Often when leaders say they want good employees, what they really mean is that they want great followers. In my opinion, there is a subtle difference. A good employee can get the job done, on time, very efficiently.  In some cases, that is all an organization needs or wants…just someone to do a good job.

A follower, by definition, is an adherent or devotee of a particular person, cause, or activity. A follower will get the job done, be passionate and committed to their work, and often go above and beyond.  They yearn to catch the vision of leaders and are usually thinking of ways to improve processes or ways the organization can benefit.

 “Clear the path for people above you and you will eventually create a path for yourself,” Ryan Holiday.

Great followers also want to help their leaders succeed. They often inform leaders on issues that are pressing or that may be looming on the horizon.  In other words, they have the leader’s back!  After all, followers have an invested interest in the organization’s success, from both a professional and career enhancement perspective. But followers can become disengaged when leaders don’t do what is necessary to retain them.

Leaders retain great followers when they:

  1. Acknowledge employees’ ideas and seek to implement them wherever possible. Employees can often see things more quickly because they are closer to the work activity; they often have great ideas on how to make things more efficiently and economically.  In response, at the very least, leaders should provide feedback and discuss the possibility of implementation. Be warned! When leaders fail to acknowledge ideas or suggestions, employees become disengaged and reluctant to offer ideas for improvements. As stated by Andy Stanley, “A leader that won’t listen to others will eventually be surrounded by people that have nothing to say.”
  2. Provide clear goals and strategic initiatives that align with the direction of the company. More importantly, paint a vivid picture of how the employee’s role contributes to the overall success of the organization. Also, leaders should provide updates on the organization’s progress and celebrate achievements regularly. This helps employees to see that their work is indeed important, welcomed, and valued. A sense of inclusion and accomplishment will make them want to work harder.
  3. Challenge the employee by delegating tasks that signal “I trust you,” while allowing for autonomy. This will provide confidence, while subsequently creating an exciting work atmosphere.  The employees must also feel that they have leader’s support and be sure that any missteps will be handled fairly and professionally.

Great followers provide the necessary skills and results that the leader needs to move the organization forward.  But leaders must acknowledge and respond to employees’ ideas, provide clear goals and progress towards those goals, and delegate the right kind of tasks.  Absent the above, you may attract an employee who can do the job but lack the qualities or desire to become a great follower.