Whatever Happened to Followers?


I had several leadership courses and seminars, and appreciated the valuable insights gained from these trainings, but I always had this nagging thought: “Why isn’t there training for followership?”  After all, there are more followers than leaders.  The instructor was stumped when I posed this question in my leadership class.  Even as I am typing this article, the spell checker couldn’t recognize the word, “followership.”   Have we, as a society, forgotten our followers

Have we, as a society, forgotten our followers?  

Western cultures have long valued Individualism over Collectivism.  The “Me” focus naturally gravitates one’s ambition towards leadership.   But, as much as we like to see ourselves as leaders, most of us aren’t… at least, not all the time.  If everyone is leading, or directing, then who is doing the work?   Effective organizations usually have a few effective leaders and a lot more good followers.  Corporations that are top-heavy create more strives than products.

Our infatuation with leaders has left followers nameless and faceless.

Our infatuation with leaders has left followers nameless and faceless.  We have been taught that followers are inferior to their leader, lacking ambition and courage.  But this stereotype is simply wrong.  Followers are collaborative, hands-on, dedicated, courageous and patient.   Followers do not have the positional authority like their leaders, and yet with limited resources, they collaborate and get things done.  Ever noticed that followers get along amongst themselves better than leaders do?  Many followers with leadership qualities chose to be followers, because they want to stay hands-on and remain dedicated to their crafts.   Some followers are gifted at the #2 role–loyally supporting their leaders and keeping them out of trouble.  Finally, followers are not without ambitions, instead, they have patience.  They wait for their time to shine while quietly doing their part to ensure their leaders succeed.

Followers are collaborative, hands-on, dedicated, courageous and patient. 

It’s time for Corporate America to recognize and elevate followers for doing their jobs with dedication and selflessness.   It’s also time for us to not focus only on training new leaders, but also teaching the virtue of a good follower.

Further Reading:

(The above article is solely the expressed opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the position of his current and past employers)

2 thoughts on “Whatever Happened to Followers?

  1. captbecker

    Excellent! My last assignment before retiring was as project manager to develop an IS-based personnel evaluation system for our 5,000 Mariners. I mentioned to the team that, besides evaluating ‘leadership’, we might want to also evaluate ‘followership’. I got some blank looks, some stunned looks, and some bemused looks (OK, OK, sure, we’ll do that … now go retire, will ya’?). Nice post.

    • larrylisky

      @captbecker – thanks for your comments. It is great to know there are others that have the same idea.

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