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Stephanie Benay
Cenovus Energy Inc.
Jeremy McQuigge
Algonquin College
Osagie (James) Osemwegie
John Vicaire
Gespe’gewaq Mi’gmaq Resource Council

Author Note
Jeremy D. McQuigge, Retail Services, Algonquin College.
This paper is completed as part of EMBA 7005 – Leadership Theory & Practice
Correspondence concerning this paper should be addressed to Jeremy McQuigge, Retail Services, Algonquin College, Ottawa, ON K2G 1V8
Contact: [email protected]

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Robert Kelley was considered the thought leader in the theory of followership. However, followership’s relationship to leadership supports that followership has been studied for centuries and just not named until Kelley coined the phrase in 1988. This paper will explore the importance of followership and the dynamic of the relationship to leadership. The research will discuss the role of the follower; the competencies associated with followership and the types of followers, how followers are developed into leaders and conversely when leaders are followers. Lastly, it will discuss why effective followership can be the catalyst for exceptional business performance, innovation, competitiveness and organizational effectiveness.
Followership Visited
For centuries people have studied the importance of leadership and its role in politics, corporations, non-profit organizations and a multitude of other areas. Studies have been conducted on the characteristics, qualities, traits, and attributes of leaders and many have tried to answer the age-old questions – are leaders born or made? However, significantly overlooked was the interdependent relationship with followership. The question is, can you be a leader if no one is willing to follow you? Can you have a successful high performing business, without proper followership? Is there a direct correlation to reduced organizational performance if there is lower morale, poor work quality, higher cost, lost opportunities to poor followership? This paper will surmise that yes, exemplary followership is unequivocally related to strong business performance.
A quick search on google scholar for leadership gives more than 4 million results with some of the papers referring to studies dating back to ancient Egypt. In contrast, searching followership gives just over twenty thousand results. This simple search indicates the lack of research and emphasis on followership even though few individuals are absolute leaders (Hackman, and Wagemen, 2007) with most spending majority of their lives as followers rather than as leaders (Ciulla, 2003). One reason for the low emphasis on followers may be because, according to Agho (2009), management studies assume that humans by nature know how to follow and thus they have not fully appreciated the potential for individuals to learn how to follow effectively. As (Ciulla, 2003) research shows, there are very few absolute leaders, in most cases an individual can be a follower in one team at the same time a leader in another. For example, the job of a department head requires the vision and leadership skills to head the department, as well as the ability to carry out orders, build teams and report to the CEO. This kind of climate has almost certainly meant that the concept of followership has become increasingly relevant. Still, there are very few development programs focus on developing effective followers. A study by (Lundin, 1990) shows an example of an organization in need of boosting the motivation of its employees. The organization tried solving the problem by sending all its managers to a leadership seminar. However, followership is as important as leadership and leaders, as well as followers, need to learn how to be an effective follower. As explored later in this text, the more we look at followership, the more we realize that the success of great leaders depends on their ability to establish a base of effective followers and to also be an effective follower. The idea that leaders do all the thinking and followers merely do what they are told is a concept that successful organizations are doing away with. Instead, they view followership as a complement to leadership (Agho, 2009:160).

The Role of the Follower
Robert E. Kelley, an early explorer into the foray of followership, surmised that “We need to pay attention to followers. Followership is worthy of its own discreet research and training. Plus, conversations about leadership need to include followership because leaders neither exist nor act in a vacuum without followers” (Kelley, 2013). Kelley started his work in followership in the 1980’s and through interviews with extensive numbers of people went on to develop a two-dimensional model of leadership. Richard Daft also recognizes and agrees with the importance of followership when he said “For any group or organization to succeed, there must be people who willingly and effectively follow just as there must be those who willingly and effectively lead. Followership is the testing ground, a place to learn skills valuable for leadership” (Daft, 2018, p. 198).
Richard Daft (2018) put considerable weight on followership responsibilities from the perspective of “managing up.” He discusses managing up as meaning “consciously and deliberately developing a meaning, task-related, mutually respectful relationship with your direct superiors; offering insight, information, guidance, and initiative, and challenging your superiors when necessary in order to enable all members to do their best work for the organization” (Daft, 2018, p. 199). He acknowledged that employees wanted to work for leaders who had significant organizational influence and in return, he approached followership from the aspect of what “bosses wanted from their employees.”
