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.
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.
• 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.
• 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.