Being a teacher and author of the book on leadership my interest was picked up by the article 'Why Leaders Are Easier to Coach than Followers?' published in HBR.  I believe that learning or coaching is something that anybody would like to do. Acquiring new knowledge, learn or improve oneself is something that stipulates survival in the Nature.
The article says “Recent research from PsychTests, however, reveals that followers may not be as compliant as we assume. In a study that measured individuals’ openness to coaching, PsychTests discovered that people who identify as followers are actually less open to coaching than people who identify as either leaders or adapters”. There is a graph within the supporting the claim that in all measured aspects followers performed the worst.

AdapterIn the research three groups were studied: adapters, leaders and followers. I recognized last two groups but had a problem with the first one – adapters. In the article I’ve learnt that adapters are employees who are versatile, can both lead and follow, and are open to feedback and learning. This is a surprise: what are adapters if they cover both other groups. I cannot see leaders that cannot adapt to environment and change due to required situation (I wrote about this in Sun Tzu wisdom and Leadership). What about followers? Do they not adapt to work, rules and leaders? Both, leaders and followers, are usually most of the time outside their comfort zone when performing their ‘day-to-day’ work, so adaptation is crucial to them.

Why, then, there is another (the third) group?

I’ll try to answer it with a different approach, namely, with some statistics. Only 35% of U.S. managers and only 30% of the workforce are engaged in their jobs (The Engaged Leader - A Strategy for Your Digital Transformation by Charlene Li). Are those unengaged managers and employees willing to learn or be coached? I sincerely doubt it. Learning is a process that connects people in different ways and when you are not engaged you do not learn (not even in a classroom or company see: Leadership and “happy” organization). That is my experience with students. Ability to learn a lot of times demands adaptability to environment, teacher or coach, to the lecture, and more.

To better frame this subject let’s argue now why (statistically) so many are unengaged.

I believe a big role is played by indifference. The managers’ indifference towards the input of their employees. And the consequence to that is a silent and obedient worker that learned the worst lection of his/her life: Don’t be curious as curiosity is an inconvenience to any cost driven management tool taught at MBA schools. Why is this so? Because organizations rarely manage their talents as strictly as they manage their balance sheet. What is even worse is that cost is the most important factor and people are always on the cost (not asset) side of a company balance. They cost company if they go to a training program. But that is not considered investing. Much different that the tools in the same company! Is here a reason why people are unengaged? I think so.

Back to the results of the research: I think that the reason why a group of followers perform worse than others is not in a group per se, but rather in the ways those employees are led by their managers or leaders.  Looking from adapters’ perspective the results demonstrate that they are ‘coachable’ (see: Consultant – Coach) or prune to learning just previous bad ‘lessons learned’ should be taken away.

I would appreciate your comments or thoughts on the subject!

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