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Insight Into The Followership Styles

in Leadership Styles

Гумилевский Александр Борисович asked:

Insight into the followership styles.

Term Followers is negatively occupied – the words passive, weak, conforming lead to the devaluating the term followership and therefore people don’t like to be categorised as followers. But –to be a follower doesn’t mean just to do simply, what one told to do.

According Chaleff (2005) the followers “conjure up images of docility, conformity, weakness, and failure to excel. Often, none of this is the least bit true. The sooner we move beyond these images and get comfortable with the idea of powerful followers supporting powerful leaders, the sooner we can fully develop and test models for dynamic, self-responsible, synergistic relationships in our organizations”

In his Research Kelley (1988, 1992) considered the followers according to the dimensions of thinking and acting.

In the first dimension: thinking is varied from critical to uncritical, where as critical thinkers consider the impact of their actions, are willing to be creative and innovative and may offer the criticism, while dependent uncritical thinkers execute what they were told and take the thinking and saying of leader for granted without questioning it.

In the second dimension – acting – activity is varied from active to passive and characterises sense of ownership demonstrated by the followers, where as an active follower takes initiative – the passive ones only execute what they were told to do.

The positioning of the followers according to the two a.m. axes leads to the 5 subsets of followers types.

Five types of followership’ styles

1) Conformist followers (“Yes people”)

2) Passive Followers (“Sheeps”)

3) Alienated followers

4) Pragmatic followers (“Survivors”)

5) Exemplary followers (“Effective followers”)

Even though, there is not so much written about it, I found out that there is already a muddle with termini. Different authors (Kelley, Chaleff etc.) use different terms in order to describe the “best” sort of followers. They are described as exemplary, effective, courageous etc. Only Blackshear (2004) makes explicitly difference between effective and exemplary followers, where she defines that the exemplary one is the next (last) stage along the followership continuum. On the whole we can assume that effective, exemplary and courageous describe the same type of followers

Key characteristics of each followership style

Following overview summarises the researches of several scholars like Kelly, Kovar, and Chaleff etc.

1) Conformist (“Yes” people)


• Active at doing the organization work

• Actively follow the leaders

• Accepts assignments easily

• Trusts and commits his/herself to the team and the leader

• Seeks to minimize conflict


• Lacks own ideas

• Unwilling to make unpopular decisions

• Averse to conflict

Believes that:

• Following the established order is more important than outcomes

3) Alienated followers


• A maverick who have a healthy scepticism

• Capable

• Plays the devil’s advocate


• Troublesome, cynical

• Not a team player

• Seldom openly opposing a leaders efforts

Believes that:

• Their leader does not fully recognize or utilize their talents

• They have they own story and good reasons for it

2) Passive follower (Sheep)


• Relies on the leader’s judgment and thinking

• Seldom resists


• Passive, uncritical

• Lacking initiatives and sense of responsibility

• Just putting in their time, little else

• Requires constant direction and inordinate amount of supervision

Believes that:

• The organization doesn’t want their ideas

The leader is going to do what he/she wants anyway 4) Pragmatic followers


• Keeps things in perspective

• Plays by the rules and regulations

• Very experienced and adept at surviving change


• Plays political games

• Risk averse and prone to cover their tracks

• Carries out assignments with middling enthusiasm

Believes that:

• Staying within the rules is important

• Should try to avoid uncertainty and instability

• “Better safe than sorry”

The Exemplary followers

The Topic “Exemplary, or effective followers” is broadly discussed within the followership literature. Hereinafter there will be briefly described the characteristics of the exemplary followers based on research of Chaleff (2005), Kelley (1988)

Characteristics of the Exemplary followers

Exemplary followers are people who know what to do without being told – the people who act with intelligence, independence, courage and strong sense of ethics and therefore could be characterised through following statements:

• effective followers manage themselves well and determine one’s goals within larger context

• effective followers are committed to organizations and to a propose beyond themselves

• effective followers build their competence and focus their efforts for maximum impact and strive to reach the maximum level of performance

• effective followers are courageous, honest and credible, they think independently and critical and feel comfortable with others

• effective followers are enthusiastic, intelligent and self-reliant in the pursuit of organizational goals without billing

• effective followers are willing to tell the truth

• effective followers are cooperative and collaborative and caring out their duties with assertiveness and energy

• effective followers are well-balanced and committed to proposes and principles

• effective followers can think for themselves, sharpen their skills, focus their efforts,

• effective followers are especially important within flat structure

Development of exemplary followers

According to the Kelley’s model for cultivation of effective leadership we have to undertake following four steps:

1. Redefine Followership and Leadership.

The way we define the roles clearly influences the outcome of the interaction – we have to pay explicit attention to the role of followership as well as communicate it. We should stop considering the role of leader and the role of follower as equal but different activities. We should convey it by training and by examples.

2. Honing Followership skills. There should be developed and trained such followership skills as:

• Independent, critical thinking

• Self-management

• Credibility

• Alignment to personal and organizational goals and commitments

• Acting responsibly toward the organization, the leaders, co-workers

• Similarities and differences between leadership and followership roles

3. Performances Evaluation and Feedback

Instead of rating leadership qualities we can rate the same qualities (self management, independent thinking, originality, courage, competence and credibility) and evaluate each individual’s ability to shift easily from one to another «360°» or other evaluations

4. Organisational structures that encourage followership

Establishing leaderless groups, where all members assume equal responsibility for achieving goals

• Establish groups with temporary and rotating leadership

• Delegation to the lowest level

• Using rewards to underline the importance of good followership

1. Blackshear P., The Followership Continuum: A Model for Increasing Organizational Productivity // Innovation Journal, Internet Version (2004) 1-16

2. Chaleff I., The Courageous Follower, Berret-Koehler Publisher 2005

3. Kelley (1988) In praise of followers. Harvard Business Review; 142-148

4. Kelley (1989) Letter to Matthew Pavlidis regarding article: Follow the leader. Harvard Business Review 206-207

5. Kelley R, (1992), The power of followership. Doubleday


Picture 1: Appropriated form Kelley (1988)

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