Editor's Page

Dec. 21, 2004
Unwanted sounds of silence.

Leaders need followers to get anything done. And yet surprisingly few leaders have any idea what makes a good follower, or what they should expect of one. How about you? A friend reminded me of the importance of defining what it means to be a good follower with a tale of mismanagement from his workplace. A group of managers was being prepped by a suit from corporate on how to present some bad news to the sales force during an upcoming teleconference. As the managers listened in stunned disbelief, Mr. Slick explained the bad news, presented the company spin, detailed the expected grumbling from the sales reps, and then outlined exactly what he needed from his managers. "I want to see some leadership from all of you on this call," he exhorted. "So don't say anything." How's that for trusting your team? I'd laugh harder if I didn't see so many leaders who still believe that followers should mind the old adage about children: that they should be seen, but not heard. Real leaders don't want their followers to be silent. Real leaders want followers who can't stay quiet during bad news, because real leaders know that what employees want most of all is to be treated with respect and honesty by their managers, not with admonitions to pledge allegiance to company spin. Real leaders want followers who can't stay quiet when followers of any rank are being ignored or ill-treated, because real leaders know that the health of their companies depends on how well they perform as stewards of their most valuable resource: people. Real leaders demand that their followers tell them how to inspire great achievements. Real leaders want followers who can't stay quiet when the boss is about to make a mistake, because real leaders value backbone, smarts, and quickness above blind loyalty. Real leaders understand that disagreement and even confrontation are signs of organizational health. Real leaders want followers who can't stay quiet when opportunity arises, either in or out of the company, because real leaders know that ambition and drive can only be channeled, not capped or extinguished at a level just below the leader. Real leaders want followers who want to be -- who are -- leaders in their own right. Organizations can't grow unless they develop leaders from within. Do you demand that your followers speak up? Do you listen?

Fans of Sal Marino's Straight Talk have reason for mixed emotions, as this issue marks his last column for IndustryWeek. Always one of our most popular columnists, Sal has decided to devote his energies full-time to his new firm, Marino Family Ventures Ltd. We wish him well.

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