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The New Thinking on Followership and Leadership Philosophy Research Paper

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Followership is one of the most under researched discipline. This is because of the stigma that the societies attach to the term follower. The term followership can be defined as the ability of a person or a group to follow the directions and offer support to a leader for maximization of an organization’s structure (Ellice, 2004). On the other hand, this term has been associated negatively with other terms such as feeble, submission and conformity. Followers have always been looked down upon and the term has attracted hostile images (Goffee & Jones, 2001).

Another reason why followership has been understudied is the false impression that leadership is more significant than followership. The belief that excellent followership is basically following instructions to the latter and that efficient accomplishment of task is the product of good leadership does not augment the advantages of the follower role (Goffee & Jones, 2001). Most organizational and management behaviours have been dominated with leadership concept giving little room for the followership idea. Despite of its significance to leadership, most organizations have chosen to ignore followership in most of their discussions (Ellice, 2004).

In spite of the entire stigma associated with followership, it is very ironical to note that effective leadership greatly depends on the compliance and approval of the followers (Hanges et al. 2001). Active followership implies that the authority or the leader been approved thus gives authenticity to the direction and vision of the leadership. Without the back up of the followers a leader can never function effectively (Miller et al. 2004). Therefore, a leader can only manage to achieve something with the blessing of the followers.

According to Howell and Shamir (2005), transformation in the organization’s environment necessitates in depth examination of followership. The customary hierarchy that exists between leadership and followers have worn out with time as a result of escalating social networks and increasing empowerment of the followers through easy access to information via internet (Nelson, 2001).

Employees nowadays have full access to information about the organization and the stakeholders, and therefore leaders have lost their traditional role of being the sole source of information. For the above reason, employees can no longer follow their bosses blindly since they become more informed and sceptical.

Majority of the leaders have discovered that empowering their followers with vital knowledge and skills is very important for the success of the organization.

These have led to the adoption of concepts such as team building, objective management, and total quality management among others. Nelson (2001) states that institutions that falls short in developing their employees may lose competitiveness with time. Empowered followers including employees of an organization are a very important asset when it comes to value addition (Goffee & Jones, 2001).

In the past people feared to use the follower but these rend is changing with time. Nowadays people are becoming more willing to acknowledge the fact that followers are more important in the leadership process. Researchers have stabled that some of the exemplary, brave and luminary followers have become a pre-condition for successful organizations and institutions. Therefore, people are advised to stop looking down upon followers since good followership matters a great deal in the contemporary global economy (Ellice, 2004).

Different categories of followers

According to Kelly (2008), based on two categories, there are five main styles of followership. The first category of followers is referred to as the Sheep. These followers are the type that can never think for themselves and often rely on their leaders for motivation and advice. This category of followers are very common in work place and in religious organizations where there leaders think for them and direct them on what to do.

The second category of the followers is the so called yes-people. They are always affirmative and very supportive to the leadership but still seek guidance and direction from the leaders (Kelly, 2008). Yes-people are the most energetic followers and always want to help in whatever course.

They always believe that there is more to being a follower. The third category is the alienated followers who are independent but influence the leadership negatively. They are the category who are resistant to change and very conservative (Ellice, 2004). With their energy and independence, they still can not enable the organization to move in the forward direction and always feel as the superior people besides the leadership in an organization (Kelly, 2008).

Another category is the pragmatic followers. They are the most passive members of any group who likes being on the neutral side of organization’s affairs. In other words, they are those people who likes sitting on the fence but can not accept to be left behind. Ellice, 2004 refers to this category as survivors and would wait until everything is cleared out to get on board.

The last but not the least of the follower’s category is the star followers. They are those people who don’t follow their leaders blindly and are very active and positive. They have to evaluate any decision made by the leadership to make sound judgement.

When they agree with the leadership decision they will give it full back up, but when they not satisfied they will always offer alternative solution (Ellice, 2004). Star followers are ready to challenge the leadership on any decision made and are at all times willing to offer the best alternative to help the leadership and the organization move forward (Kelly, 2008).

Star followers are regarded as leaders in disguise since many leaders have a very hard time to acknowledge fact that some followers can exhibit such an independent and positive character (Ellice, 2004).

Therefore, star followers despite of the giving the leadership some cold chills, they form the pillar of a successful organization. All the above categories of followers can transform into star followers through empowerment and access to vital information. This has been made easier with the escalating use and development of information technology especially internet (Miller et al. 2004).

The above categories have help people to understand why there have been a lot of negative stereotypes regarding followers and appreciate the positive followings that nobody ever mentions (Ellice, 2004). Many scholars have always been narrow-minded when it comes to the issues followership. However, followership encompasses wider issues that affect the world including terrorism, corruption, global business empires, sports, culture, languages among others (Kelly, 2008).

