The topic of leadership is a constant talking point within business circles, and has been for ages.  For good reason. 

But for all the talk, it doesn't seem that leadership in this country is improving all that much. But that's a topic for another day :)

Sometimes I think the issue with leadership is the fact everyone wants to be a leader, and that taking on a leadership role is the destiny to which we should all aspire.

But not everyone can be in a position of leadership. Nor does everyone want to be.

Which brings us to the concept of followership.

Followership is the capacity to actively follow a leader; it is a much less discussed, understood and, seemingly, sought-after quality.

Paradoxically though, followership could well be more important than leadership itself.

Lesser-known secrets

Businesses and organisations that are built to last typically have a clear vision and a strong set of guiding principles, behaviours or core values.

They also have a strong culture of followership.  In other words, they embrace, support and promote those that show strong followership. This is one of the lesser-known secrets to long-term success.

Why should we focus on the followers in our organisations, I hear you ask?

For starters, there are many more followers than leaders and, most importantly, the followers are doing the real work.

Like leaders, there are many types of followers, and to build the best culture, we need to attract and retain the best followers.

Carnegie Mellon professor and author of the book The Power of Followership, Robert Kelley, has identified five different follower styles:

  1. The Sheep: Passive folk that need lots of external motivation and constant supervision from the leader.
  2. The Yes-People: These people are committed to the leader and the team. They will adamantly defend their leader when faced with opposition but they won’t question the decisions or actions of the leader.
  3. The Pragmatics: These folks are fair-weather followers.  They won’t stand behind controversial or unique ideas until the majority of the group has expressed their support.
  4. The Alienated: These guys are the critics.  They are negative and often view themselves as the rightful leader of the organization. They actively and passively try to slow down the progress of the team at every opportunity.
  5. The Star Followers: These are the followers we want!  They are positive, active, and independent thinkers. Star followers won’t blindly accept the decisions or actions of a leader until they have evaluated them completely. Even better, these guys can succeed without the presence of a leader.

The business I work in, and likely yours too, has a mix of all five follower types. 

A mixture is okay, but Star Followers need to be the priority.

Promoting followership is not something many leaders and entrepreneurs understand or are comfortable discussing. But it does exist and may be the missing ingredient in your team.

In coming articles, I will dig a deeper into this topic, with a particular focus on what you can do to attract, retain and develop a higher-than-average level of Star Followers.