Daft (2018) discusses four specific wants of employees by their leaders; a make-it-happen attitude, a willingness to collaborate, a motivation to stay up-to-date, and a passion to drive their own growth. With this approach, Daft implies an understanding by the follower that they are a piece of a larger organization and how they interact, support, innovate and develop can affect the greater good of the company. A leader-centric understanding, these characteristics described are ‘one-sided’ followership requirements with no distinct benefit to the organization other than it is for the greater good. Kelley’s two-dimensional model, as described in his book In Praise of Followers, defined the way people followed asking two questions:
1. Do they think for themselves? Are the independent critical thinkers?
2. Are they actively engaged in creating positive energy for the organization? Or is there negative energy or passive involvement? (Kelley, 1988)
Using those responses, Kelley (1988) suggests five basic styles of behavior-based followership:
? The sheep. Sheep are passive and look to the leader to do the thinking for them and to motivate them.
? The yes-people. Yes-people are positive, always on the leader’s side, but not taking the initiative in the areas of vision, mission or goal setting. Eager to please, they are task completers and willing to execute in this regard.
? The alienated. Competent but contrary, the alienated can be their own worst enemy. Easy to see why something won’t work, their skepticism and cynicism stop them from being solution oriented. Smart and capable, they are willing to step up to the boss, but often their negativity becomes more of a problem, than an asset.
? The pragmatics. Pragmatics are the fence sitters. They wait until they see which way the wind is blowing and go that way. They are status quo in their entirety.
? The star followers. The “rock stars” of the team, they do not accept the leader’s decision or direction without their own independent evaluation of its correctness. If they agree with the leader and the decision, they give full support. If they don’t, they challenge the leader, offering constructive alternatives that will help the leader and organization find the appropriate path forward.
Of particular note is the ‘star followership’ type of person, otherwise known as the exemplary follower. They are often considered the confidante by leaders; the “go to” resource, and “leaders in disguise” (Kelley, 2013). They challenge ideas effectively without challenging ego. They are looked up to by their peers and are respected by leaders. The exemplary follower helps create an excellent leader. How does one develop this type of follower? Make sure someone answers this question in the paper
Ira Chief (2004) felt that followers were not there to serve leaders. He felt that a common purpose, mission and shared set of values were shared by both leaders and followers and Chaleff (2004) went on to emphasize this was beneficial as it de-emphasized the power differential between the two groups in hierarchal organizations. This is contrary to many leadership-based philosophies, however, Chaleff approached his model from a followership empowerment approach.
Chaleff (2009) created a courageous followership model that built on the positive characteristics that are important to the follower. He felt to be an active follower; it was imperative that the follower behaved in a certain way. At the same time, Chaleff (2009) also recognized that being a ‘follower’ is not a personality type, instead of a role and everyone in organizational life sometimes plays the follower role, and sometimes plays a leadership role. Playing both roles with commitment, courage and integrity are needed to produce a benign and successful use of power.
The foundation to being a ‘courageous follower’ is that the individual realizes their power to affect change, can tap into the courage to take the stand as required and display or develop skills to effectively reflect back to the leaders the consequences of their behavior (Chaleff I., 2009). How does the follower move from being a yes-man, as described by Kelley (1988), desiring to stay in favor with authority to someone who can act professionally with conviction? Chaleff suggests the conviction comes from strength and power demonstrated in these five characteristics below (Chaleff I., 2009)
? The courage to support the leader
? The courage to challenge unproductive behaviors or policies of the leader
? The courage to participate in the transformation
? The courage to take a moral stand
It would appear that courageous followership might be a career limiting move in some organizations and it would take the appreciation and understanding of a non-egocentric leader who is open to feedback from others. Chaleff (2009) suggests that followers need to develop the skill of delivering feedback and being persistent if our input if not heard or acknowledged. He asserts the first step in this process begins with the follower before you can assist in the development of an excellent leader.
