I had to check if there was such a word in the English language as ‘Followership’. It is rarely used and means ‘the ability or willingness to follow a leader’ (Websters).
There is no doubt that there is such a word as Leadership. We have built a science around it and have studied it from every possible angle. In the last 50 years I wonder how many books have been written, how many lectures and seminars and courses have been delivered, how many magazines and papers published, how many coaches and mentors hired and businesses formed all around the concept of Leadership? The world seems hungry to learn about leadership.
Yet, we do not often focus on the most important criteria for leadership which is to have followers or followership. Great leaders throughout the ages are remembered for how well they served their followers, inspiring victory of some kind that would not have been possible without their courageous leadership.
True leadership is all about followership
True leadership is actually not about the leader but is all about the followership.
What is that old proverb? “He who thinks he is leading but looks around and finds no one following is merely taking a walk”.
A great video on followership
There is a fantastic video on YouTube which someone has used to show the importance to a leader of gaining their first follower in order to start any kind of movement where a group of people are stirred to followership. If you don’t get the first follower then you will be just a crazy guy doing a dance connecting with no one.
Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fW8amMCVAJQ
How to develop followership?
Most of the best leaders I know spent a significant time serving another leader. I doubt there is a better way to learn the character and the skills required to become an outstanding leader than by being a loyal follower. While you are being the ‘first follower’ for someone you are serving there is a shaping and forming that happens on the inside of you.
It is good to have desire and dreams. However ambition can cloud the mind of the immature causing them think that leadership is about getting people to serve them, whereas it is entirely the opposite. Leadership is all about sacrificially serving the real needs of others.
10 qualities of a first follower in followership:
1. You want a better future – you are not content with the status quo but you are not negative and cynical either
2. You believe that you can be part of making it happen – you want to make a difference.
3. You have a desire for relationship and for community – you love to be part of what is happening
4. You know (maybe by painful experience) the sound and look of a genuine leader – someone with conviction of heart and clarity of vision with whom you can connect
5. You do not need a lot of convincing to step out and follow when you see someone doing something you like.
6. You do not expect perfection from a leader – you know to err is human
7. You don’t expect the leader to do it all – you know they are just the point person who leads the way.
8. You do expect conviction, honesty and courage from a leader – these are the qualities that bond followers to leaders.
9. You are willing to give loyalty to a leader if they stay true to themselves even when results are not happening yet.
10. You are willing and able to bring others with you
So, what do you think?
Is this a different angle on leadership?
Are you a leader or a first follower?
To what extent is a first follower the key to effective leadership?
I have often wondered what happened to all the teaching material on being a follower. After all only one person can be the leader and all the rest have to follow.
Should we be teaching people how to be great followers and letting the leaders emerge from the pack?
I admit that we can all learn to lead to a certain degree but there seems to be an unbalanced promotion of this as being the pinacle of aspiration. Inspired followers are needed to enact the vision of any leader.
That could be a new book. The 21 Habits of an inspired follower. 🙂
Glad to see that you sympathise with my view Neville. I will have to spend more time on this topic and see if I gather enough material for a book. What do you think should be included?
Thank you for this.
I am in total agreement with your sentiments. For a leader to emerge, some time has to be spent following, learning the tricks of trade: in apprenticeship, so to speak.
Shackleton is thought of as a great leader, but he learned many of his skills and problem solving from Nansen – he had a template, and he knew what to watch for.
I heard Peter Russian speak – and his opinion was that everyone was writing books on Leadership, whereas none were being written on followership, which is equally important.
And apprentices can become master craftsmen.
I agree Linda, and Roberta, the Apprentice/Master relationship is one aspect of 'Followership' that is often despised or overlooked today. As John Maxwell says, 'It takes a leader to raise up a leader'. So the corollary of that is, 'It requires some time as a follower to become a leader'.
Interesting topic. I think we see this very clearly in the political arena but we forget that it exists in all walks of life.
And good leadership does seem to require an apprenticeship.
John, this is a great, thought-provoking article. One of my colleagues in our wee little community has been using the word followship for the past two years so I've become accustomed to hearing it and understanding the meaning.
As I launch a new Living Leadership program in September I am thinking, and here's where I'd like your feedback, that the purpose of our retreat is less about jumping on stage or starting a movement than it is about living leadership, personal leadership every day. The way I see it, by upholding the principles of Living Leadership people become both better leaders AND better followers.
I did see the video a while back and loved it. The dialogue is as intriguing as the action on the screen. I watched and wondered what each of those people knew about themselves that gave them the courage to be an awesome follower.
Thanks again for bringing this topic up. I like emerging ideas! Daryl
In a small community if everyone has a sense of belonging and a shared set of values, it is possible and usually desirable to get everyone involved in 'leadership'. The more followers share in the setting of goals the more they will own and participate in achieving the goals.
I remember leading a small youth group many years ago with about 12 – 15 15 year olds. I provided some structure and security and then got them involved in setting direction and program and they rose to levels of leadership that amazed me. They all really owned the group and it was a pleasure to be their 'leader'.
I've been studying followship for about 8 years now. There are a number of books on the subject and a few good articles. By far the best place to start is a history of followship by Susan Baker in The Journal of Organizational Studies, Vol. 14 from 2007. The article is called, "Followership: The Theoretical Foundation of a Contemporary Construct."
I also work with a company that has developed a coherent model of followship, one that integrates well with leadership training.
Finally, I co-moderate a group on Linked-In called Followership if anyone is interested in joining.
Cheers from Canada,
Great to hear from a pioneer. As I have often found there are more people than I thought working on subjects like 'follwership' at the same time all around the world.
I'm very thankful for your comment and for your pointing in the direction of other material that I'm sure will be useful to further pursue this topic.
I will look your group up on Linked-In as well.
What effect does the type of leadership have on the group? Are democratic methods less efficient than authoritarian, as even many lovers of democracy believe? Or does a group work better under a democratic leader who uses persuasion rather than force, education rather than propaganda,
The type of leadership always has a strong effect on the group. I’ve always found that I have to adapt my leadership style to the needs of the group. If they are young and inexperienced my leadership style may be more directive and authoritarian. If they are experienced I may just need to be a coordinator facilitating communication towards achieving goals. The best leadership style is the one that serves the needs of the group in my view.