Followership: Avoid Being a Toxic Subbordinate

A toxic subordinate is someone who exhibits mannerisms detrimental to a positive climate, readiness, values, and who influences others to follow their errant lead.

Everybody has a boss. This is true for everyone, regardless of rank or echelon. While a lot of time is spent discussing ways to develop leadership, very rarely do we focus on how to be a good subordinate; there are different sets of skills to be successful at both. You cannot be a great inspirational leader unless you are a great follower.

Bad Leaders and Bad Followers

Search the internet for the term toxic leader and you find a host of definitions and articles. They typically involve an abusive personal attribute, a misplaced sense of entitlement, or a lack of competence undermining the ability to build a positive command climate.

Toxic subordinates should also to have an equal place when discussing leadership and organizational value, because every leader is a follower. A toxic subordinate lacks a forthright attitude, which is a significant negative attribute that can infect the entire team. The result is similar to toxic leadership.

What are some indications of a toxic subordinate? Someone who:

  • Engages in illegal, immoral, or unethical behavior.
  • Fails to join the team he or she is on.
  • Uses social media as the preferred forum to let the world know how bad the chain of command or the workplace is.
  • Allows disagreement to lead to disloyalty.

Tips on How to be a Great Subordinate

  •   Do not make your problem your boss’ problem.
  •   Do not simply manage a project to failure; afraid for help so you can get it.
  •   Do not be “that guy” who drops a bomb at a meeting and announces the project is behind or on a path to failure because you needed something early on and did not get assistance.
  • Handle your business, do everything you can to exhaust all means to solve your problem, and if you feel the project is going to fail, raise the concern immediately.
  • If your bosses ask for a pizza, bring them a pizza. This is to say that too many times bosses give guidance and the person comes back with something else. If you have other priorities or ideas and believe you should take initiative and be creative, that’s fine, but first, bring your boss the pizza he or she ordered then present the other ideas you have.
  • Do the job you were asked to do, not the job you want to do.
  • Understand how leaders make decisions, and try to think that way. Think big picture and long-term, and do not take it personally.
  • Solve your boss’ problems. This may encourage you to place extra value on subordinates who could help you solve your problems. Too often we relegate ourselves to the role of problem identifiers rather than problem solvers. If you want to be a hero, solve your higher up’s problem.
  • Execute and report. Do not get paralyzed with indecision or concern about what the boss will think – you already know. Go out and win, and do not forget to report.
  • Don’t put your boss in a box when it comes to decisions. Part of being a good subordinate is understanding your boss’ decision-making preferences and knowing how he or she likes the information presented. Try to think ahead to decisions your boss will have to make and analyze the likely options available at that point. Give your boss as much time, space, and information as possible to make the decision.
  • Develop great leaders and followers. Being a better follower will make you a better leader.  


Source: U.S. Army:

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