Followership is an under-recognised field, often deemed ‘the forgotten side of leadership’. Followership is “the capacity or willingness to follow a leader”, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, and is thus the flip side of leadership.Leaders are only ever successful when they have the right kind of followers, and so followership is equally as important as the leaders themselves. One author states “potential leaders should always ask themselves ‘Why would anyone want to follow me?’” This author goes on to detail what former HP Executive Vice President, Vyomesh Joshi describes as the four key attributes of strong followership. These are:
- Trust – the leader must prove they can be trusted
- Stability – the leader must be calm and confident
- Compassion – the leader must be passionate and empathetic
- Hope – the leader must have an unwavering belief in what they are doing
Good followers on the other hand, have a number of different qualities. The Ivy Business Journal has listed no less than eight of these:
- Good judgement – followers must take direction, but only when it is ethical and proper to do so
- Good work ethic
- Competence – followers must be competent at the task they are directed to do by the leader
- Honesty – followers should provide constructive feedback to their leaders
- Courage – it can take courage to confront a leader about a follower’s concerns
- Discretion – “loose lips sinks ships”, followers should not talk inappropriately about work matters
- Loyalty – followers should be committed to what the leader/organisation is trying to achieve
- Ego management – followers are team players and have good interpersonal skills
From this discussion, I’m sure you can see that “an organization is only as good as its leaders. It is also only as good as its followers.”
Whether you are a leader or a follower, it is always important to ask yourself – “How can I do better?” How can you, as a follower, encourage the right kind of leaders? And how can you as a leader, inspire people to follow you?
If you would like to learn more about the concept of followership, read A Fresh Look at Followership: A Model for Matching Followership and Leadership Styles by Bjugstad, Thach, Thompson and Morris (2006), or visit The Courageous Follower website.
Here are some questions you might like to discuss with your partner:
- Do you think followership is as important as leadership?
- Do you agree with these listed attributes of followers and leaders?
- Is there a time you have struggled as a follower or leader?
– Michelle De Aizpurua, ILN Content Officer.