Leadership-FollowershipCompanies and individuals around the world spend billions on courses, books, conferences, and symposiums to develop leadership skills.

One thing every single person is though is a follower – everyone is responsible to someone else, or a group of others. Even when we execute leadership roles we still do so as the ultimate followers because there is always someone looking over our shoulders.

Arguably, we spend more of our time and energy as followers than as leaders. So why do we not spend as much, or more, money and energy developing the skills and perspectives needed for good effective Followership?

Type the word “Leadership” into Google and you will receive in the region of 137,000,000 results. Type “Followership” into Google and it only returns 766,000 results. Followership returns 0.56% of the results of Leadership.

This paper:

  • Reviews common models of Followership
  • Considers social structures built on foundations of Followership
  • Suggests eight key attributes of good followers

Followership: How to act the other 98% of the time, when we aren’t leading.

Companies and individuals around the world spend billions on courses, books, conferences, and symposiums to develop leadership skills. Type the word “Leadership” into Google and you will receive in the region of 137,000,000 results. We all want to be leaders, and ideally, good leaders. However, not everyone who aspires to leadership will achieve a formal position, and not everyone who achieves a position of leadership will be a good leader.

One thing every single person is though is a follower – everyone is responsible to someone else, or a group of others. Even when we execute leadership roles we still do so as the ultimate followers because there is always someone looking over our shoulders. Just because we are all followers doesn’t mean that we are all good followers.

Arguably, we spend more of our time and energy as followers than as leaders. So why do we not spend as much, or more, money and energy developing the skills and perspectives needed for good effective Followership?

Type “Followership” into Google and it only returns 766,000 results. Followership returns 0.56% of the results of Leadership. Look closer at those results and it becomes clear that the majority of them are actually directed at leaders and discuss how leaders can develop higher levels of Followership within their subordinates. The actual amount of information online that considers how we should be better followers is significantly less than the fraction of a percent returned on this simple search.

A brief overview of the main resources dealing with Followership

Filtering through the online material available brings up three models that are generally referred to in order to engage effective Followership.

Robert Kelley’s model of Followership

Kelley’s model is the most often referenced.

Kelley described four main qualities of effective followers, which include:

Self-Management: This refers to the ability to think critically, to be in control of one’s actions, and work independently. It is important that followers manage themselves well as leaders are able to delegate tasks to these individuals.

Commitment: This refers to an individual being committed to the goal, vision, or cause of a group, team, or organization. This is an important quality of followers as it helps keep one’s (and other member’s) morale and energy levels high.

Competence: It is essential that individuals possess the skills and aptitudes necessary to complete the goal or task of the group, team, or organization. Individuals high on this quality often hold skills higher than their average co-worker (or team member). Further, these individuals continue their pursuit of knowledge by upgrading their skills through classes and seminars.

Courage: Effective followers hold true to their beliefs and maintain and uphold ethical standards, even in the face of dishonest or corrupt superiors (leaders). These individuals are loyal, honest, and importantly, candid with their superiors.

Kelley identified two underlying behavioural dimensions that help identify the difference between followers and non-followers.

The first behavioural dimension is whether or not the individual is an independent, critical thinker.

The second dimension is whether or not the individual is active or passive. From these dimensions, Kelley has identified five followership patterns, or types of followers:

The Sheep: These individuals are passive and require external motivation from the leader. These individuals lack commitment and require constant supervision from the leader.

The Yes-People: These individuals are committed to the leader and the goal (or task) of the organization (or group/team). These conformist individuals do not question the decisions or actions of the leader. Further, yes-people will defend adamantly their leader when faced with opposition from others.

The Pragmatics: These individuals are not trail-blazers; they will not stand behind controversial or unique ideas until the majority of the group has expressed their support. These individuals often remain in the background of the group.

The Alienated: These individuals are negative and often attempt to stall or bring the group down by constantly questioning the decisions and actions of the leader. These individuals often view themselves as the rightful leader of the organization and are critical of the leader and fellow group members.

