Monday, March 26, 2012
Conformist or Non-conformist?
In any organization, conformity and non-conformity can present challenges. Todd Hahn considered healthy ways to address conformity and non-conformity in his book “Song of the Second Fiddle: The Challenge of Followership.”
A conformist’s strength is that he trusts his leader, but his weakness is that he assumes that his relationship with his leader is one-way. Conformists may go along with whatever way the prevailing wind is blowing, particularly if by a determined or charismatic leader. Conformists are slow to ask critical questions and quick to consent. If criticized for their mindless compliance, they are quick to deflect back to the leader. We can remember the legions of Nazi bureaucrats who carried out the most horrific crimes all in the name of obedience and discipline “I was just following orders” as an excuse.
The best leader-follower relationships are mutual ones, where there is give and take, common respect and honoring of one another’s gifts. A conformist has to begin to look at the challenges he or she and his or her leader face with new eyes. When they can ask questions and dialogue with their leader respectfully and acknowledging the leader’s role, they will move into serving their leader better and becoming a more useful follower. A conformist has to acknowledge and deal with a fear of conflict and learn how to engage in healthy disagreement. There is a fine line between creative, fruitful disagreement and destructive conflict based on the desire to control, wield power or be vindicated. But since the conformist is tempted to avoid conflict all together, they must concentrate on learning to engage in conflict that honors the other person and forms appropriate roles, yet stretches respectfully to stand firm in matters of conviction.
The opposite of an unquestioning conformist is the follower who challenges every opinion and directive of the leader. This type of follower almost unfailingly opposes the leadership regardless of the issue. Ironically, a non-conformist usually begins as a promising performer, often having developed skills that conformists lack – independent thinking, courage and initiative, but something goes wrong when a promising performer becomes an adversary to leadership.
Non-conformists may complain about bureaucracy, systems and structures. If the leadership is visionary and creative, non-conformists may accuse the system of being power-hungry or too task-orientated. If the leaders are more cautious, the complaint may be the leadership is slow and conservative. The only common denominator is complaint, with a healthy dose of feeling. Non-conformists tend to be cynical, sarcastic or enjoy the image of a battle-scared veteran, wise to the ways of the organizational world.
To be fair, there are usually legitimate sources for a cynic’s resentment, as even the best organizations have employees with unmet expectations or who have suffered broken promises. Over time, these incidents can create a climate of mistrust and wariness which fosters cynicism and caution. But a non-conformist’s position is to maintain an inability to handle setbacks and disappointments that others are able to endure. In time, they may poison the hearts and minds of additional employees, destroy the leader’s effectiveness and their own reputation. Outsiders can sense when an organization is filled with critical people, and it can do tremendous damage to an organization’s credibility.
The cure is not painless, but effective. It involves a refocusing from rights to responsibilities, from bitterness to forgiveness, from critical words to ones that seek to understand and from the desire to be right to the desire to be faithful. The good news is that skills such as initiative, independent thinking and courage are already in place, and the even better news is that they have an opportunity to learn some deeper lessons about authority – trust, an ability to serve others and speaking words which build others up rather than tear them down. After identifying potential fallacies of followership, employees will have discovered foundational ways to work with excellence.