The Mid-Career GPS Podcast

198: The Hidden Assets of Being a Stellar Follower or Individual Contributor

November 09, 2023 John Neral Season 3
The Mid-Career GPS Podcast
198: The Hidden Assets of Being a Stellar Follower or Individual Contributor
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

What if the most significant asset to your team isn't the leader, but the follower? That's right, we're here to shed light on the often overlooked goldmine that is the mid-career follower. We unravel the traits that contribute to an exceptional follower—loyalty, adaptability, reliability, and stellar communication skills. But it doesn't end there; we also delve into the art of time management and how you can leverage your distinct qualities to create a compelling narrative about your value in the team.

Now, imagine being so good at your role that you become indispensable—sounds great, right? But what if it becomes a barrier to your growth? We explore this double-edged sword of being too valuable in a specific role through intriguing narratives. We'll guide you through the dynamics of team leadership when a member isn't quite ready or keen on stepping into the leadership role. We also share insights on finding satisfaction and purpose in being a standout follower. Remember, the value of your contribution is never to be underestimated. Tune in as we navigate the nuances of followership and its pivotal role in team success.

Visit to sign up for November's webinar called, "A Painless 3-Step Guide to Figuring Out What’s Next for You and Your Career in 2024." A replay will be available, but you have to register. 

Support the show

Thank you for listening to The Mid-Career GPS Podcast.
Please leave a rating and review on Apple Podcasts here.

Visit to download your free "Mid-Career Job Seekers Checklist." Plus, check out other leadership and career resources at

Connect with John on LinkedIn here.
Follow John on Instagram & Threads @johnneralcoaching.
Subscribe to John's YouTube Channel here.

Speaker 1:

