Types of Followership

Types of Followership

In my last post, I gave my view of what followership is, based on what I have read, learnt and experienced during my time as a manager and a leader. I also stated that developing peoples knowledge of followership is as important as developing leadership and that they are intrinsically linked. In this post, I want to look at the types of followership and the positions that followers may adopt.

Followership Positions

People have the luxury of choice. We can choose to be a participant and get fully involved, be constructive, or we can choose to be a passenger and observe from a distance and not engage or have an active role. We can be a prisoner who does not want to be there and feels trapped and just wants to escape or we can be a protester and make it obvious to everyone that we do not want to be there and will go out of our way to make things difficult for everyone.

When it comes to supporting or not supporting our manager we have a choice to take a given position and that position can vary dependent on our mood, our relationship with our manager, whether we are in conflict with our self or our work colleagues and numerous other external influences.

The Followership Positions People May Adopt

As a follower, the positions we adopt can be seen as negative or positive followership. The following identifies the difference between negative and positive followership.

Negative Followership

• Destructive Dissent – Mutiny by intentional actions. The person chooses to undermine their manager by the comments or actions they take.

• Destructive Consent – Abdication by agreeing to every decision and action your manager takes, no matter how bad and destructive the manager’s decisions are and how much you disagree.

Positive Followership

• Constructive Dissent – Appropriate challenging of the manager with the aim of ensuring the manager’s decisions make a positive difference. Asking questions of the manager and giving feedback to ensure the manager is aware of all the facts before making a decision. Disagreeing with the manager but in the correct manner and backing down once the manager has made it clear they are sticking with the plan.

• Constructive Consent – Once the manager has made the decision the employee gives full support while giving constructive feedback and input to support successful outcomes.

Types Of Followership

Robert Kelley (Kelley, 1988) went beyond describing followership positions and identified five types (styles) of followership based on two dimensions that can define how people follow.

Those dimensions are independent thinking and activity. He identified that followers either think for themselves and are critical thinkers or they require the leader to do the thinking for them and the followers do the doing.

Kelley identified that a follower’s activity can be active, where they actively engage in creating a positive working environment. Or passive where they have very little engagement, or negative, where they bring negativity to the working environment.

The five styles/types of followership that Kelley identified are:

Alienated Follower – High-level independent thinkers but are passive. They usually display scepticism and are cynical about the organisation and its activities and always find a reason why something will not work.

Exemplary Follower – Independent critical thinkers that are extremely active within the organisation. Will challenge a leader in a constructive manner always offering solutions rather than problems. When aligned with the leader’s direction this follower offers full constructive support to ensure the leaders and organisational goals are met.

Conformist Follower – Extremely active within the organisation but is always asking for direction. This follower is not an independent thinker and is content to take direction and orders and always defers to the leader. They always support the leader and are very positive. The yes person.

Passive Follower – These followers have a low activity or a passive and rely on the leader to do all the thinking and motivating. They require constant direction and supervision.

Pragmatist Follower – These followers tend to have some independent thinking and are generally positive and active. They may question a leader’s decisions but not critically and not very often and will eventually align with the organisational needs. They tend to sit on the fence until they are sure which way to go.


Kelly, R. E., 1988. In Praise of Followers. Harvard Business Review, 66(6), pp. 142-148.


I hope this has given you more information about the styles/types of followership and the positions people may adopt. From my own experience, people move in and out of these followership positions depending on what the leadership and culture of the organisation are and based on what is influencing them at any given moment. However, most people will have a natural tendency to sit in a given style and default to that when times are hard.

We have all worked with the person that is always gloom and doom and the person that is always happy and positive. We have all worked with people who challenge, in a constructive manner, decisions made and those that just whinge about them.

The problem is how do we get everyone to identify whether they are a good follower or a bad follower and then how to we help them to adopt and maintain good followership? Is it just about informing and educating the individual or does the organisation’s culture require alignment? I shall look at how we develop good followership in my next post.

Thank you to all those that commented on my previous post, I am really, really grateful. I would love it if you could comment below.

Thank you.

6 thoughts on “Types of Followership

  1. Renee' Reply

    Thanks for sharing David. First, I would like to say,that I do believe this is a very important subject. Too many lose their jobs because of attitude in the workplace; possibly jealous and challenging their manager, not even realizing that their position should be to support, but responsibly challenge a manager’s choice if the employee deems it incorrect.

    In my opinion, a couple of your paragraphs are a bit too long and difficult to read. But otherwise, I enjoyed your post

    • David Casaru Post authorReply

      Hi Renee, Thank you so much for the feedback and thanks for highlighting the paragraph length, I had that feeling also. Really appreciate. Have a great day.

  2. Sandra Victorine Reply

    Hello David,
    Nice article, you have said it, with the world today not many people are positive followers,, especially in the work place. There are alot of doom and gloom out there. As I was told once with alot of negative managers or employees in the work place to many chiefs not enough Indians. With that being said too many bossy negative people ( managers ) included. With this article being put out there maybe we can get more people to be positive at work in public, or even at home.

    • David Casaru Post authorReply

      Hi Sandra, Thank you for the feedback it is really appreciated. I am glad you liked the content. Please keep tuned as there is lots more to come. Have a fantastic day.

  3. Shelia Reply

    Hi David, this article or speech of yours has helped me alot with my assignment I appreciate. Thank you

    • David Casaru Post authorReply

      Hi Shelia, That is great to hear, thank you. Apologies for not replying sooner. I have a new job that is consuming all my time. I hope to start developing the blog and adding more content once things calm down at work. Thank you for taking the time to read my pages.

      Kind Regards

      David Casaru

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