hour notice. Larger interruptions, such as painting the office or a software upgrade would require a series of one-to-one meetings, coddling, and accommodation. A request to increase her workload or take on a new challenge would typically be met with a one-word response, “No.” That usually meant someone else would have to pick up the slack.
“If everyone was a General we would never win a battle. Soldiers need attention too.”
Reading this, one might think that people resented Doris when, actually, the opposite is true. The vast majority of employees liked and valued Doris. She was punctual to a fault, extremely dependable and as emotionally predictable as they come. There was not an assignment missed, her attendance was second to none and everything she did do was consistently error-free. She didn’t need daily feedback, but if you dared miss her annual evaluation date, there was hell to pay. Everyone learned how to work around her as part of the informal training system and knew how to use her skills to get the overall job done.
Doris, like many employees, had achieved her career goal. She had a comfortable, predictable position with set hours, little to no change, an established workload, and people who were more than willing to modify their needs to fit hers. For all intents and purposes, she was set for the rest of her work life.
“Much like the need for leaders in an organization, there is a need for dutiful followers.”
Do you have people on your team like Doris? How about the person who isn’t exactly a ball of fire, but also doesn’t make waves? What about employees who don’t want to become supervisors or even team leaders? They just want to do their job and go home.
These employees can be a very valuable resource if properly directed. Much like the need for leaders in an organization, there is a need for dutiful followers. People who can implement action plans with only clarifying questions and meet deadlines without fail can prove to be an invaluable resource.
How can you keep these employees motivated in both morale and productivity and work to gradually increase both over time?
Here are some tips:
- Don’t unintentionally ignore these people. More often than not, someone who is an average producer will be overlooked because they are quiet, predictable, and don’t stand out. Take time occasionally to comment on what you value about their work style or output.
- Do what you say. If they need something, follow-up. If a person is working at a steady, yet ordinary pace they can only do so if they have the resources to be successful. An average employee can easily degrade into a problem employee if we don’t give them what they need.
- Remember that not everyone can be drivers, but everyone can be leaders. Average employees demonstrate leadership differently. Whether it be a stellar attendance record, staying above the fray with workplace gossip, or diligently managing through a change process, leadership can come in many forms.
- Watch for subtle signs of discontent. Little things can build up over time and become big issues later. Listen for things like overly sarcastic tones, cynical jokes, and other forms of passive aggression. Pay attention to body language. If you haven’t seen a smile in a while, it might be time to ask questions.
Remember, if everyone was a General we would never win a battle. Soldiers need attention too. Manage with disciplined attention paid to those who choose not to stick out. Take a look around and value the qualities of the industrious follower. Good “followship” can look like and be respected as another form of leadership.
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