The Star Followers: These exemplary individuals are positive, active, and independent thinkers. Star followers will not blindly accept the decisions or actions of a leader until they have evaluated them completely. Furthermore, these types of followers can succeed without the presence of a leader.

Ira Chaleff’s Courageous Follower

A second model of followership was offered by Dr. Ira Chaleff. Like Kelley, Chaleff divided his model of followership between two broad concepts including

(a) level of support of leadership and

(b) level of willingness to challenge the authority of leadership initiatives.

Chaleff then divided the two broad concepts into four quadrants of Courageous Followership:

Resource: Resource is the type of employee who displays low support and low challenge. In general this type of follower-subordinate shows up to work and does just enough to retain their position and no more.

Individualist: The individualist type follower demonstrates low support and high challenge. This type of subordinate will speak up when others are silent, but is often marginalized due to being habitually antagonistic.

Implementer: The implementer is like Kelley’s yes-men. They demonstrates high support but low challenge. Often the leader loves this follower more than others because they have a yes sir, can-do attitude.

Partner: Chaleff labeled the courageous follower as “partner.” The partner-type follower displays both high support and high challenge. These types of followers take full responsibility for their own as well as the leader’s behaviors and act accordingly.

Rodger Adair – 4-D Followership Model

Rodger Adair of the University of Phoenix offered a four quadrant model of followership, entitled The 4-D Followership Model.

Adair built his model on three broad concepts:

(a) turnover or likely hood to stay;

(b) job satisfaction; and

(c) productivity.

His four quadrants are labeled:

Disciple: The disciple-type follower displays high job satisfaction, high productivity, and low turnover rate. Their focus is on serving the needs of others.

Doer: The doer-type follower is high in productivity, but low in job satisfaction and therefore high in turnover rate. Their main focus is towards serving their own needs.

Disengaged: The disengaged follower is low in all three categories. They are low in job satisfaction, low in productivity, but unlikely to leave the organization unless forced to do so. The main focus of the disengaged is passive reaction to stress.

Disgruntled: The disgruntled type employee is low in both job satisfaction and productivity and highly unlikely to remain with the firm. This type of follower subordinate is not a team player and has a highly corrosive personality.

Social situations built on a core belief in Followership

The theories of Followership reviewed all consider the follower within a corporate context but none of these contexts are built around the fundamental expectation that a being a good follower is the primary responsibility of the members of the organisation.

There are at least two social structures where that is not true, where a disproportionate level of energy and focus is spent on what is expected of followers; Organised religion, and the Military.

Religion’s concept of the “Disciple”

In organized religion a follower would be called a disciple, and as a disciple of a particular set of beliefs and teachings would be expected to live and act in a certain way. The structures of censure and discipline [a word rooted in “disciple”] are all directed at ensuring people stay within the bounds of expected Followership, and not support for aspirant leadership, as in other organizations.

Type the question: “What is a disciple?” into Google.




1) a personal follower of Jesus during his life, especially one of the twelve Apostles.

2) a follower or student of a teacher, leader, or philosopher.

“a disciple of Rousseau”

synonyms:            follower, adherent, believer, admirer, devotee, acolyte, votary;

The online version of the Miriam-Webster dictionary supplies a similar definition of a disciple.

One who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another: as

a : one of the twelve in the inner circle of Christ’s followers according to the Gospel accounts

b : a convinced adherent of a school or individual


UrbanDictionary.com has a useful perspective: “It is a word that combines the definitions of student and follower.”

We need to filter out the Judeo-Christian bias of the search engine results. Once this is done some key concept regarding what makes a good follower can be filtered out.

Disciples study their leader

Disciples carry conviction

Disciples aspire to follow and emulate their leader not replace or supercede them

There is, however, a legitimate discomfort with the type of Followership evidenced in most organized religion. Followers are often expected to blindly follow, and unquestioningly obey – this gives rise to most organized religions having fundamentalist fringes, and in some cases the evolution of dangerous cults. Discipleship taken to extreme ends may be viewed as an illogical and, at times, corrupted version of Followership.