Another interesting approach to followership in Christian literature and speaks to servant followership and is presented by author Gary Roberts. Roberts (2015) proposes that the birth of leadership in Christianity is rooted in followership. He asserts that “servant followership entails such key attributes as patience in enduring trials and tribulations, learning from mistakes, teachability, obedience to authority, accepting responsibility for solving problems, exercising initiative, and helping coworkers and clients even when inconvenient or contrary to personal interests. Another key element is self-awareness and knowledge. Servant followers understand their motives, strengths, and weaknesses and select jobs based on their gifts and passions, thereby reducing stress on themselves and others. Servant followership entails committing every gift and skills in a humble, responsible, mature, and unsel?sh manner. Servant followership aspect of our work to godly excellence, irrespective of the obstacles and situation (“Work for God, not man,” Colossians 3:23)” (Roberts, 2015). Although a predominantly selfless and egoless, I would propose challenging to achieve in the corporate environment, Roberts is the first to suggest that if the follower chooses based on passion, it will ultimately reduce stress for themselves and others.
Roberts is one of the first to say that followership comes first, regardless of the corporate, social or religious environment. It can be acknowledged that the role of the follower, irrespective of the model, is to accept responsibility and make valuable contributions, therefore, creating more successful leaders. As Chaleff says, “those who care for that organization or have an interest in its success can each be the author of these characteristics within ourselves and be models to our colleagues and leaders in effective followership” (Chaleff, 2004).

Followership Competency and Types
“Focusing on leadership alone is like trying to understand clapping by studying only the left hand” (Jonathan Haidt).
This view that followership is a complement to leadership also highlights the value of learning more about how to develop followership. Followers have desired characteristics just like leaders do. Effective followership is an essential building block to effective leadership. This section aims to highlight some fundamental concepts on the competencies of followers while also addressing the different types of followers through a review of the literature.
Descriptive Behaviours of Followers
One of the earliest studies of the behavior of followers was undertaken by Zaleznik (1965) who explored an early model of followership, submission vs. control and active vs. passive. His model is based on a Freudian view of the world (cite) which itself is also somewhat frowned upon these days, and as a result, the model is now rarely seen as credible (cite). However, regardless of perceived issues, the model introduces exciting dimensions worthy of consideration. Zaleznik (1965) four quadrants of followership which are:
1. Impulsive followers (High Dominance / Active) whose defining characteristic is that they try to lead while been lead. They try to dominate others and frequently act impulsively tending to whatever they want without considering much of authority, sometimes this is seen as courageous and occasionally ill-advised.
2. Compulsive followers (High Dominance / Passive) are more passive than their impulsive colleagues. According the Freudian, these types of followers would like to dominate others but resist the urge out of guilt.
3. Masochistic followers (Submissive / Active) want to submit and be controlled by authority. They submit willingly and derives pleasure from the pain of active submission.
4. Withdrawn followers (passive/submissive). They do the minimum required but rarely engage in the direction of the organization. They care very little about what happens in the organization.
In 1992, Kelley (1992) came up with a text entitled ‘The power of followership.’ In his text, he proposed the Kelley’s followers’ typology in which he identified five different follower styles, stated earlier above. While critical and independent thinking are seen as good traits, Kelley (1992) warns that critical thinking in its extreme form can give rise to some of the characteristics of alienated followers.
Potter and Rosenbach’s (2006) like Kelley accept that followership is influenced by the relationship between the follower and leader and the task at hand. The writers identified four types of followers, Politician, Partner, Subordinate and Contributor. These followers can be identified by their behavior which Potter and Rosenbach (2006) called performance initiative dimension and the relationship initiative dimension. Performance initiative is concerned with performing work with others and embracing change while relationship initiative is concerned with participation to improve relationships by identifying with the leader, building trust, good communication (being able to deliver bad news, for example) and negotiating differences. The ideal follower is conceived as a partner who demonstrates a commitment to both task performance and an effective relationship with the leader. According to Potter and Rosebach (2006), politicians tend to concentrate on relationships rather than task output whereas contributors, in contrast, work and perform well but are not so interested in relationships.
Stegers et al. (1982) grounded their typology on followers’ desire for self-enhancement and self-protection or both such as balancing the desire for recognition and job enhancement with a felt need to protect themselves from failure. They proposed nine followership style based on high, medium, or low combinations of these dimensions. These nine-followership styles can be found in table 1.
Kellerman (2008) concentrates on relational motivations such as the level of engagement, dominance, and deference. Kellerman illustrates her typology of followership along a “level of engagement.” She identified four spectrums which are Isolates, Bystanders, Participants, and Diehards.
