Being a star follower is a delicate balance between acting in the best interests of your team and in the interests of your leader(s). Do you think you have what it takes to be a star?
Characteristics of star followers
Deliberate practice. Innate talent isn’t required to be successful. Deliberate practice (practice that goes beyond your current skill and comfort level) is almost universally used by expert performers in any field. Typically, when people practice, they focus on repetition of activities and tasks they already know how to do. However, when you engage in deliberate practice, the focus is on doing something that you can’t do well… or even at all. This accomplishes the goal of reinforcing what you’re already good at and adds to it by extending the reach and range of your skills. Next time a challenging project or task is presented, take it on. Willingly accepting difficult assignments can act as your first step to becoming an expert in your field. If a task is more than you can handle, keep in mind that you can gain knowledge and skills vicariously simply by observing expert performance of others.
Autonomy. The case for autonomy at work makes itself. When people are given a say in their day to day activities, and are empowered to share input and help with decision-making, they are more satisfied, more committed, and perform better. Star followers are empowered and can behave autonomously. To become a star follower, engage in independent critical thinking and provide upward feedback to leaders. Don’t be afraid to offer suggestions for improvement or a dissenting opinion. One caveat to this would be that work doesn’t always permit autonomy. If you’re new or in an unfamiliar role, behaving autonomously likely isn’t the best course of action. In situations such as this, take time to remind yourself why you’re in that role or why the task is important. Reminding yourself of your personal goals makes the choice to say yes feel more like your own.
Coachability. How well do you respond to criticism? Most of us have trouble. Research suggests that those who identify as followers tend to rank lower in coachability than leaders. However, those who identify as adaptive (star followers) – those that blend the line between leader and follower – are rated higher in coachability. What does it take to be more coachable? Don’t get stuck thinking you’re not good enough when your manager provides constructive criticism. It’s tough for people, even managers, to provide negative feedback.
Giving feedback is comorbid with emotions such as fear and avoidance – stemming from fight-or-flight stress – elicited from both the giver and the receiver. To many, negative feedback can be painful to give. Oftentimes, your manager provides constructive feedback because they care about your personal growth. They are taking time to help you learn and are risking some uncomfortable emotions to do so. In addition to handling feedback well, those who are coachable are willing to ask for help, have an openness to learning and improvement, and admit their faults and weaknesses.
Lifelong learners. How quick are you to admit that you don’t know something? Having a desire to develop by acquiring new skills and experiences is a hallmark characteristic of star followers. Outside of this, learning has substantial personal and professional benefits. It’s good for your health – engaging in learning activities can delay symptoms of cognitive decline, such as with Alzheimer’s. Star followers are lifelong learners that actively pursue learning opportunities and adopt the outlook that there is always more to learn. You can start to adopt this mindset too by making time for reflection. Ask yourself these questions at the end of the day. What have I learned? What went well? What was unexpected or didn’t go well? Keep in mind that learning isn’t just about introspection. It is also about active listening. Learn from others by asking open ended questions and summarizing what they have said.
Collaborative. Star followers are respected by their team because they are more focused on getting work done than getting their way. They have a deep understanding of their team’s goals and where their role fits in with supporting those goals. When deadlines loom, they volunteer to handle tasks or help accomplish goals. All the while, maintaining a positive attitude, even in confusing, difficult times. They also acknowledge and build up their team through praise and complements when colleagues contribute to the team.
These characteristics are not an exhaustive list. There are plenty of other attributes star followers have and there are several that may be needed that are specific to your organization. The four above characteristics are stepping stones to help you make those next steps towards empowering you to be the best version of yourself and for your team.
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