Boosting performance with followership

The first phase of any of my culture initiatives is one of discovery. I interview senior leaders, their direct reports, select next level staff, and, often, frontline team members. These interviews help me understand how the client’s culture operates, how leaders are perceived, how fair and just the culture is, how their senior leadership team operates as well as their performance levels.

This approach reveals whether company leaders are creating workplace inspiration or workplace drudgery, or something in between;  whether team members are experiencing trust and respect in day to day interactions with leaders, or experiencing something less fruitful.

It all comes down to one simple fact: if followers feel disrespected and distrusted, they won’t engage willingly in efforts to make the company successful.

Lack of trust or respect

With one particular client, a new plant leader was seen as a strong driver of process improvement, yet his interpersonal reactions led staff to believe that he did not trust or respect them.

He would ask people’s opinions in a public forum and then would roll his eyes when he heard others’ ideas. He’d discount others’ ideas abruptly, strongly, and verbally. He discounted others’ concerns about safety during a major construction project.

He didn’t listen. Additionally, he didn’t validate others ideas or concerns. He didn’t observe the clear indications that team members were distant and distrustful of him.

Performance and quality issues grew while team member engagement fell.

Other than that, things at the plant were great!

I truly do not believe this leader was trying to create workplace stress and dysfunction. I believe he was doing the best he could. And, he definitely wasn’t paying attention to the quality of his relationships, to the presence (or absence) of trust in him.

Leaders can only have consistent, positive influence on productivity and engagement if they create followership – a willing, talented team that understands the leader’s vision and the customer’s needs, and delivers on both.

Edelman Trust Barometer

The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer provides insights on the degree of global trust in business and government. It also provides suggestions on how to boost trust in the workplace. As engagement and integrity are powerful drivers of trust in workplaces, one section of Edelman’s research focuses on seven factors that boost these.

The key factors rate the degree to which business leaders:

  • Are ethical
  • Listen to customers
  • Treat employees well
  • Put customers before profits
  • Act responsibly in crisis
  • Are transparent and open
  • Communicate often


Their research found that today, business leaders around the globe fall short in each of these key factors – by 25% or more when comparing the business’ stated importance of each factor and the business’ actual performance on each factor. For example,  being “ethical” was reported as an important factor by 60% of respondents. However, those same respondents reported that their business’ actual performance on the ethical factor was just 29% – a gap of 31%.

If we think about our great bosses, it is very likely that we experienced those great bosses demonstrating every one of these key factors.

Leaders, it’s not that complicated. Treat others with respect, daily. Value team members’ efforts and ideas as well as their accomplishments.

S. Chris Edmonds is a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He shares insights on organizational culture, servant leadership, employee engagement, and workplace inspiration.

He writes books and articles and records podcasts.

In his free time, he’s a working musician with the Brian Raine band in Denver, CO.