Isolate refers to followers who are utterly detached and disinterested in the daily working of the organization. Bystanders refer to followers who consciously choose to stand by and watch without participating or being active in the organization. Participants are engaged and usually support their leader. Activists are engaged, and they work hard to see the organization succeed. The Diehards followers refer to followers who have total commitment; they can be either a strong asset to their leaders or dangerous liability.
Kellerman uses German citizens under Hitler as her example of Bystander. Participants are illustrated by the employees of Merck during the Vioxx scandal: some of whom supported the risky drug, others of whom warned against it. “Activists” are illustrated by the Catholic laity in New England who protested against those priests guilty of sexual abuse even though the protesters still stayed in the church. Finally, Kellerman refers to the Anaconda military operatives in Afghanistan as an example of Diehard followers.
Table 1.
A summary of the work focusing on descriptive behaviors of followers
Authors Follower typologies
Zaleznik, 1965 Withdrawn
Masochistic Compulsive
Steger et al., 1982 Apathetic
Game player
Kamikaze Deviant
Super follower
Kelly, 1992 Alienated
Passive Conformists Pragmatists
Potter and Rosenbach, 2006 Subordinate
Contributor Partner
Kellerman, 2008 Isolates
Participants Activists

From the table, although typologies seem to vary by author, there are a lot of commonalities. There are the less desirable traits with low levels of commitment and effectiveness (like withdrawn, alienated, passive, apathetic, deviants, subordinates and isolates) might be grouped at one end of the spectrum. In contrast, desired traits with a high level of commitment can be seen in exemplary, achiever, super follower, and partner. Laying in between these extremes are conformists, pragmatists, bureaucrats, donkeys, game players, contributors and participants.

Prescriptive Behaviours of Followers
This section focuses on the more prescriptive behavior of followers; what effective followers do.
Using Chaleff’s (1995) model, Dixon and Westbrook (2003) conducted a study to investigate the relationship between followership and status of a leader. They argue that their finding shows that most successful leaders are courageous followers and that employees at higher levels of management have stronger characteristics of a courageous follower. They also noted that employees are neither just leaders nor followers but can switch between the roles as needed, introducing the concept of leader-follower. Jaussi et al. (2008) used Kelly’s (1992) exemplary followers to develop a followership typology of effective behavior in organizations:
? creative skeptic
? creative catalyst
? creative static
? creative supporter
Goffee and Jones (2006) gave six ways of becoming an authentic leader:
1. Know and show yourself enough, also framed as ‘skillful self-disclosure.’
2. Take personal risks.
3. Understand and adapt to the environment.
4. Remain authentic while conforming enough.
5. Manage social distance: use bandwidth to shift from distance to closeness as needed.
6. Communicate with care.
The need for followers to be self-aware and have high integrity is also an area of growing research; this is typically referred to as self-leadership (Gardner et al., 2005). Agho’s (2009: 163) did a study with over 300 senior executives and found that honesty and self-leadership appear to be a standard requirement for both good leadership and good followership.
Collinson (2006) studied self-leadership in followers, and he uses three types of self to explain followership, the conformist self, the resistant self and the dramaturgical self. It has also been argued that organizations expect followers to demonstrate independence or self-leadership (Lord, 2008). Self-leadership qualities can also be found in whistleblowers in response to unethical leadership behavior (Goffee and Jones, 2006; Johnson, 2007). The kind of behavior shown by whistleblowers demonstrate good self-identity and integrity as the followers may face the potential of career risk
How to Develop Followers to Become Leaders
According to Yukl’s (2012) hierarchical taxonomy of leadership behaviors, leader behaviors can be classified into four meta-categories: task-oriented, relations-oriented, change-oriented, and external. Task-oriented behaviors include planning, clarifying, monitoring, and problem-solving. Change-oriented behaviors include advocating change, envisioning change, encouraging innovation, and facilitating collective learning. External behaviors are networking, external monitoring, representing. It is within relations-oriented behaviors that developing has been classified as a component behavior, along with supporting, recognizing, and empowering. Leaders use developing to build the confidence and skill-set of followers as well as to help them further their career advancement (Yukl, 2012). Some examples of developing include offering career advice, providing training opportunities, coaching and mentoring, and providing learning opportunities through experience-based learning.