If you don't want to lead or are looking to take a step back from your leadership role, you may be wondering how you can add value as a follower or as an individual contributor when everyone's telling you you should be leading. The truth is, there is tremendous value for mid-career professionals in non-leadership roles and, honestly, it is a place where you can thrive. But you have to be clear about your goals and expectations. While being that excellent and dutiful follower and for many mid-career professionals, you will find yourself doing a very careful dance between when you lead and when you follow. So in this episode, I'll share with you some advantages about being a valuable follower and how this can be a key component to building your mid-career GPS. Plus, if you're leading talent, you'll want to stay and listen, because I've got some tips to help you manage and lead people who are simply more comfortable in that support role. Let's get started. Hello, my friends, this is episode 198 of the Mid-Career GPS podcast. I'm your host, john Narrell. I help mid-career professionals who feel stuck, undervalued and underutilized show up to find a job they love, or love the job they have, using my proven four step formula. I am going to be hosting a brand new webinar. It is free and I'd love for you to attend, especially if you are feeling like you didn't get your goals done in 2023 and you know there needs to be some kind of professional change for you in the new year. The webinar is called a Painless Three Step Plan to Figuring Out what's Next for you and your Career in 2024. And I'm running these webinars live on Thursday November 16th, tuesday November 21st and Tuesday November 28th. Replays will be available, but you do have to register and you can register on my website at johnnarrellcom forward slash webinar or check the show notes. I'd love to have you come and I'd be honored to help you figure out those next steps for you in the new year. Okay, so this whole idea about being a follower stems from the previous episode where I talked with you about what happens when you fall out of love with your job or your organization. And while we often hear that the move needs to be up, there is nothing wrong with acknowledging that sometimes the move needs to be a little bit of a step back. Maybe your current leadership role is stressing you out. You don't like leading, and so you're like I would just like to find a role where I can do what I'm told be an individual contributor, follow a great leader and let me get my work done and go home at the end of the day and not worry about a dagon thing. Well, in order to do that, you must understand the value of followership. Followership is essential in every organization. You know the old saying about how there's too many cooks in the kitchen. The same can be true here for leadership. When there are too many people trying to lead, people get confused about where the direction is. It's one of those things where being a tremendous follower can make you exceptionally valuable within an organization. Think about the leader who looks at somebody who is this excellent follower, and they're thinking to themselves. I don't have to worry about them. They do great work, they deliver quality products. They're never a problem. They're a joy to work with. One of the common misconceptions, though, about followers is that it's not big enough. You're not doing enough. I wanted to spell that misconception right now, because both in my career, when I have been that tremendous follower, and also when I have led teams and appreciated people who truly thrived in that role, the most important thing here I want you to remember is that being a follower is of value In a recent Harvard Business Review article by Barbara Kellerman. Here is what Barbara says, quote in an era of flatter, networked organizations and cross-cutting teams of knowledge workers, it's not always obvious who exactly is following or, for that matter, who exactly is leading and how they're going about it. Reporting relationships are shifting and new talent, management tools and approaches are constantly emerging. One of the things I take away from that quote is that mid-career professionals make great followers and leaders, but you have to know which hat to wear. So if you are in this follower role or you're thinking about moving into a follower role, what are some of the traits you should possess? To begin with, you need to be loyal, reliable, adaptable and a great communicator. So think about this for a minute. If you're interviewing for a job or you're having conversations with your management about what your next role is going to be, you say, well, I'm great for this role because I'm loyal and I'm reliable and I'm a team player and I'm a great communicator. Those are things that should be expected. What I want you to do is I want you to drill down and provide evidence and examples of where you being loyal, reliable, adaptable and a great communicator have been a value to your organization. So in order to do that, you need to be clear about those examples. Paint that picture when you think about telling your story. Why is someone going to care about this particular trait and why they need it? Additionally, great followers manage themselves very well. They're excellent at their time management, they know how to prioritize their tasks, they are credible and, yes, they do great work. It is without question that they do great work Additionally. What I want to offer you here is that the gold in being a great follower is building a case for, and having evidence about why you know how to execute, or you are that stellar individual contributor. For example, in a previous organization, I was at a senior but senior middle level type role where I was doing a lot of things and executing initiatives from senior leadership, but I was also leading a team underneath of me to have that happen. One of the things I had to it's kind of funny I say this in this way I had to train my leadership in doing was that when they gave me a task, I needed to make sure I understood everything front forwards, front forwards, backwards, sideways every single direction. I needed to know what they meant. I did this for several reasons. One, the clearer I was about what they wanted me to do, the easier it was for me to execute, and secondly, the clearer I understood what they wanted done, the easier it was for me to go back to my team and communicate that as well. Additionally, in those conversations, we would talk about possible roadblocks or obstacles that we may face in executing this, and that was also. I understood their vision. That's one of the things good followers do. Additionally, though, there are challenges for you as a follower, and it's not all just hey, you're going to give me a job, I'm going to go ahead and do it and I'm going to shut my computer off at the end of the day at five o'clock, and life's great. It's not all that. Oftentimes, followers will face challenges such as having conflict with leaders or a lack of recognition, or they may feel like they're undervalued or underappreciated, and those are the things when we talk about how we show up in our roles that you set these ground rules with your leadership about what you're expecting from them. So if you are working with someone where maybe there's some tension or conflict or you feel like there's a lack of recognition, here are some things you can do. Number one be clear on your role. Be very clear about what the expectations are and, admittedly, stay in your lane. Number two don't let things escalate. If there is a problem, address it. Do it professionally and meaningfully, so you can get that