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Ethical Followership is Essential to Effective Leadership

follow3Everyone is answerable to someone. For most of us we know who our boss is, but even when that is not immediately clear, we all still have one. The CEO of a corporation answers to a board and shareholders, a private business owner to their customers, an elected official to their constituents and ultimately each of us is subordinate to God. So it should not be a stretch to agree that each of us, even those in the highest levels of formal leadership must be good followers.

Ninety-nine percent of all leadership occurs not from the top but from the middle of an organization. – John Maxwell

So, what kind of follower are you? The concept of “followership” as a reciprocal of leadership was introduced by Dr. Robert E. Kelly, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Drawing on his scholarship, five types of follower emerge:

  1. The Herd Follower: These are passive and require external motivation. They lack commitment and require constant supervision.
  2. The Flattering Follower: These are committed to the leader and the mission, but are conformist who not only will not question the leader, they tend to stubbornly defend the leader from opposition from others.
  3. The Self-Serving Follower: These are not “self-starters”, they will not stand behind controversial or unique ideas until the majority does and often remain in the background.
  4. The Renegade Follower: These are negative and often attempt to stall or bring the group down by constantly questioning the decisions and actions of the leader. These individuals often view themselves as the rightful leader of the organization and are critical of the leader and fellow group members.
  5. The Ethical Follower: These are positive, active and independent thinkers who will not blindly accept the decisions or actions of a leader without evaluation and understanding. They can be trusted and will succeed without a leader being present.

If I had to reduce the responsibilities of a good follower to a single rule, it would be to speak truth to power. — Warren Bennis

Dan Rockwell, who writes the excellent blog, Leadership Freak comes up with a great list traits for the ethical follower in his post “20 Things to do when the Boss is Wrong.” Three of my favorites from the list:

  • Don’t give in if you’re convinced. Organizations need leaders with strong beliefs.
  • Explore how you can give the boss what they need while hanging on to what you need.
  • Stay loyal and keep trying. If you can’t be loyal you must go.

Strong organizations have courageous leaders. Weakness gives in too soon. Arrogance hangs on too long. Foolishness speaks before thinking. – Dan Rockwell

The success of any organization depends on leadership and followership, are you living up to both? What kind of follower are you? Are you willing to deliver on all twenty of the Leadership Freak’s points?

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