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By Monica E. Oss

October 7, 2011

We’ve talked a lot this week about leadership, but today I want to focus on followers. Just as a great leader can make or break an organization, a great team can either make or break a leader.

Yesterday, we explored the issue of ‘followership’ at the OPEN MINDS Executive Leadership Institute through the case study of Major General Daniel E. Sickles – who is famous (or perhaps infamous) for his lack of followership during the Battle of Gettysburg. Major General Sickles disobeyed General Meade’s order to hold the southern end of Cemetery Ridge, moving his troops to the ill-fated Peach Orchard site, where his troops were overrun and he lost his leg to a cannon ball. He is remembered for his lack of perspective on how his actions at Gettysburg would affect the whole of the Union troops there (also for shooting his wife’s lover and for donating his amputated leg for display at the Army Medical Museum at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center).

Followership is defined as “The capacity or willingness to follow a leader.” The concept is a critical one for leaders of any organization. You can’t be a successful leader without followers – so cultivation of followers is a key criteria for successful leadership. Major General Dan Sickles’ refusal to follow orders – a decision that had catastrophic consequences for his corps—serves us now as a lesson on the both the power your followers can wield in your organization and the importance of maintaining those relationships.

The question for any leader – what are you doing to build your followership in your organization? There are many elements that can bolster or derail the success of a leader, but a leader without followers is, as the saying goes, just a guy taking a walk.

Monica E. Oss
Chief Executive Officer, OPEN MINDS

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For more from the OPEN MINDS Circle on leadership, see: Fire Yourself!  all members 

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