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  • Writer's pictureMark Bragg (Braggy)


In his 1979 song, Gotta Serve Somebody, Bob Dylan was writing about finding meaning in life through service to God. What is unmistakable in the lyrics, is the point that no matter who we are on this planet, well…yes indeed, we are going to have to serve somebody.

What is surprising then, is how much of Leadership and Management dialogue is focused on how to effectively lead your company, organisation or team and so little on the ‘role’ leaders have to play in the service of those they work beside and report to. It is almost like half of the equation has been missed.


Faced with a boss who is difficult or a dysfunctional Executive team, of which they are a member, I have watched leaders respond to the challenge of followership in various ways. Some take a passive approach, accepting things as they are and focus their effort and attention on their team. Often, they will actively shield their team from any trouble or turmoil at the top. 

Others do the reverse, they seem to manage up better than they manage down. Perhaps trying to secure promotions or their next career move or at least seek favour with those they report to.

And then there are a group who will actively and sometimes aggressively, represent their own interest or that of their team, in many ways contributing to the dysfunctional nature of their relationship with their boss, their peers and the Executive Team of which they are a member. 

Note: Patrick Lencioni discusses this when he talks about Leaders understanding that their Number One Team is NOT the team they lead, which seems perfectly natural, but rather it is the Team they are part of, the Executive Team. (Your #1 Team Patrick Lencioni)

The reality is, it is a mistake to just look at your Leadership through the prism of the team you lead. Being able to build and nurture strong relationships with those above you in the chain of command and building effective working relationships with your peers is part of the deal. The other half of Leadership is followership.


I have often spoken with Leaders about this challenge and have begun by asking them a simple question. “Describe for me, your approach to leading YOUR TEAM.”

The responses naturally vary but generally it will go something like this.

“Well I try to be open and honest. I think you should treat people fairly and with respect.  I am truthful about their performance, but I do best to create an environment where they can be successful. That is my primary role. To help them be better in some way. You have to be selfless and to genuinely care.” 

Then I will ask this question. “If you were to describe being a good team member, would the same depiction apply?”

Overwhelmingly the responses are ‘Yes’.

Then “why is it…” I ask, “that you cannot apply those exact same principles to the relationship you have with your boss and your peers?”

Then come the excuses. Usually two of them.

1.    I am not the Leader.

2.    I have to follow orders.


Followership is possibly a greater test of Leadership than leading a team because the simple fact is you DON’T have title, position or authority. Without authority or position, all you have left is influence and that is perhaps leadership in its purest form.

Again, if you talk with leaders about the greatest success they have had with teams they have led, they will almost exclusively talk about how they have built strong relationships, given guidance and direction and generally created a set of conditions in which the person concerned has improved either in terms of their performance or their attitude. 

Basically, they have influenced the change, the improvement. That same approach applies, the same skill set is used, when you are part of a team or working with your boss.


I can already hear the ‘Yes but’s” or the “what if my boss rejects my ideas or even worse tells me to #@*& off?”

Well first of all, that’s always a possibility. But don’t forget, some of the people you manage could do exactly the same. Nevertheless, let’s go with the example for a minute, that either one of your peers or your boss rejects an idea you have.

Colin Powell, has a great quote on this that strikes at the heart of teams and trust and leadership. The former US Secretary of State talks about loyalty, trust and the rapport he tried to develop with the people he led.

“Loyalty means giving me your HONEST opinion, whether you think I will like it or not. Disagreement stimulates me. But, once a decision has been made, the debate ends. From that point on loyalty means executing the decision as if it were your own.”

The point is, as a true leader, you have a responsibility to say what is on your mind. It should always be said fairly and with respect, but if it’s important you have to do what is right and ensure your voice is heard. Then let the chips fall where they may. It may go your way or it may not, but at least you have stated your case.

Now, I know that there will be times when you will be confronted with rejection that cuts right to the core of everything you believe in. When your principles are severely compromised. Well now you have a more difficult decision to make, a choice based on what you stand for and are prepared to be part of. A completely morale and ethically decision.


Setting aside the more drastic scenarios of leading with strength and purpose in positions where you have no position or title, think simply of this one question.

What is the best example of myself, when I lead my team? When you have that picture clearly in your mind, apply it to the people you report to and work beside.

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