The concept of leadership is a much-researched topic. As time goes on, and with new research being conducted, the idea of leadership is evolving. As leadership theories develop so does the notion of what makes effective follower development. Traditionally, the development of followers and leaders has focused more on individuality and on how others relate to oneself. More recently, however, aspects of self-awareness have become increasingly viewed as key to personal and leadership development. In contrast to traditional follower development, which often includes methods such as classroom learning, strategy execution, and simulated learning; qualities that are needed today are based on intuition, collaboration, dynamics, and emotional intelligence (Rowling, 2016).
Where traditional development fails – No one should argue that personal self-development is ineffective or a waste of time. There are countless books, workshops, and other resources that will help you achieve personal growth. Traditional leader/follower development programs are focused on the individual and often based in classrooms. Criticism of traditional leader/follower development, (Rowling, 2016; Einstat, Spectre ; Beer, 1990) notes failures to account for emerging concepts such as emotional intelligence, collaborative learning, and the dynamics of everyday interactions in the workplace. Also noted is that without fundamental changes in the workplace to achieve an atmosphere conducive to development, people are set up to fail. Part of the problem is that most leaders tend to view organizations as a grouping of individuals and not a complex and dynamic system of interactions (Einstat et al., 1990). The learning that is a result of leader/follower development will be lacking if it solely takes place in a classroom. One cannot honestly know their capabilities until they put their skills into practice and begin learning through real-world experiences.
Authentic Leadership
There is no shortage of scandals and questionable business practices in recent news. Stories about people losing their life savings, CEO’s being indicted, and corporations breaking laws are all too familiar. One must not only question the values of such leaders and organizations but also challenge themselves to hold them accountable through various means. Authentic leadership is often described in association with values such as ethics, morals, and fairness.
Avolio and Gardner (2005) state that authentic leadership development focuses on followers in two ways: building follower self-awareness/regulation and encouraging follower development. By buildings skills in self-awareness and self-regulation, followers can gain clarity in their roles, values, emotions, and their identity. An increase in authenticity between leaders and followers leads to mutually beneficial development for both leaders and followers (Gardner et al., 2005). As followers begin the share the ideals and values established by their leaders, their views on what can be achieved open to change. As followers start to increase their understanding of who they are, they become more transparent with their leader, who also benefit from follower development (Avolio, Gardner, 2005.)
Developmental readiness
Readiness, according to Avolio and Hannah (2005) is defined as the combinations of positive ability, orientation, and openness to develop. In their model of leader and organizational development readiness (figure 1.), as leaders readiness for development increases, so does the organization’s climate for development. There are other factors present in the model, but the central concept is that developing readiness is key to establishing a long-term commitment to memory. By evaluating followers level of readiness, through evaluations and others methods, one can predict the outcomes of developmental training. The idea is that followers need to be ready to be developed before undertaking follower development. Otherwise, follower developmental activities will not be as effective, if at all. According to the model, leaders and followers can develop readiness by learning goal orientation, developmental efficacy, self-awareness, leader complexity, and meta-cognitive ability.
Developing star followers
According to Suda (2013), followers have particular needs from leaders in order maximize performance and well-being. When polled, followers indicated that they need clear goals and direction, frequent, specific and immediate feedback, and coaching to develop potential. Followers need to know what the direction of the company is. They need to know what is expected of them and what they need to achieve to advance the goals of the organization. Setting clear goals and expectations also allows leaders and followers to be able to track progress against one’s activities. Providing constructive feedback should be seen as a positive element toward improvement as a follower. If a leader has taken the time and effort to provide suggestions for improvement, it shows a level of commitment. Coaching and mentoring opportunities are also useful if done correctly, at developing followers. The benefits of coaching to followers are that they receive knowledge and advice from leaders that have had an opportunity to hone their skills in a real-world environment.
Beer, Finnstrom, & Schrader (2016) recommend six steps to develop followers within an organization:
1. The senior team defines values and an inspiring strategic direction.
2. After gathering candid, anonymous observations and insights from managers and employees, the team diagnoses barriers to strategy execution and learning. It then redesigns the organization’s roles, responsibilities, and relationships to overcome those barriers and motivate change.