The Military

The military is another social structure built on Followership for effectiveness. Subordinates are expected to follow orders of senior ranks without questioning. There are, in fact, severe legal consequences for not following or questioning any orders resulting in court martial and possible prison time. Insubordination is a word that boundaries expected Followership within the military.

The list below is found online and is the advice of a senior officer on how to be a good follower within military structures.

The Ten Rules of Good Followership: Col Phillip S. Meilinger

  1. Don’t blame your boss for an unpopular decision or policy; your job is to support, not undermine.
  2. Fight with your boss if necessary; but do it in private, avoid embarrassing situations, and never reveal to others what was discussed.
  3. Make the decision, then run it past the boss; use your initiative.
  4. Accept responsibility whenever it is offered.
  5. Tell the truth and don’t quibble; your boss will be giving advice up the chain of command based on what you said.
  6. Do your homework; give your boss all the information needed to make a decision; anticipate possible questions.
  7. When making a recommendation, remember who will probably have to implement it. This means you must know your own limitations and weaknesses as well as your strengths.
  8. Keep your boss informed of what’s going on in the unit; people will be reluctant to tell him or her their problems and successes. You should do it for them, and assume someone else will tell the boss about yours.
  9. If you see a problem, fix it. Don’t worry about who would have gotten the blame or who now gets the praise.
  10. Put in more than an honest day’s work, but don’t ever forget the needs of your family. If they are unhappy, you will be too, and your job performance will suffer accordingly.

On the surface this list seems innocuous and logical. But, that is a peacetime guideline. During times of war, or martial law, there is only one expectation of Followership – absolute and immediate obedience. The discretion for delay or discussion lies exclusively with the higher rank, who in turn is expected to respond to those above them with similar unflinching obedience.

Joining the dots

The research available on Followership allows leaders to investigate what they should be doing to get better followers. It assists us in dissecting followers as a demographic and categorizing them in matrices based on how certain parameters play out in their actions. There is, however, very little available that can guide us in how to be better followers, and considering the disproportionate amount of time we spend as followers rather than leaders this oversight is glaring.

Organised religion and the military are two societies built on foundations of effective Followership, but it is clear that these models are context specific and not necessarily appropriate for individuals outside of them. Furthermore, the types of Followership exhibited within these structures are easily corrupted or taken to extremes.

So, how do we exercise effective Followership? A hint may be found in the juxtaposition of Followership and Leadership in so much of the research, but with one key distinction. The key to being a good follower is realistic and effective self-leadership.

When we know our abilities, our limitations, and ourselves we can respond to expectations placed on us with effective Followership. The factors used by Kelley, Chalef, and Adair become the areas within which we need to exercise self-leadership and self-awareness.

  • Independence and critical thinking
  • Being active or passive
  • Support of leaders
  • Willingness to challenge the authority of leaders
  • Job commitment
  • Job satisfaction
  • Productivity

These are then expressed in the attributes of a good follower identified by John S. McCallum from University of Manitoba.

  1. Judgement: The key is having the judgement to know the difference between a directive that your leader gives on how to proceed that you do not agree with and a directive that is truly wrong.
  2. Work ethic: Good followers are good workers. They are diligent, motivated, committed, pay attention to detail and make the effort.
  3. Competence: The follower cannot follow properly unless competent at the task that is directed by the leader.
  4. Honesty: This is especially the case when the follower feels the leader’s agenda is seriously flawed. Respect and politeness are important but that said, it is not acceptable for followers to sit on their hands while an inept leader drives the proverbial bus over the cliff.
  5. Courage: It takes real courage to confront a leader about concerns with the leader’s agenda or worse, the leader himself or herself. It is not for naught that Churchill called courage “The foremost of the virtues, for upon it, all others depend”.
  6. Discretion: Everybody who works at an enterprise has a duty of care; indiscretion is not care, it is careless.
  7. Loyalty: Loyalty is not a synonym for lapdog. Rather, its essence is a strong allegiance and commitment to what the organization is trying to do. Followers should remember that their obligation is to the enterprise, not a given leader at a given point in time.
  8. Ego Management: Good followers have their egos under control. Success for good followers relates to performance and goal achievement not personal recognition and self-promotion













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