Leading Blog






03.14.08

Good Followers Make the Best Leaders

Followership Kellerman
In case you didn’t know it by now, let me just say, followership is the crucible of leadership. There is no better way to learn leadership than by being under someone else—leading from the second chair. As ironic as that may sound, it’s true. Learning to lead under someone else provides you with the opportunity (the necessity) to learn to lead without coercion. You learn to let your leadership speak for itself—authentically.

Yet we still, as Barbara Kellerman states in her important new book, Followership, overestimate the importance of leadership and underestimate the importance of followership. She argues that, “thinking leadership without thinking followership is not merely misleading, it is mistaken.” Why? The context of leadership has changed.
First, leaders have been demystified, in part by modern media, which demands grist for its mill 24/7; and in part by the modern culture, in which figures of authority are no longer exalted or even so much respected. Second, because the line between the leader and the led has been blurred, the led have been emboldened.
She points out that much of this is cyclical. I would agree. It’s hard for human beings to find balance. Consequently, we continually find ourselves reacting to someone else’s excessive behavior.

While we have spent a great deal of time distinguishing between types of leaders, we have not done the same with followers. Kellerman spends a good portion of the book explaining followers. She describes four types: Bystanders, Participants, Activists, and Diehards. She writes: “Followers are us. This does not, of course, mean that all of us follow all of the time—sometimes we lead. But all of us follow some of the time. It’s the human condition.”

She advocates that followers not try to become something else, but more importantly that they change their response to their rank, their response to their superiors and to the situation at hand. She emphasizes:
  • Followers constitute a group that, although amorphous, nevertheless has members with interests in common.
  • While followers by definition lack authority, at least in relation to their superiors, they do not by definition lack power and influence.
  • Followers can be agents of change.
  • Followers ought to support good leadership and thwart bad leadership.
  • Followers who do something are nearly always preferred to followers who do nothing.
  • Followers can create change by circumventing their leaders and joining with other followers instead.
What we need now is a Followership Part 2, where it is explained to followers just how one should follow. We do a disservice to followers – as we have with leaders – by requiring no character development and self-discipline. When we learn to develop better followers, we will get better leaders.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:06 AM
| Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1) | Books , Followership , Leadership Development



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