3. Day-to-day coaching and process consultation help people become more effective in that new design.
4. The organization adds training where needed.
5. Success in changing behavior is gauged using new metrics for individual and organizational performance.
6. Systems for selecting, evaluating, developing, and promoting talent are adjusted to reflect and sustain the changes in organizational behavior.
This approach to follower development encompasses a much broader view of factors. Again, we see the importance of settings goals and creating an attractive future for the organization. Goals and direction give followers a path forward. Anonymous feedback allows leaders to identify weaknesses in their leadership and the organization. Feedback also allows the leaders to see things from other perspectives. It is often difficult to find fault within systems that you have created or have helped to create. Daily constructive interactions between leaders and followers builds trust and gives followers a sense of inclusion and a say in their work. Formal training is an essential tool for exposing followers to personal development opportunities. Current thinking around follower development has minimized the significance of formal training, however, it remains a valuable tool.
Robert Kelley has extensively researched the topic of followership. In his article In Praise of Followership (1988) he lays out a process for cultivating followers that encompasses four key aspects:
1. Changing our understanding of leadership and followership
2. Developing followers’ skills
3. Evaluating performance and giving feedback
4. Changing organizational environments to encourage followership.
Changing our understanding of leadership and followership. The traditional worldview surrounding leadership and followership is based on a superior/inferior dynamic between personal relationships. Leadership should be viewed as a role that provides followers with the tools and resources necessary for them to do their jobs well. Leadership needs to be approached from the angle of being part of the team and not necessarily just as one who gives orders.
Developing followers’ skills. Traditional assumptions about followers are faulty in the sense that they assume leaders are more critical, that followership is about doing what you are told, and leaders contain all the skills and experiences necessary to create effective followers. To correct those misconceptions, Kelley (1998) suggest focusing on topics such as: encouraging critical thinking, learning self-management techniques, building credibility, aligning personal and organizational goals, and treating everyone with respect, including yourself.
Evaluating performance and giving feedback. Performance evaluations can be made more effective when including sections both on followership ability and leadership ability. By gauging the skill set within the two groups, followers can be evaluated based on their abilities in both leadership and followership. Employees can be assessed by their peers as well as their superiors. The feedback provided to employees will assist in their development.
Changing organizational environments to encourage followership. While one may assume the best way to develop leadership is to create an environment that fosters leadership opportunities. However, Kelly argues that to cultivate followers, an organization must create a structure and culture conducive to followership. It is proposed that this can be done by providing situations for leaderless collaboration. Group members can assume equal responsibility for achieving goals and exposes those same members to equal access to leadership situations. In contrast, a group with too many leaders will not be as effective. Encouraging followership within an organization can also take the form of rotational leadership within groups. Rotating leaders within a group at regular intervals not only gives followers a chance to exercise leadership skills, but it also gives team members an opportunity to practice effective followership. Organizational change can encourage effective followership can also be achieved by providing responsibilities to even the lowest level employees. By giving low-level employees responsibility, they are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions. A reward system can also underline the importance of good followership.
Followership as a Role
In the late 1990s after half a century of research Peter F. Drucker drew a conclusion emphasising, “… “leadership personality,” “leadership style,” and “leadership traits” do not exist” (Drucker, 1996, p. 54) but rather the impact of a leader comes from what they do rather than by position or title they hold (Drucker, 1996). If the observations of Drucker, and others before him, are held to be true then there is an agreement that leadership is a role. Drucker (1996) positions the number one simple thing leaders know is that a leader has followers. It is in that statement from Drucker the connection to followership as a role begins to take shape. This relationship is supported by DeRue (2011) that followership and leadership are reciprocal, interdependent actions.
With an understanding of the reciprocal and interdependent connection between leadership and followership, it is essential for leaders to know when and how to step into followership roles. It is so important that Curphy stresses, “virtually all jobs have followership requirements” (Curphy, 2011) highlighting the reality that in all positions each is a follower to another. While Drucker (1996) asserted that leadership personality/style/traits do not exist, Curphy (2011) suggests that those same leadership personality/style/traits can be used to describe followership. With an interdependence, the role of a follower is as important to that of a leader as, “effective followers can shape productive leadership behavior just as effective leaders develop employees into good followers” (Suda, 2013). With positive collective action followers can survive in a climate where there is not effective leadership, perhaps even having the ability to influence chance with the leadership. Conversely, leaders can survive without effective followers however in neither situation does the leader, not the followers thrive. When those with the actions of leadership embrace the interwoven connection between their actions and those of followers the dynamic shifts from command and control to collaboration (Ambler, 2016). As leaders welcome this impactful reality, they open themselves up to benefit from stepping into the role of a follower.
