A New Perspective on Your Followers

If no one is following you, you are not leading. You may have employees who are doing a job, but you won’t have followers who go above and beyond ordinary expectations. I’m convinced that we don’t spend enough time thinking about the quality of our followers and what that says about our leadership. Here we go…

GiANT Worldwide - Sheep

Warren Bennis said that the essence of leadership is inspired followers. I want to take his thinking one step further: in our current reality, marked by rapid change and complexity, the essence of leadership is empowered followers. Empowered followers have been given responsibility to do something important and authority to call the shots on how it gets done. They are also courageous enough to say no to you because they are passionate, well-informed and deeply connected to the nature of their work.

Are your followers courageous enough to tell you no?

Robert Kelly has an excellent article on followers where he says this: “Bosses are not necessarily good leaders; subordinates are not necessarily effective followers. Many bosses couldn’t lead a horse to water. Many subordinates couldn’t follow a parade. Some people avoid either role. Others accept the role thrust upon them and perform it badly.” In his research, Kelly identified five types of followers.

Sheep: Passive and uncritical, sheep lack initiative and responsibility. You have to poke them with the rod and guide them with the staff.  Never a good scenario.

Yes People: Dependent on the leader for inspiration. They are compliant but don’t expect to find a lot of help thinking through problems with this tribe.

Alienated: Alienated followers are critical and independent, but are passive in their role. Something burnt them and they are now cynical but will keep the peace.

Survivors: Better safe than sorry. I won’t branch out and try something new, too risky.

Effective Followers: Effective followers don’t need strong leadership all of the time. Followers like this believe they offer as much value to the organization as their leaders. Kelley says that the four essential qualities of effective followers are:

  1. They manage themselves well.
  2. They are committed to the organization and to a purpose, principle, or person outside themselves.
  3. They build their competence and focus their efforts for maximum impact.
  4. They are courageous, honest, and credible.

Imagine the implications of a fresh surge of followers marked by those qualities.

Bottom Line: Some followers are more effective than others. You want effective followers. Your followers are saying something about your leadership. What are they saying?


Feature photo courtesy of Jonas Nilsson Lee.

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