In the intricate dance of leadership, followership is not a mere role of support; it’s a dynamic spectrum that ranges from passive obedience to proactive partnership. As Carsten et al (2010) pointed out, followership is a social construct and can be categorized into three dimensions: passive, active, and proactive.
From a perspective of reciprocity, an important aspect of leadership is how do subordinates’ (followers’) behavior influence the ways in which managers (leaders) experience motivation. Fascinatingly, a study conducted by Melissa et al. in 2017 explored the impact of followership orientation on leaders’ attitudes and motivation. This orientation encompasses two pivotal beliefs: (a) the idea that followers should defer responsibility to leaders and (b) the belief that followers actively participate as partners in the leadership process.
Research has emphasized that those who strongly support power differentials are more likely to remain silent and show respect because they perceive they believe they don’t have anything to offer the leadership process. This is evident when subordinates are apprehensive to take on activities that call for autonomous thought and instead delegate the decision-making back to their managers because they believe they do not have the expertise or the necessary knowledge. However, managers view the increased autonomy and reduced upward delegation as supportive, motivating, and effective in goal attainment. Conversely, upwards delegation and reduced voice and autonomy were perceived as less beneficial to the leader.
Thus, a question arises, ‘what can followers do for their leaders?’
- Guts to be the first follower: Being the first follower is an underappreciated form of leadership. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GA8z7f7a2Pk Take a look at this video! There is an initial resistance with respect to following. Maybe some would be ridiculing the person for dancing illogically in public. However, it is the first follower who sets an example of how to follow. As soon as the first follower joins, the person dancing initially embraces the first follower as an equal. The first follower rather than being passive, supports actively and urges the others to join demonstrating self-leadership. In no time a crowd is seen dancing. Specifically, followers should be educated on how their responses and characteristics might affect not only their own performance, but also that of their leader (Amgheib, 2016). This encourages the leader, while creating a sense of responsibility to pave the way further. With followers demonstrating self-leadership it ensures that the idea percolates and everyone is aligned.
- Courage to create a movement: After a lot of people have joined the dance party, it translates into a movement! Had the others not swarmed in to join the group – maybe because now they saw no reason not to join – it would’ve just been a group of 5-6 people dancing to probably enjoy themselves. However, being one of the first few followers is an act of courage that cannot be overlooked. Isn’t that why some people hesitate to become one of the first few followers? Followership even for the first few, is still courageous. Once there is a crowd, it’s easy to follow. That is why self-leadership also means having the courage to follow.
- Seeing more than just the leader – When you view a leader, it is crucial to look beyond their leadership style and ideas. Followers who recognize a leader’s flawed thinking and challenge the leader to consider alternative courses of action to prevent them from making mistakes or harmful decisions are highly desirable in today’s organizational environments (Carsten et al, 2010). Therefore, being a proactive follower is recommended to look at the movement your leader is creating from various perspectives.
- Understanding that it is a two-way street – Followers who identified themselves as “ineffective” did so because their predefined roles and expectations, their followership schema, did not align with the specific environment in which they found themselves (Carsten et al, 2010). In essence, this observation underscores the importance of not just the leaders adapting to the organizational context but also followers comprehending their roles within that specific framework. When followers’ perceptions of their roles clash with the demands of the context, they may perceive themselves as ineffective, even if their skills and abilities remain unchanged.
Oc, B., Chintakananda, K., Bashshur, M. R., & Day, D. V. (2023). The study of followers in leadership research: A systematic and critical review. The Leadership Quarterly, 101674.
Carsten, Melissa K; Uhl-Bien, Mary; Huang, Lei (2017). Leader perceptions and motivation as outcomes of followership role orientation and behavior. Leadership, (), 174271501772030–. doi:10.1177/1742715017720306
Amgheib, Ali Idris Ali (2016) How leadership styles and follower characteristics predict follower work outcomes in Libyan organisations. (DBA thesis), Kingston University.
Melissa K. Carsten; Mary Uhl-Bien; Bradley J. West; Jaime L. Patera; Rob McGregor (2010). Exploring social constructions of followership: A qualitative study. , 21(3), 0–562. doi:10.1016/j.leaqua.2010.03.015
With a master’s in clinical psychology, Aasawari specializes in behaviour and mindset change, leveraging her understanding human behaviour to bring about personal and professional transformations. As a passionate researcher, she delves into the latest studies and findings to create insightful and evidence-based blog articles. She strives to bridge the gap between theory and practice by simplifying complex research to provide practically actionable recommendations.