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Followership in a System by Ray Jorgensen, Ph.

Try suggesting to someone—anyone in any position in business, education, government

or any other segment of society—that “leadership” is not important, and brace yourself
for a barrage of reaction. Everybody knows our companies and departments and organiz-
ations are crying for good leadership. But suggest in a loud voice that more people need
to learn how to follow, and watch for a very different response. Followers are often
equated with “dumb sheep” or “lemmings”—until someone stops to think about where
leaders would be without followers or how the quality of followership enhances and even
shapes the successful outcome of good leadership.

“I never had a boss.” Long ago my dad told me he never had a boss. I asked how that was
possible. I’d met people who were introduced as his employer or boss. He said something
I’ve kept with me forever: “People don’t choose their bosses; someone simply ordained
that person as the boss. True allegiance and commitment comes when an individual
chooses to follow a person in a leadership position.” He added: “I’ve had lots of people
of all different sizes, shapes and temperaments who claimed to be my boss. Each time a
new boss was thrust upon me, I had the power of choice to decide whether or not I chose
to follow that man or woman claiming positional power.”

One of the expected outcomes of our American education system is economic independ-
ence—a job; a regular paycheck; gainful employment. Once an individual accepts em-
ployment, the employing organization, through formal or informal orientation, defines the
supervisor-employee relationship. Typically, these relationships describe the supervisor as
the “boss” over the employees. “Boss” defined by definition, is somebody who is in
charge of others, especially in a work environment. Or the boss might be the dominant in-
dividual in a relationship or group, the one who tends to make decisions and give instruc-
tions. Dominance is something we all understand from our years as children growing up
in families where parents played a dominant role. In fact, our conditioning as children
and as students in an adult-dominated system worked so well that we might actually feel
comfortable when someone demonstrates dominance over us as employees at work.

Relationships affect the system But what effect does that type of relationship have on the
success of the overall system? Unfortunately, many boss-employee relationships make it
difficult for people working in the system to develop their capacity to engage in a com-
mitted manner in order to help the system grow strong. Surprisingly, some people in this
world refuse to allow someone to be their boss. They find this boss-employee relationship
too much like a parent telling the children how to behave. All too often, when leaders at-
tempt to use positional power to establish dominance over employees, working men and
women dig in their proverbial heels and refuse to accept the directives, demands or guid-
ance proffered. Boss vs. Leader Compliance and commitment represent the two most
common ways an employee can choose to interact within the organization. Bosses de-
mand compliance while leaders enroll people in vision. Which organization suits you?
Some people work their entire careers in a boss-employee relationship and find it satisfy-
ing. Others complain, take off early, use sick days rampantly and merely exist in such an
environment. The boss-employee dominance does nothing for their commitment to the
organization or their ability to embrace a shared vision.

The leader-follower relationship, on the other hand, promotes commitment and engage-
ment among the work force. "Leaders rarely use their power wisely or effectively over
long periods unless they are supported by followers who have the stature to help them do
so." --Ira Chaleff, The Courageous Follower, 2003. Effective leaders are in search of fol-
lowers. Simply arriving at work and dusting off the “boss” sign will never get it done, as
the Blue Collar Comedy’s Larry the Cable Guy states. Leaders enroll followers by stew-
arding them in three areas identified by Margaret Wheatley in her book Leadership and
the New Science: • Self reference, or how they fit in; • Ongoing, consistent communica-
tion—with understanding; and • Relationships development---when leaders keep in mind
that relationships are developed through ongoing conversation, providing visionary guid-
ance that helps people understand how they fit in, the chances of developing a committed
workforce are greatly enhanced. Leaders are always in search of followers and are best
served when they understand that followers must choose their leaders. So, as a leader, do
you have followers or people who think you are their boss?

Raymond D. Jorgensen, Ph.D. has spent the past 30 years studying organizations
and the concept of organizational change theories and parlayed this knowledge into the
concept of Conversational Leadership, an insightful, theory-based method of conducting
more effective meetings which taps into the collective wisdom of a group and leads to
higher quality relationships for higher quality results. Ray consults, facilitates and con-
ducts workshops for organizations on Conversational Leadership, with a proven track re-
cord of affecting organizational change. Please visit <a href= “”
for more information and free downloads to enhance your leadership capacity..