Monday, 17 May 2010

What about Followership?

In the UK we’ve been focussing obsessively on Leadership for the last couple of weeks. But there’s no leader without a follower and as, in relation to the UK political environment, most of us have little option but to put ourselves in the ‘follower’ camp perhaps it would be worth thinking about followership for a while.

Followership in not as sexy as leadership of course, so there are not so many academics working on it and no bookshelves groaning under the weight of Followership hardbacks. However I will refer to Barbara Kellerman's "How Followers Are Creating Change and Changing Leaders"
Kellerman identifies 5 types of follower :

– these are people who care little for their leaders and will rarely respond to them regardless of who they are. These people tend to keep a low profile, they want to stay out of the way and just get on with their job without ‘interference from above’.

on the other hand are the sorts of people who will offer little support to any leader. They will follow passively and really just observe things from the side lines, rarely getting involved in very much. They differ from isolates in that they tend not to hide from being led or managed nor do they resent it like the isolates can do.

do care about the organisation and do usually want to make an impact. If they agree with the leader they will actively support them, however if they think that the leader is wrong they will actively oppose them, sometimes behind their backs.

have strong beliefs both about the organisation and their leaders. They will actively engage depending on how they see both. If they like what they see they will engage and help create even better conditions. If they don’t they will actively try to get rid of the leader.

have the highest level of engagement in the organisation and with the leaders and have high passions. If the leader is going (in their opinion) in the right direction they will dedicate all to them and become a disciple. If they think that a leader needs some help to develop they will engage with them, however if they think that the leader is destructive they will set out to destroy the leader.
In the Political context, it’s interesting to speculate what kind of follower is most valuable. Ordinarily we value the highest level of engagement, - but these people come with their challenges. I suspect a government would be pretty satisfied to have most of us Isolates and Bystanders – so long of course there are sufficient more engaged followers to actually get something done!
What politics does do is polarise thinking. Those of us who are a bit more engaged will either love what’s happening in the UK or hate it, - not too many half measures! That strength of feeling brings its own risks. If we enthusiastically follow, delivering on any expectation without questioning or challenging, are we not simply abdicating our responsibility to the society in which we live? On the other hand, if our venom for the Coalition is unchecked, are we denying any opportunity for change? If we assume the worst, we create the worst!
A truly great follower treads a middle ground. We challenge, suggest, remind, nudge, - learning and using the skills of managing upwards as we do.
But we also have to swallow hard sometimes and just give it a go!