problem resolved with an intentional conversation and move that relationship forward. Next, know your value. Know that you are providing a very specific task, and doing it well has exceptional value. The flip side of that, though, is you may be too valuable, and by that I mean you may be so valuable in a particular role that the organization is essentially scared to move you out of it and into another role that you desire to be in, because they don't want to upset the way things are working really well with you in your current role. So that's why, when you hear me say, sometimes mid-career professionals feel stuck, this is another way that can happen. So I've got two stories I want to quickly share with you. One is this that I used to work for an organization where we were always told if you screw up, you'll know it. If you're doing a great job, you'll never hear it. Maybe you can relate, but I remember moving into this new role and working with an executive where part of the ground roles I talked with her about at the beginning of our work was I absolutely want you to tell me if I mess up at any point. I want you to come to me right away without any hesitation. But at the same time, I don't need you to hold my hand, but every now and then I would just like to know I'm doing a good job. That was it. I wasn't asking for a bonus. I wasn't asking for extra time off or anything. I just wanted some validation and appreciation. And my boss looked at me and she's like I can do that and she did, but that was because we made agreements about it. I have a client who I've been working with for a while who is a really great example of moving into this kind of follower type role. They are exceptional at being the follower and the executor and the individual contributor and at a point in time in their career they were in a managerial role and, admittedly, hated it. You ever know you're so miserable in your job you're like get me the heck out of this role. And because they were so valuable, the organization was able to do that but, admittedly, on some level I can only imagine they were probably a little disappointed that this person didn't stay in that kind of track to move up to that more senior level. The reason why this person is so successful in their career is because they are clear about what they want to do and don't want to do and, more importantly, they are able to have the conversation with their leadership about where those boundaries are and if they will acknowledge them. That's what I want to offer you, because the next part here is about feeling fulfilled in followership. So what I want to offer you here is what are the ways you can find satisfaction and purpose in being a follower? What's going to light you up? What's going to excite you about getting up and going to work every day? How much joy do you get from being in that support role? And when you're able to identify those things and you are clear about what it is you want to do, here's the key thing Ever, ever, ever underestimate that there is value in what you do. And this can be particularly hard right now, when we're going into the holidays and we will hear horror stories about people getting laid off before the end of the year or people being let go and they're like but I'm valuable? Yes, you are, but that organization has decided your services are no longer needed or they can't afford you. In that regard, and when I work with my one-on-one clients and we build this narrative around their story and they will say things to me like, well, I know I do good work, I know I'm valuable, I always want to know more. I want them to tell me more about where they've added value. Because being valuable is one thing. We're all valuable when you can tell me where you've added value. You've improved a process, saved money, brought an additional revenue, improved performance on a team, whatever that might be. When you can demonstrate the value you've provided, that makes you valuable, absolutely great things happen. Your interviews will change, your networking conversations will change, as will your performance appraisal meetings and any kind of promotional meetings you are having at work. But finding fulfillment in followership doesn't mean you settle. It's not that. It's about understanding how valuable you are and the value you continue to provide every single day. All right, so to sum up, what we have talked about today so far is understanding about the value of followership, the traits of a great follower, navigating those challenges in being a follower and finding fulfillment in followership. But before I wrap up, I want to offer this for any of you listening who are leading teams and you have somebody on your team who maybe isn't ready for that leadership role or they do not want it. Let's dissect both of those scenarios. You have someone on your team who is not ready for a leadership role. They may think they are, but you recognize that they are not. There are certain competencies they need to be developing or skills need to be up-leveled. Whatever that is. Take this time and invest in seeing if they are capable of handling those additional skills, if they are continue to develop, if they are not course correct. But if you have somebody on your team that you think would be a great leadership candidate and you believe they're ready to move up, and they come to you and they say to you don't move me, I'm happy where I am. More than likely there is a reason behind it. It may be personal, it may be professional, but I want you to hear them Get curious, see how you can continue to support them. But remember, if they are saying to you they're not ready, they don't want it. If you push them into that kind of leadership role it has been my experience they will leave far quicker than you would like and you will lose a tremendous talent in your organization because you have pushed them unfairly and unnecessarily against their wishes. Celebrate followers, celebrate your individual contributors. Recognize and validate, when you think about ways to reward or recognize them at work, what's in your control to do that. It may not be giving them a bonus or giving them a time off, or maybe you just take them to lunch or you buy them lunch right? Find a way to recognize them in some way and mean it, because having great followers on your team that will do whatever you need them to do whenever you need them to do it, because they appreciate and support you, is a phenomenal leadership trait we often overlook and miss. Celebrate your followers. All right, my friends, I hope this episode was helpful for you. Remember, I've got a webinar coming up starting next week. I'd love for you to attend. You can visit johnnarrellcom forward slash webinar to save your seat for this new webinar called A Painless Three Step Plan to figuring out what's next for you and your career in 2024. But until next time, my friends, remember this you will build your mid-career GPS one mile or one step at a time, and how you show up matters. Make it a great rest of your day. Thank you for listening to the Mid-Career GPS podcast. Make sure to follow on your favorite listening platform and, if you have a moment, I'd love to hear your comments on Apple podcasts. Visit johnnarrellcom for more information about how I can help you build your mid-career GPS or how I can help you in your organization with your next workshop or public speaking event. Don't forget to connect with me on LinkedIn and follow me on social at johnnarrellcoaching. I look forward to being back with you next week. Until then, take care and remember how we show up matters.

Value of Being a Mid-Career Follower
The Value and Fulfillment of Followership