Situations and Circumstances for Followership
Followers hold tremendous influence over the perception of a leader’s ability with how they direct their actions particularly as it relates to the empowerment of their chosen leader (Kelley R., 1992). Leaders then need to work diligently to connect with followers authentically while creating and identifying situations and circumstances which validate the importance of followership. As a first step, leaders should consider “…accepting that influence doesn’t come from position. Influence comes from caring for others (Ambler, 2016). Creating a caring environment as a key component of validating followers and their efforts of followership is supported by Haudan (2012) suggesting four ways to validate caring:
? Empathize first; share that you know what it’s like to be a follower.
? Inspire confidence in people that they can change.
? Create an organizational expectation that we will change.
? Build a belief that we all can determine our own fate.
Through effective utilization of the followership development pieces outlined earlier in the paper leaders have the opportunity to build-up organizational human capacity. Having engaged and developed followers creates opportunities for leaders to step into new leadership roles without losing operational momentum. Curphy (2011) suggests this situational occurrence be based on leaders selecting followers who are the most engaged and effective to step into those leadership opportunities. Some of these opportunities may include when a committee is seeking new members, a work team is forming a special task force, or a senior staff member is off on a personal leave, and a backfill is required, there is a nearly endless list of possible opportunities for leaders to seize opportunities to challenge and support followers. The most difficult aspect of creating situations and circumstances for followers is to manage that challenge and support with a balanced approach (Executive Coaching & Consulting Associates, 2018). Through these actions, leaders reciprocate empowerment back to followers creating “an environment of partnership as well as learning to provide candid feedback (Executive Coaching & Consulting Associates, 2018) assist leaders with keeping their egos in check. Curphy (2011) adds to this ego checking through the added benefits of ethical followers who can “help leaders avoid making questionable decisions and high performing followers often motivate leaders to raise their own levels of performance.” There is considerable evidence that followers should engage in their own development, embrace the impact of their endorsement, and meet the challenges set by those they choose to follow. Leaders should continually scan the organization for situations where effective followership can be elevated into leadership opportunities – both short-term and long-term. Additionally, leaders should seek their own development and leadership opportunities from their direct supervisors.
Following to Lead
Followers play an important role with very little getting done within an organization “as they are people closest to the customers and issues, creating the products, taking orders, and collecting payments. Research has consistently shown that more engaged employees are harder working, more productive, and more likely to stay with organizations than those who are disengaged (Curphy, 2011). In the age of the knowledge economy people are the greatest asset of an organization and by extension effective followers are the most valuable asset to a leader. This shift in the organizational expectations of followers is matched by changing expectations of employees. “The generations entering the workforce have higher educational levels and increased willingness to change companies, jobs, and even careers. Employees want meaningful work and to be treated with dignity and respect (Suda, 2013). Leaders were again facing situations of far distant eras when tribal people followed those tribe who could provide food, shelter, protect, and ultimately survival (Suda, 2013). When there was an issue with the leader the tribe member could challenge the leader for their spot or choose to leave the group and risk their survival. In the current day organization “leaders must do all they can to keep followers aligned with the goals and agenda of the organization. If followers perceive that the psychological costs outweigh the benefits, they may become disengaged, or leave if those inequities persist” (Suda, 2013). Engaging employees in the intentional act of followership means a stronger, more aligned unit with reducing risks of failure – at least from within the organization.
Whether in a role with leadership or followership action responsibilities, the effort of advancing within an organization is more difficult than it has ever been (Lopis, 2012). Part of the employee validation formulae, at all levels in the organization, is “being respected enough to earn a voice at the table…” (Lopis, 2012). Effective followership leads employees to that table through experiential learning. Effective leaders focus on the ‘star followers,’ developing as many as possible to validate their voice within the organization. Monitoring the effectiveness of leaders to create / leverage situations and circumstances for followership is an organizational imperative as “weak leadership and weak followership are two sides of the same coin, and the consequence is always the same: organizational confusion and poor performance” (McCallum, 2013).

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