Leadership has been one of the hottest topics in the corporate, non-profit & entrepreneurial worlds for the past decade.  It seems that becoming an inspiring leader and taking on a leadership role is the destiny to which we should all aspire.   But not everyone can be in a position of leadership. And not everyone wants to be.  Enter followership.

Followership, the capacity to actively follow a leader, is a much less discussed, understood and, seemingly sought-after quality.  The thing is, followership, could well be more important than leadership.

Organisations that are built to last typically have a clear vision and a strong set of guiding principles, behaviours or core values.  What they also have is a strong culture of followership.  Embracing, supporting and promoting those that show strong followership is one of the lesser-known secrets to long-term success.

So why should we focus on the followers in our organisations?  Well 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.  According to Robert Kelley*, there are 5 types of followers:

  1. The Sheep: Passive folk that need lots of external motivation & 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 folk 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.

It’s likely that your organisation and mine has a mix of all five follower types.  A mixture is ok, but, a strong skew towards The Star Followers should be your priority.

So what do you think: is followership more important than leadership in building a strong culture and organisation that can last the test of time? I tend to think so and am focussed on attracting, nurturing and retaining the best star followers I can find.  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  I'd love to hear your questions, comments and thoughts in the box below.


*Link to more info on Robert Kelley & his work on Followership