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What Is Followership

Leadership and the role of a leader have been researched and studied for years. In contrast, followership and its relevance are still evolving and have been understudied. For example, a recent internet book search resulted with 351,550+ books on leadership and only 2,633+ books on followership. This simple online research indicates the lack of data and emphasis on followership when compared to leadership, which is ironic considering that they are both intertwined.


Very few professional development programs focus on developing effective followers. Instead, executive programs/seminars and professional education focus on the development of leaders without sometimes ever discussing followership. Ironically, someone who is a leader one minute could be a follower the next minute.


Followers have desired characteristics just like leaders do. Effective followership is an essential building block to effective leadership. There are thousands of references where you can find helpful information on effective leadership practices. There are far fewer resources that provide guidance on becoming effective followers. Here are some following characteristics and behaviors have been identified as those commonly sought in effective followers.


1. Maintain a positive attitude, even in the most challenging times - not all events/situations will go smoothly therefore, remain flexible and offer assistance and solutions to a difficult circumstance instead of adding frustration to yourself, your team, and your bosses.


2. Work effectively as a team member - learn to work together regardless of differences


3. Show loyalty to your leader and organization - Loyalty to your immediate superior and the organization is crucial to the success of any project and organization. This is not an unquestioning loyalty.


4. Offer suggestions - This is different from complaining.


5. Respectfully voice difference of opinions - Voicing opinions are welcomed but always kep in mind; it's not what you say it's how you say it.


6. Be willing to accept assignments - be willing to accept tasks regardless of how challenging they may seem. Concurrently, do not be afraid to ask for help from others. Be willing to accept assignments regardless of how insignificant they seem.


7. Support group discussions - Decision made will not always be the most popular or what you would prefer. Trust that the decision maker is in a better position to make the decision. What is important is that, as long as the decision is ethical and legal, you support it and move on without dwelling on what could have been in your opinion.


Robert Kelley categorized followers into five different types based on the factors of independence, critical thinking versus dependent, and uncritical thinking (Kelly 1992). The five categories as designated by Kelley are:


  • Alienated - Independent and critical thinker, but is lacking in engagement due to a sense of disgruntled acquiesce.

  • Conformist - highly active in their organization but lack independent, critical thinking skills

  • Pragmatist - straddles the "middle of the road", but either questions their leader too much or too little

  • Passive - neither thinks of himself or herself nor is an active part of the organization.

  • Exemplary - a constant critical thinker and is actively engaged in his or her organization.Hope this helps you understand on being a follower/leader. Remember to become a Leader, you must be a follower as well.


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