Different styles of leadership

Howell & Shamir (2005) focusing on decision making elements of leadership behaviour classified the leaders into three categories. The first class of leadership is the authoritarian leadership. This type of leadership makes decisions single-handedly and gives direction to their juniors on the course of action to undertaken. Another category of leadership is the democratic leadership. Democratic leadership integrate their junior’s in decision making, implementation and sharing obligation (Ellice, 2004).

The last category of leadership is the laissez-fair which is also referred to as free leadership. Here the management or the top leadership avoid making decisions at whatever cost and this responsibility to the juniors. Nevertheless, democratic leadership is the most popular among good leaders around the world. Democratic leadership fosters satisfaction, high morale and creativity, and good working relationship between the followers and the leadership.

Positive and negative side of leadership

The present perception of leadership is mostly leaning towards the positive end. Ellice, 2004 cast leadership as an act of bringing together leaders and their followers in the quest for an important and ethically desirable change. Many literatures on leadership are about the power of positive consideration of leadership.

Most of them feed the wrong impression about certain leadership that their efforts are well deliberated. Leadership like any other concept have the positive and the dark side. Kelly (2008) states that failure to recognize the negative side of leadership and its influence can lead to distortion among learners on leadership process and its resultant influence.

The positive aspect of leadership robustly reflected in the ideology of social power as discussed by Kelly (2008). Most people who are on top leadership are institutionally oriented, are servants and promotes good working environment.

On the contrast, are the people who to use their leadership powers for their private gain. These people view their followers as utilitarian tools, unable to think on their own and are engulfed in personality. Miller et al. (2004) warns that successful management can be instrumental in bringing about social wellbeing but can also result into a catastrophe.

The negative side of leadership include awful decision making, disappointments under performing institutions and organizations, unplanned consequences, wastage of resources, dissolution of organizations among others. Another negative aspect of leadership is trying by all means to satisfy the fantasy or expectations of the followers (Nelson, 2001).

This entails creation of false image known by other people as mirroring. To a certain extent some level of mirroring is natural to human being. But in many cases people employ distorted image to fit in certain leadership positions (Miller et al 2004).

Narcissism is also one of the negative aspects of leadership. Narcissists are those who are blood thirsty of power and will want it at all cost to manipulate their followers (Goffee & Jones, 2001). In most cases Narcissists are very dogmatic, uncompromising, and are usually surrounded by a cocoon of sycophants. Despite of the fact that Narcissists are always the ideal preference for leadership positions, they often become the main victim of their distorted personality shaped by their position (Miller et al. 2004).

Another problem associated with leadership is emotional illiteracy. Emotional illiteracy can be defined as lack of ability by the leadership to distinguish and express emotions (Miller et al. 2004).An emotional illiterate leader is synonymous to a Nazi bureaucrat. These leaders lack emotional capability to sympathize, strengthen, promote creativity, and respond effectively to disagreements. As a result, emotional illiterate leader contribute to fragility which drives away excellence in an organization (Miller et al. 2004).

The last but not least of the negative face of leadership is unwillingness to surrender the throne when time is up (Goffee & Jones, 2001). These have caused a lot of dysfunction in many organizations especially among leaders who are no longer fit the position they are holding but can not let it go.

These may be as a result of ego, fear of punishment or revenge, fear of destruction of their legacy among other reasons. When in power, leaders many times make decisions that affect lives of people both positively and negatively thus fear retaliation by the latter group (Goffee & Jones, 2001).

Negative aspects of followership

Most of the negative behaviours of the followers do not originate from the leaders. In contrast, exemplary followers can take decisive action that can negatively harm the leadership if they so wish. Some of the actions taken by followers on their leaders can be for personal benefit or from their personal traits (Miller et al. 2004). According to Kelly (2008), there are main ways through which followers can influence leader-follower dynamic: followers personal behaviours and their interaction with their leaders.

Different categories of followers interact with their leaders differently from the highly obedient sheep followers to the highly critical star followers. To be noted is that histrionic is one aspect that can lead to dysfunctional. According to Kelly, (2008), this particular aspect is know to be a desperate urge by a follower to bring about attention.

This type of followers responds differently to different categories of leadership. They mostly show loyalty to authoritarian leadership. Other follower’s characteristics that affect leader-followers relationship include passive to aggressive behaviours, dependent character, and masochistic character among others (Kelly, 2008).

The negative aspects of both leaders and followers can coalesce to produce very devastating results (Miller et al. 2004). The negative aspects of leadership a lone can result into grave personal and organizational results while the inclusion of the negative aspects of followership can definitely increase the devastating effect of the former. This led to the new thinking on followership and leadership philosophy. This aimed at trying to bring the balance within the leader-follower relationship as they both needed one another to succeed (Kelly, 2008).

New thinking on followership and leadership philosophy

Kelly’s model on followership and leadership classifies followers according to their ways of thinking and physical abilities (Kelly, 2008). Kelly states that followers who are independent and critical in thinking are keen to be creative and novel, and may always challenge their leaders. On the other hand followers who are non-critical are submissive and obedient. The model further determines the level of ownership follower’s exhibit through activeness. Active followers take part in decision making while the passive ones are hardly involved in any process and are only told what to do (Kelly, 2008).

