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Dimensions of Courageous Followership

January 24, 2008

Ira Chaleff, author of The Courageous Follower: Standing up To and for Our Leaders, maintains that there are several dimensions of courageous followership. These dimensions are the courage to assume responsibility, the courage to serve, the courage to challenge, the courage to participate in transformation, and the courage to take moral action.

In addition to the five dimensions for courageous followers, Chaleff discusses a sixth dimension specifically for leaders in the second edition of his book: leaders must have the courage to listen to their followers. “If they don’t they may as well cover the instruments on their dashboards, fire their pit crews, and race with abandon down the track, until they run out of gas or are stopped abruptly by hard reality” (Chaleff, 2003, pp. 192-193). Many, if not most, leaders would say that they have an open-door policy. However, followers may be dissuaded, either intentionally or unintentionally, from speaking their minds with their leaders. A leader who chooses not to listen to his or her followers puts the organization at risk.

A leader may be put in the uncomfortable position of listening to a follower who is taking a moral stand on an issue, a stand that differs from that of the leader or the organization. Chaleff (2003) offers a possible response protocol for this situation; the eleven steps are discussed below. Key components to this protocol are meeting personally with the follower before, throughout, and after any investigation into the circumstances that prompted the moral stand. “The crucial act of leadership is to respond to a moral stand in an equally principled manner—and meet courage with courage” (p. 216).

Possible Response Protocol for a Moral Issue (taken directly from Chaleff, 2003, pp. 216-217)

  1. Separate the message from the messenger. Pay careful attention to the content regardless of your view of the messenger.
  2. Listen to both the content and to the strength of feelings about the matter. The seriousness of the situation is better gauged by both factors.
  3. Regardless of your initial reaction, promise to get back to the individual personally, and commit to a time frame for doing so.
  4. Avoid any impulse to take precipitous and poorly advised damage control measures, such as document destruction.
  5. Decide which advisers to consult, bearing in mind as necessary which relationships confer legal protection for privileged communications.
  6. With the help of your advisers, gather any additional information you need to understand the full scope of the situation.
  7. With this additional information, play out the potential consequences, including best-case and worst-case scenarios, avoiding any tendency to denial.
  8. Review and restate the core values that will guide your course of action. Generate two or three options for consideration that respect these values, and respond sufficiently to the gravity of the situation.
  9. Choose the course of action that best serves the common purpose, and act with the vigor, courage, and imagination the situation warrants.
  10. Report back personally to the individual or individuals whose moral stand provided the catalyst for your actions.
  11. As the situation progresses, credit the courageous followers who took the moral stand, while accepting responsibility personally or corporately for the wrong actions now being corrected.

References

Chaleff, I. (1996). Effective followership. Executive Excellence, 13(4), 16.

Chaleff, I. (1997). Learn the art of followership. Government Executive, 29(2), 51.

Chaleff, I. (2003). The courageous follower: Standing up to and for our leaders (2nd. ed.). San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

Chaleff, I. (2004). The leader-follower partnership: It’s a new day. April 25, 2007, from http://www.exe-coach.com/followerPartnership.html.

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