What could you learn from ‘Followership’ by Barbra Kellerman (2008, 261 pages)

“A leader is someone who has followers” Peter Drucker

I am sure that you have done far more leadership training, than training on being a follower.  While teamwork, collaboration and cooperation are often key criteria in job descriptions and company mission statements, there seems to be little evidence that businesses are investing in building followers.

In ‘Followership’ Barbra explores what followers and leader are, and the relationship between the two.  Barbra mirrors Drucker, and simply states that “leaders have followers”.  She also outlines what leaders do

  1. Provide structure
  2. Provide a goal
  3. Provide instruments of goal achievement

But it is Barbra’s analysis of followers and followership, which sets this book apart.

“Followership is the response of those in subordinate positions (followers) to those in superior ones (leaders). Followership implies a relationship (rank), between subordinates and superiors, and response (behaviour), of the former to the latter.”

Barbra analyses why followers follow leaders and the resulting cost/benefits for leaders, followers and wider society.  Barbra proposes that followers can be categorised by their behaviour.

  1. Bystanders – people who stand aside and do nothing
  2. Participants – in small way support or oppose leaders with time and effort
  3. Activists – work hard to support or oppose leaders and are heavily invested in the leader and organisation
  4. Diehards – are deeply devoted to their leaders

While this framework echoes earlier work done by Blake and Moulton, Barba departs from Blake and Moulton’s work by concluding that followers can shift between categories and that on a macro scale the relationship between leader and followers is changing.  New technology, changes to the design of organisations (i.e., flatter and faster) and changes to working culture (i.e., increased empowerment) are increasing followers power and reducing the power of leaders.

‘Followership’ raises some interesting questions about the role and future of leaders.  Read this book if you want to learn more about the relationship between leaders and followers and how this relationship is changing.

Link to the book on Amazon

Link to Barba Kellerman YouTube clip on Followership