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THE WEB OF LEADERS & FOLLOWERS 

L eaders and follower for someone else – and they will be re-
lying on us.
Followers Even in the same journey the shift between
There is an extraordinarily large and diverse roles can come in various forms. Some of us
body of work that addresses leadership. Un- will lead early and take more of a follower role
fortunately, the same cannot be said about fol- later. Others will begin in a follower’s role and
lowership. There is a very small body of work take on leadership roles as the journey and its
about effective followers and their relationship requirements evolve. The key is to have people
to leaders. That will need to change if we are ready to play both roles and to be clear on the
going to be able to make the construction of requirements and opportunities to play them.
leadership webs a common occurrence.
COMMON GROUND FOR
THE SCARCITY THEORY OF LEADERS AND FOLLOWERS —
LEADERSHIP & THE UNDERVAL- THE SAME JOURNEY
UING OF FOLLOWERS
The heroic journey highlights how much com-
Leaders are still usually portrayed as few in mon ground there really is for leaders and fol-
number, significantly different than followers in lowers in terms of the likely experience. Not
terms of characteristics and competencies, and only will leaders and followers face many of the
separated from followers by some same challenges, but they will also
gap, across which communications “The reality for need to draw upon or develop many
flows mostly from leaders to follow- most of us is that of the same characteristics and ca-
ers. Lip service is given to the sig- we are sometimes pabilities. Because of the excep-
nificance of followers, but they are tional requirements of the six lead-
still almost always portrayed as sec-
in leadership roles ership roles, it is unlikely that any
ondary players and only in relation- and sometimes in one person will encompass all that
ship to the really important person, follower roles.” is required. They will need to rely
the leader. This phenomenon disen- on others for what they do not bring,
franchises followers and asks too little of them just as others will rely on them. Such
at the same time that it sets up leaders to fail. is the nature of the journey.

BOTH LEADER AND


FOLLOWER
The other limiting factor is that leaders and fol-
lowers are usually talked about as
though the person is always in one role. He or
she is “a leader” or “a follower”. The reality for
P rofiles of
Effective
Followers
most of us is that we are sometimes in leader-
ship roles and sometimes in follower roles. In
The actions of followers have a tremendous
some settings we will be leading and relying on
impact on leaders, particularly as the journey
effective followers. In other settings (often at
progresses and leaders begin to doubt, wonder,
the same time) we will be playing the role of
lose some faith and start to question the value

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THE WEB OF LEADERS & FOLLOWERS 

of the effort or the ability to successfully com- ÿ They are committed to the organization
plete it. When followers genuinely “answer the and to a purpose, principle, or person
call” and bring their energy and talent to bear beyond themselves.
on the challenges of the journey, the leadership
web can reach the required levels of power, ÿ They build their competence and focus
reach and resilience. their efforts for maximum impact.

The slowly (very slowly) emerging wisdom pro- ÿ They are courageous, honorable, and
poses that the basic characteristics and capa- credible.
bilities of effective
“The basic char- leaders and effective IRA CHALEFF
acteristics and followers are very
similar and what Ira Chaleff in The Courageous Follower propos-
capabilities of ef- differentiates them
es that there are five dimensions of courageous
fective leaders and is the role they are followership, which fit well with Kelly’s charac-
followers are very playing in a particu- teristics:
similar and what lar situation at a par-
ticular time. Robert ÿ The courage to assume responsibility
differentiates them Kelly, Ira Chaleff and
– for themselves and their organiz-
is the role they are Barbara Kellerman ations. They look for ways to add value
playing in a par- all value effective and realize their potential in the process.
ticular situation at followers and each
bring a different, ÿ The courage to serve – serving leaders
a particular time.” though compatible,
and, with those leaders, serving the pur-
profile of what an ef- pose of the organization. They under-
fective follower looks like. Their work is also stand leaders’ needs and support them.
compatible with heroic leadership.
ÿ The courage to challenge – standing up
Their work is worth studying and, hopefully, to (for) leaders when things don’t seem
others will begin to add to the literature – and right. They are willing to risk rejection
we will try to model their characteristics when and others’ strong emotions in service
we are playing followers roles – and call on our of the organization’s well being.
followers to do the same when we are in leader-
ship roles. ÿ The courage to participate in transfor
mation - starting with the willingness to
ROBERT KELLY join in the call for change followed by
the ability to commit and stay involved
Robert Kelly in a Harvard Business Review through the tough patches. They are
article titled “In Praise of Followers” (followed also willing to look at themselves and
by a book) identified four qualities shared by change as appropriate.
effective or exemplary followers. They could
just as easily apply to effective or exemplary ÿ The courage to leave – the refusal to
leaders. collaborate with destructive leadership.
They are willing to not only challenge
ÿ They manage themselves well. poor leadership, but also risk being
terminated or coming to the decision
that they must leave.

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THE WEB OF LEADERS & FOLLOWERS 

BARBARA KELLERMAN pants. The attitudes and opinions of partici-


pants, activists and diehards, however, matter a
great deal. It is their atti-
Barbara Kellerman, in a Harvard Business Re-
tudes and opinions that
view article entitled “What Every Leader Needs “Courage is at
provide leaders with
to Know About Followers,” provides a useful the foundation
leverage and should,
way to think about followers using only one
metric, which is the level of engagement shown
therefore, attract most of effective fol-
leadership attention. lowership just as
by followers. Kellerman categorizes followers
as:
Good followers will do
it is for effective
something - they will leadership.”
ÿ Isolates – know little and do less. They
actively support good
are detached and care little about their
leaders - they will actively challenge poor lead-
leaders or organizations. They get by
ers. And they will demonstrate the characteris-
doing just enough to escape attention
tics proposed by Kelly and Chaleff. As Chaleff
has framed the challenge, courage is at the
ÿ Bystanders – are free-riders, who
foundation of effective followership just as it is
observe, but don’t participate. Unlike
for effective leadership.
isolates, bystanders are aware of their
surroundings and consciously opt to
stand aside.

ÿ Participants – are engaged, whether in


support of leaders or in opposition.
They invest themselves to some degree
and act on that investment.
C ontracting
among Leaders
and Followers
ÿ Activists – as with participants, activists
care, invest themselves and act on their
investment. They bring more commit- THE LEADER’S PART
ment and energy and are thus, strong
supporters or strong in opposition.
OF THE BARGAIN
While relatively few in number, they
can have a major impact on a group. Leaders can prove their worthiness to followers
and uphold their part of the bargain through the
ÿ Diehards – are rare, but are prepared to following actions:
go down with their cause, which can be
a leaders, an idea, an organization or a 1 Answering the call to lead - bringing
combination. They are seen as coming their best, fully committing themselves
to the fore in situations that are dire and acting with an awareness of their
and, as with participants and activists, significance.
they can be supporters or opponents
of leaders. 2 Bringing an understanding of the heroic
journey and an appreciation of what
The attitudes and opinions of isolates and by- they are asking of themselves and their
standers do not matter a great deal unless they followers and teaching that reality to
can be changed to help them evolve to partici- others.

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