So, you want to be a leader … most people do. Have you asked yourself why someone would want to follow you? Have you asked yourself what type of followers you would want to lead? Leaders and followers can’t exist without each other. If your goal is to be a good leader, understanding your followers is a must. An article in the Harvard Business Review makes the point that individuals are frequently both leaders and followers simultaneously since they deal with bosses as well as subordinates. The problem is that businesses support and cultivate leadership, but pay little or no attention to the skills of good followers.
The scholar, Robert Kelley, is credited with bringing the field of followership to the forefront. He describes the four main qualities of effective followers as self-management, commitment, competence, and courage – all strong qualities that can also be associated with leaders. He introduces “Star Followers” as people who 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. It’s interesting to find out that these types of followers can succeed without the presence of a leader. So where does the line between leadership and followership become fuzzy? It’s when followers become part of the decision making process.
According to Psychology Today, behaviorists find that active followers influence leaders at every level of the pecking order, and that leadership itself is a process, not a person. “Leaders do command a greater attention and influence, but followers affect and even constrain leaders’ activity in more than passing ways,” Hollander says. Here’s an example: a first-rate follower makes leaders look good by letting them know what’s going on, getting things done without being told, and being resourceful when necessary.
Great followers make their leaders great, and are key to the success of any group. Edwin R. Hollander, Ph.D. stated “many effective leaders evolve as a result of the top-notch participation by dedicated followers.” It’s time that followership roles are recognized as being equal to leadership roles although their activities differ. Followership is as dynamic as leadership, full of challenges, decisions, and successes.