Not a day goes past without me being reminded about the traits of good leaders. We are bombarded by photos and quotes of so called good leaders on social media. Human Resource Departments thrive on leadership and aspirational programs. But we all can’t be leaders, there has to be a disproportionate number of good followers. If we didn’t have this discrepancy the corporate, industrial and political world would cave in under the strain of everyone wanting to be the leader and nothing actually being accomplished. Imagine Winston Churchill with no defence forces, a politician with no constituents or a CEO with no workers.
Today it seems that if you are not deemed a good leader you are of no value to an organisation. More worth is placed on the leadership qualities of an employee rather than their outputs and achievements. It’s very hard these days to describe the qualities of a good leader as it seems the traits have been lost in a sea of definitions. If I was to select my five traits of a good leader – good leaders always are:
There is also nowadays a certain type of an accepted aggression associated with leaders. This aggression comes out in some of the social media comments of what are the qualities of a good leader. The passive, non aggressive leader seems to be dead and buried, somehow lost in the new definitions of good leadership or as a sign of weakness in their leadership qualities.
It is perplexing that good leaders can become acquiescent to their leaders be it a Board of Directors, a Minister, a Prime Minister, a President or more simply their partner and in this circumstance become the good follower. To go full circle, good leaders eventually have to answer to the followers, voters or the shareholders.
Human Resources departments are notorious for perpetuating the need for every employee to be a good leader and they have little tolerance for those who are not. If you are management and not a good leader you are moved sideways or punted even though you may be a very loyal follower and achieving all your goals. HR departments must understand that we all cannot be leaders and it is good to have loyal followers in all levels of employment from workers to Senior Executives.
Being a follower is not a crime, it is good for business. Having most of your workforce following the rules, getting the job done and adding value to the organisational goals and aspirations is what makes businesses great. HR needs to start to focus on outputs of employees and encourage those who are not deemed to be leaders; they are just as valuable to the organisation. Stop perpetuating this myth that everyone has to be a good leader. It is OK to be a follower, it is OK to quietly pump out the volumes of work and it is certainly OK to be proud of what you achieve as a follower. The value of hard work and steady output has been lost in the mire of good leadership. Funnily enough good leaders have to have the support, success and effort of their followers to be declared good leaders. Good leaders were also good followers at the outset of their careers, you are not born into a leadership you have to work damn hard, listen, learn and follow before you can lead.
People need to understand and accept the need for followers in the world and it is a good thing. Welcome them, embrace them and encourage them. Finally it begs the question, are good leaders simply very good followers? Somehow I think they still are!
Now what has this got to do with safety leadership? Read the article again and swap the good leader to the safety leader, the good follower to an employee who does the work and follows the rules and the Human Resources Department to the Safety Department.
In an organisation the safety leaders must come from the ranks of Senior management and the Directors under the tutorage of the safety professionals. Today in the Safety Department we seem to have lost the plot as we expect all personnel within the organisation to be safety leaders. Not everyone can be a safety leader, again it takes special qualities and some are not cut out for it; moreover we need people to conduct the work safely and diligently and follow the rules. We need to question the well held philosophy that everyone has to be a good safety leader.