Every group has a distinctive culture: a set of norms for behaving and a way of looking at the world. Successful leaders and followers must learn the norms and respect the power of an existing culture. The stories of political appointees disregarding the culture of a bureaucracy and then being defeated by it are legion. But our universe and our cultures are interactive; a follower is not walking a one-way street. A courageous follower who respects a culture can also influence it.
Too often, a follower’s instinct is to blend in and adapt to the attitudes of a group even if they are passive, cynical, or defeatist. Courageous followers don’t allow their own values to be subsumed by the prevailing culture. We can influence the existing culture if we respect these principles:
Our willingness to stand out, to demonstrate differing attitudes, not as a challenge to the group but simply as an expression of our own outlook and vision, adds strength to the organization.
Our appreciation and support of the values and traditions that give group pride and cohesion allow us to credibly model other characteristics not currently embraced by the group.
By staying true to our own values and vision and linking these to the common purpose, we can influence the energy the group generates for accomplishing the purpose.
Adhering to our own “higher” inclinations in a culture that doesn’t obviously support them requires clarity of values and self-acceptance.
A follower’s ability to remain his own person while bonding with the group is the same ability that allows a follower to challenge the group or its leaders when the need to do so arises. Followers who successfully influence a group by modeling other behaviors in a nonconfrontational mode establish their integrity and earn the group’s respect. They are in a strong position to challenge the group if that is needed at a future point.