Effective Followership

Effective Followership


Columbia Southern University

Employees don’t follow leaders, they follow successful effective leaders. A successful and effective leader is someone who fosters the right environment for effective followership to thrive. The character traits and values of effect followers are similar to those of effective leaders and followers tend to follow leaders whose morals and ethics are similar to their own. Leaders cannot lead effectively, without followers. It is important that leaders establish the tone within the organization to create effective followers. Empowerment allows followers to contribute to the organization’s goals and objectives and encourages employee engagement to become effective followers.

Effective followers exhibit higher levels of courage and are willing to take on more responsibility. Effective followers question decisions because they are determined to understand a leader’s motives. They possess an ownership mentality and contribute above and beyond the task in hand and are engaged on many levels. They are supportive and trustworthy but are also willing to question methods.

Effective followers are differentiated from ineffective followers by their motivation and independent contributions in pursuit of the organizational goals. According to Blackshear (2003), “the ‘ideal’ follower is willing and able to help develop and sustain the best organizational performance.” Ineffective followers are often judgmental, pessimistic, lack enthusiasm, and distant. Ineffective followers don’t go above and beyond and only do what is asked of them. Ineffective followers, tend to focus on what can go wrong and focus on things outside of their control.

According to Kelley, there are four behavioral characteristics of effective followers, the Alienated followers, Conformist followers, Passive followers, and Exemplary followers (Kelley, 1992). Alienated followers Alienated followers are individualists who exhibit healthy doubt of the organization. They are skilled, but pessimistic. Conformist followers are the “can do” employees of the organization. They take an active role in the organization and follow orders when given, without question. Passive followers allow leaders to do the thinking for them and need constant guidance and direction. Exemplary followers are self-sufficient, creative, idealistic, and aren’t afraid to question the motives of leadership. Exemplary followers are vital to an organization’s and leader’s success. They work well with everyone and exhibit the highest level of respect for everyone they come across.

A distinctive relationship, exists between leaders and followers, and the progression which forms the relationship, is vital to the function of both. Leaders cannot exist without followers. Leaders not only need followers, but they also must have their followers respect and trust as well. A leader can have several followers and subordinates, but without respect, they can’t become an effective leader. According to Gardner (1987) a leader “can be given subordinates, but they cannot be given a following. Followers must be earned. Leaders and followers must be able to work cohesively within the organization. It is important for leaders to develop their followers into independent thinkers, so they can effectively provide contributions to organization. An effective leader can see the potential in individuals and knows how to motivate them to succeed.

Effective leadership and effective followership is a co-dependent relationship, and they must rely on the other for success. Goleman, Boyatzis and McKee (2002) described followership as the mirror image of leadership. Possessing a better understanding of the leader-follower relationship allows organizations and leaders to capitalize on the skills and expertise of their followers. Additionally, using the knowledge, skills and abilities of followers increases productivity and performance and contributes to the success of the organization and the leaders. To be successful, and experience continued growth, organizations must employ the leader-follower relationship.


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Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R., & McKee, A. (2002). Primal leadership: The hidden driver in great performance. Harvard Business Review on Breakthrough Leadership (pp. 25-50). Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation