Just as there are different types of leaders, there are also different types of followers. Even if you hold a leadership position, you are also a follower.
For those who have a dual role, it is wise to understand theories about both leadership and followership.
Gaining a better understanding of those you lead can help you become a more effective leader.
According to Merriam-Webster, followership is defined as "the capacity or willingness to follow a leader."
R. E. Kelley in his work “In Praise of Followers” identifies five (5) types:
The types are measured along two dimensions: Active vs. Passive and Independent vs. Dependent
A visual representation is shown below, along with a description of each.
Most leaders love their "star players" - those who take initiative and do what needs to be done without having to be told or minimal prodding.
But a true test of leadership requires the willingness and capacity to develop direct reports who need more guidance and hands on supervision.
To discover characteristics of each type of follower, please see below.
Kelley describes the alienated follower as one who is independent and thinks critically, but they are passive.
Because they are passive, they do not use their strengths to help the team achieve its goals. They have something of value to offer but choose not to do so. Their passivity distances them from the leader and their team members.
Of the five types, alienated followers tend to be the most disruptive. When they do not agree with a decision or course of direction, often they will not offer their input but readily offer passive resistance. Refusing to cooperate without telling why serves to magnify the conflict.
When dealing with this type of follower, these should prove helpful:
Sheep are passive AND dependent. As such, they may not think critically, tend to do as they are told, and rarely put forth an opposing opinion.
They are leave the thinking to their leader.
These attributes serve neither them nor their fellow teammates.
Because they require constant supervision and prodding, this type of follower negatively affects team dynamics and performance.
As the leader, addressing this behavior head on in a positive way could turn things around. This may be the perfect time to give some performance feedback and support to develop their ability to make a valuable contribution to the team.
Yes People are active, but they are dependent AND do not think critically. Because they are conformist, they will agree with the leader without question and rarely challenge the status quo. Their major concern is avoiding conflict.
As such, these types of followers pose a danger to the leader and themselves due to their unwillingness and inability to put forth challenging viewpoints, which could produce a better outcome.
Sometimes "Yes, boss!" is not the best response.
Survivors are chameleonic. They are adaptable, but not in a positive way.
Changing their opinions and behavior as the situation arises, this type of follower goes with the flow. To them, following the path of least resistance serves as protection and keeps them out of the line of fire.
Survivors are most interested in playing it safe rather than taking a risk. Their greatest fear? The fear of making a mistake. But unsound fear proves to be our foe, not a friend.
Proactive, independent and able to think critically, effective followers are also respectful of the leader’s authority.
Effective followers are life-long learners. They practice self-leadership, take responsibility, are committed and seek feedback to continuously improve their performance.
Also known as “dynamic followers” they are very valuable to leaders and the team.
Because of their consistent and high quality contributions, this type of follower is often a trusted advisor to leaders who lead.
Of the five types of followers, this is the one I most strive to be. And hope you do too!
Wow, we have covered quite a bit of territory here. You may be wondering how to best use the information described above.
Ask yourself, "Of the five types of followers, which one do I identify with most?" Think about it.
Assess yourself and consider getting a second opinion. Ask for feedback, from your leader and members of your team.
This just might help you become a member of the effective followers club, even if you are a leader.
Remember, followership and leadership, both are needed for leaders who lead.