“How To Be a First-Rate Subordionate”

Nothing against Isabel Berwick, who recently wrote a column so titled for the Financial Times. Credit where credit is due: at least she focused on subordinates, as opposed to fixating like everyone else, on superiors.

But her advice, as it were, was so puny and pathetic, her piece turned out an unwitting reminder of how fallow the field of followership. She had just two suggestions.  First, subordinates should deliberately be selfish. Since they have no major managerial responsibilities, they should use their freedom to pursue their passions. Second, subordinates should manage up, not by being toadying, but by being forthright. They should, in other words, recognize that “they have a part in making relationships work.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with that – with either of these two bits of suggestions. Rather it’s that how to be a “first-rate subordinate” is far richer and deeper, more complex an issue than Berwick suggests. Whatever her good intention, her column does little more than point to the yawning gap between our understanding of leadership and our understanding of followership.


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