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All Engineering Leaders Need Great Followers


Following isn’t about falling in line, it’s about reaching out.

Everyone talks about leadership. It’s important for taking your career, your department and even your whole firm in the right direction. But have you ever given any thought to “followership?”

Sure, it’s not really a word. But maybe it should be. While everyone is busy thinking about personal advancement and being a team leader, being a good follower is almost becoming a lost art. There’s more to it, too. Followership isn’t just about filing in, marching in step and being one of the ranks.

You already do it every day, probably without even thinking about it. Here’s what being a great follower can do for your career.


Following is a diplomatic skill.

Following helps every engineer at every career level.

Why Learning to be a Follower Matters

Unless you’re at the top of the heap to begin with, you’re already a follower to some degree. Everyone is a follower in some parts of life. Barbara Kellerman, Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government leadership lecturer and author of the book, “Followership: How Followers are Creating Change and Changing Leaders,” says followers teach leaders as much as the other way around.

As a follower, you’re paying attention to what’s around you. You know what it takes to get along with more people at every level. It’s a diplomatic asset, and one that carries over into leadership. It’s all about collaboration, which doesn’t happen without watching, considering and learning from the people you work with.


You Probably Follow Every Day

If you use any sort of social media, you already follow. And you probably never thought about it like that. Following doesn’t have to mean getting behind. It also means watching, learning and engaging. You follow this person and that colleague because their lives and careers matter, too. You want to know what they’re up to.

Ronald Riggio, associate Dean of faculty at Kravis Leadership Institute, Claremont McKenna College, tells Fast Company that good followers think for themselves. They have the same qualities as leaders, which include intelligence, motivation, and competence.

How Followership Helps Your Engineering Career

Being a great follower can help your career as much as being a great leader. In fact, the best leaders do both. Marc Hurwitz, author of “Leadership is Half the Story: A Fresh Look at Followership, Leadership, and Collaboration,” tells that the further you go in your career, the more your skills at being a follower matter. That might be the opposite of what you’d expect.

In collaborative projects, your ability to forge relationships with leaders can make you stand out as an important part of any team. Understanding how others on your team thin, how they work, and what their strengths and weaknesses are, doesn’t come from a position of leading, but of watching – of following.

None of this is to say that leadership skills are on their way out and being a follower is where it’s at. It’s just a reminder that while moving ahead, you shouldn’t neglect the biggest meat and bones part of your career, which is learning from and relating to all of your peers, and not just those in positions of authority a peg or two above yours.

Followership happens at every level, even the highest. Without it, you can’t really move any team, or yourself, ahead.

PDH Academy is also there to help you move ahead in your engineering career. We offer the necessary continuing education credits that you need to keep licensing and professional association memberships on track. The next time your credit ours are due, check out our PE approved courses.

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