A manager’s leadership ‘style’ is shaped by many factors not just his or her own personal dispositions and management style. A manager is under the influence and expectations of many groups ranging from their supervisor, CEO, and Board of Directors, to the agency mission, goals, and policies, to their management co-workers, to their employees. All these groups greatly impact the flavor of a manager’s leadership skills and techniques.

It can safely be assumed that most managers understand the benefits of accommodating the expectations of their superiors when leading their employees, but it is equally critical to recognize the benefits of selecting or shaping employees that are eager to follow. Weinbach (2008) states that successful leaders have good followers and unsuccessful leaders do not.

Some characteristics of a good follower are as follows (no pun intended!): they are dependable, team players, make sound judgments, rational decision makers, know when to seek guidance from superior and when to act independently, keep their superior informed, and understands and supports the agency goals (Weinbach, 2008). Interestingly enough these are also popular choices for ‘words used to describe yourself or your work ethic’ on a job interview – If they are not your answers, they should be. This type of applicant is what agencies and managers are looking for in a potential hire. Regardless how important these traits are perhaps the most vital characteristic a good follower possess is their ability to manage themselves. There are three kinds of management techniques a good follower utilizes.

1. Self Management - The employee’s ability to manage their work relationships, decisions, and feelings while maintaining a positive attitude about their job and the company

2. Job Management – The employee’s ability to organize and execute their job responsibilities

3. Boss Management – The employee’s ability to recognize, understand, and accommodate the strengths and weaknesses of their boss, their co-workers, and themselves so that they might elicit optimal interactions/performance from their work group

Managers should encourage their employees to be good followers as these individuals possess a different perspective of the agency and can positively impact their work environment and agency goals with their knowledge and skills (Weinbach, 2008).

Application in Today's Rural Practice
The principles of being a good leader and follower are universal throughout rural or urban practice settings. The influences and ‘how’ the techniques are implemented in a rural setting may differ from that of an urban one but I can’t imagine they would not be applicable there.

Providing and working in a rural setting is different because of the people involved, the resources available to us, and the issues that evolve because of those things. Since money doesn’t buy good leadership – the focus shifts to the people. Given the small and intimate nature of the rural human services network good leadership and receptive followers is critical to its success. People who operate within this system have to work hard to find the most efficient and effective ways to provide to their community, and this necessitates a collaborative relationship between managers and employees. I agree with Weinbach’s notion that employees often have a different perspective to extend to management, and it’s the manager’s responsibility to take that knowledge, add some support, and help it translate into better service provision. In turn managers in rural settings need to help their employees stay motivated and appreciated to avoid burn-out, especially with the ‘revolving-door’ feel that rural practice often brings. Effective leadership is critical for any manager’s success, but in rural settings the absence of it is far more noticiable.

Ethical Considerations
At this point there is a good understanding of why it is important to develop your leadership style and skills as a manager. However it is equally important to recognize the potential ramifications of failing to do those things and being an ineffective leader with bad followers. From an ethical standpoint, the manager who can not find an effective way to lead their employees should step down from their management position.

When an employee does not have faith in their supervisor to support them, guide them, be knowledgeable, consistent, respectful, respected, etc. they will not last long in that position. Employees want to feel secure and safe and their positions, as well as confident in their work. Those with ineffective managers will not feel this way. Weinbach (2008) makes a point to say effective leaders having good followers, and those who are not won’t. Bad followers will make life for a poor manager even worse - it perpetuates a cycle of negative behaviors that feed off each. Managers with poor leadership will lack control, respect, authority, etc. from their employees. This will set the supervisor up for increased conflict, complaints, outside involvement (from the manager’s superiors or HR), and turnover. All of these things can and will sabotage their efforts at managing their employees efficiently and further decrease their effectiveness as a leader.

It is a social work manager’s ethical duty to facilitate their employees the best way possible so that they might do the best work possible. Managers should work at eliminating the unexpected and allowing their employees to focus on the services being provided to the clients. How can anyone be expected to be effective and efficient in the field if they have no one to help them on their way? It requires strong leadership to be a social work manager, and as social work managers it is our duty to strive to do just that.

"Believe me, fellows, everyone from the Pharoah on down is an equally valued member of this team!"
WARNING:Bad Leaders Will Result In Bad Followers