On the other hand, Hersey and Blanchard situational model argues that flourishing leadership can be attained by choosing a style based on follower readiness (Hersey &Blanchard, 2002). The two models came out with an integrated model of followership and leadership styles with the aim of reaching the best possible threshold that would maximise both the leadership and followers productivity (Hersey & Blanchard, 2002).

In the integrated model different styles of leadership were matched with different categories of follower’s for instance participating style of leadership with alienated followers.

Alienated followers are very able but they require more consideration to develop common values and to eliminate scepticism. Therefore, they need participating leadership to help them take more active roles in the organization thus makes them feels as part and parcel of the organization (Kelly, 2008). The selling style of leadership is matched with passive followers who need direction and assistance.

Though the leadership support, passive followers can improve their productivity. Exemplary followers are placed in the delegation quadrant where they help the leadership in decision making and implementation of their policies and objectives (Hersey & Blanchard, 2002). By matching different styles of leadership and followers, an organization can exploit the strength and reduce the flaws of the leader-follower relationships (Kelly, 2008).

Application of integral models to leadership has enabled ensuing and more comprehensive enfoldments and application of varied discourse and practice in leader-followers relationship (Kelly, 2008).

This has been achieved by taking into consideration the essential and other relational characteristics of interpersonal. Individual and structural dimensions thus allowing for the expansion of the needed leadership and followership link. Therefore, the integral model offers a strong heuristic structure for leaders-followers connection (Hanges et al. 2001).

The development of the essential replicas has advanced the study of followership management/leadership by getting t o know how they are interconnected. This has helped in overcoming the outdated idiosyncratic, mechanistic inquiries and most common negative practices in organizations (Hanges et al., 2001). On the other hand, getting to know followership and leadership as a vital part of the entire members of any organizations at different levels has become more difficult especially in designation and implementation (Kelly, 2008).

Creation of an integral leadership and followership requires deeper understanding of the function of individual, interpersonal, socio-cultural and methodological relationships within an organization (Hanges et al., 2001). In the 21st century effective leaders and followers have been based on understanding, fostering, creating, and enacting of the integral ways of leading and following (Kelly, 2008).

Integral shrewd leadership and followership constitutes of the capability to influence and create individuals, groups, and organizations plus their various dimensions integrally. This helps the organization not only in meeting its objectives but also in sustenance (Hanges et al., 2001).


From the above study, the leader-follower relationship can not take place in a vacuum space. Leaders can sometimes operate as followers while some followers can take the leadership mantle especially the exemplary followers.

Followers and leaders have become more connected and mutually dependent. On the other hand, the significance of the followers can not be undermined in any organization. While many organizations still invest a lot in the development of leadership, it is the followers that enable the leadership to realize success in an organization.

Building a sound environment and empowering the followers into high performers should be the main goal of each and every organization. This argument has been backed by many researchers who have examined the effectiveness of leader-followers relationship. Creating a good relationship between the followers and the top level leadership or management promotes unity and commitment. Commitment within an organization enhances productivity and minimises cases of absenteeism.

The integrated model of followership and leadership can be adjusted to fit diverse organizational cultures and objectives. By implementing an integrated model of followership and leadership, an organization can be able to connect its goals and with its human resources.

However, matching leadership and followership does not imply that leadership should only recruit followers who fall within their quadrant feel comfortable. Many studies carried out by different scholars globally have found that having divergent opinions or ideas have not shown any steady effects in an organizational performance. On the other hand, adoption of models that bring together different categories of leaders and followers is bound to offer more satisfaction to the parties and lead to high performance.


Ellice, C. (2004). Leaders who inspire commitment. MIT Sloan Management Review. Vol: 45 (5).

Goffee, R., & Jones, G. (2001). Followership: It’s personal too. Harvard Business Review, 79 (148).

Hanges, P., Offerman, L., & Day, D. (2001). Leaders, followers and values: Progress and prospects for theory and research. Leadership Quarterly, 12 pp 129-131.

Hersey, P., & Blanchard, K. (2002). Management of Organizational Behaviour: Utilizing Human Resources. Englewood Cliffs. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Howell, J.M., & Shamir, B. (2005). The role of followers in the charismatic leadership process: Relationships and their consequences. Academy of Management Review, 30(1) pp 96-112.

Kelly, R.E. (2008). Art of followership: Rethinking followership. Leadership journal, 12 pp 30-40.

Miller, R.L., Butler, J., & Cosentino, C.J. (2004). Followership effectiveness: An extension of Fiedler’s contingency model. Leadership and Organization Development Journal, 25(3/4) pp 62-368.

Nelson, B. (2001). Please don’t just do what I tell you. New York: Hyperion.

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