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Leaders and Followers. Success takes two.
Adcock, Stephen L.
Troy University
Dr. John Mankelwicz
May 11, 2017

Leaders and Followers. Success takes Two.

2
Abstract

Every organization is filled with leaders and followers. You cannot have one without the
other. Much like there are different types of leaders, there are many different types of
followers. Some types of followers are more beneficial and desirable than others. Many times,
followers evolve based on the type of leadership they are under. Followers are just as
important when it comes to organizational vision as the leader is. While it is up to the leader to
cast the vision, it is the responsibility of followers to take that vision and make it come to life.
Leaders and followers do an organization no good if they cannot connect. Leaders must go the
extra mile to connect with followers. Sometimes, leaders must adapt to be able to connect
with those followers. We also must realize that there are far more followers than leaders.
Once we learn to be great followers, we can then know we can be great leaders once the
opportunity arises.
Keywords: Leaders, Followers, Vision, Motivation, Organizational Success

Leaders and Followers. Success takes Two.

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Leaders and Followers. Success Takes Two.

Introduction
Former United States First Lady Roslyn Carter once said "A leader takes people where they want
to go. A great leader takes people where they don't necessarily want to go, but ought to be" (Rosalyn
Carter, 2017). One of the most important things needed for growth in communities and organization is
a quality leader. The question most people are asking, is what qualities make up a good leader. When
we think of leaders, we think of charisma, honesty, confidence, creativity, positivity and a whole lot
more. When we see someone that possesses those traits, we are automatically drawn to them and
think that they have everything it takes to become great leaders of men. However, we often fail to take
one other part of organizational success into consideration. That is a quality follower. What qualities
make up a good follower? Followers must be, willing to learn, committed to leadership, willing to
accept responsibility, and willing to set aside their own ego. The subject of followership is an area that
there has not been a lot of research in. Why is that? Perhaps because it is not glamourous. Followers
do not have their name revered in the history books. Followers do not have statues erected in their
likeness. No one really wants the title of "world's greatest follower". It is poured into us at a young age
that leading is important. We are taught at a young age to strive for that blue ribbon. However,
followership is just as important, if not more important that good leadership and the reality is most of us
are more often followers than we are leaders. In fact, research has shown that followers' role in an
organization is responsible for 80 percent of an organization's success (Kelley, 1992). In this paper, I am
going to explore how important it is to have not only good leadership, but also good followers. I will
examine just what a follower is, I will explore how leaders and followers are equally important in an
organizations vision and how leaders can better connect with organizational followers.

Leaders and Followers. Success takes Two.

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What is A Follower?

We know what leaders are. Leaders are those who do just that, lead. We've heard the old
saying from childhood up, that the view never changes if you're not at the front of the pack. That has
been preached to us from our very earliest ages because we have been taught that only leaders truly
matter. Followers have largely been ignored, but at the end of the day we cannot have leaders if we do
not have followers. Followers are defined as "those toward whom leadership is directed" (Northouse,
2016). We have all had leadership directed towards us, so at some point we have all been followers.
However, in defining what a follower really is, we must go beyond the idea that a follower is a mindless,
goalless, personality-less employee that possess no traits needed for leadership. Traits of followers do
play a role in their followership style, but often times followers are those who are highly intelligent,
capable and able but just do not (yet) hold a managerial position in an organization (Lapierre, L., Carsten
M., 2014). Good followers today, can become our great leaders tomorrow.
Followership, much like leadership, has many forms and styles. Robert Kelley's research has
shown that there are five basic styles of followers: Sheep, Yes-People, The alienated, The Pragmatics,
and The Star Followers (Riggio, 2008):
The Sheep: The Sheep are called sheep because they remind you of literal sheep. They are
considered very passive and always look to the leader for motivation and to do their thinking for them.
Leaders who constantly have to think about what they will make their followers do and how to motivate
their followers to do that are typically dealing with Sheep.
Yes-People: Those followers who are positive, always have their leaders back, but looking for
direction, vision and guidance on how and what to think are considered Yes-People. Yes-people
followers excitedly do what they are told, but are constantly coming back to leadership seeking their
next assignment. Yes-people simply do what they are told to do and do not question what they have
been told. Their goal is to please the leader and do nothing more or nothing less.

Leaders and Followers. Success takes Two.

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The Alienated: The alienated have learned to think for themselves, but generally do so with a
negative spin. They typically are the ones who have a laundry list of reasons why the organization is
wrong for proceeding in the direction it is proceeding and are not afraid to let that negativity show.
The Pragmatics: The pragmatics are those who take the path of least resistance. Once they
know the direction the organization is going, they will follow suit and try to make everyone think they
thought it was a great idea all along. They will go whichever way the wind blows on any particular day.
The Star Followers: The star followers are very positive, think for themselves and try to make
things happen. They use their own thoughts and experiences to weigh leadership's decisions. If they
agree, they go along with it. If they disagree, they offer constructive opinions that will help get the
organization where it is looking to go.
These are 5 of the basic and most common followers. Now, many times the style of follower is
reflective of the type of leader and can change follower style. A sheep can eventually become alienated.
A star can become pragmatic and so forth. A leader must understand that just like leadership styles can
adapt and change, their followers' styles can do so as well. It is up to the leader to become aware of,
not only their leadership style, but also the style of follower and be willing to adapt their leadership style
and techniques to get the most out of their followers. Follower style is also affected by the culture
surrounding the follower (Riggio, 2008). Kelley also quickly points out that the qualities that make great
leaders are also the same that make great followers and the followers' role is just as important to
organizational success as the leaders. Often times, leaders miss the point and it is up to the followers to
get them on the right path. “We need to view followers as the primary defenders against toxic leaders
of dysfunctional organizations” (Kelley, 2008). Followers often serve as a checks and balance system to
help make sure leadership stays on course. Understanding followers styles helps leaders better
understand and adapt their leadership styles.

Leaders and Followers. Success takes Two.

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Vision
No organization will ever grow without a clear and direct vision from the leadership.
However, that vision is in vain if there are no followers committed to see that vision come to pass.
Vision provides a bridge between where an organization is today and where it will be tomorrow.
Organizational vision is what energizes and excites followers into the future of the organization. Vision
is what sets the tone for excellence standards (Kantabra & Avery, 2006). Vision is the first and arguably
the most important link between leaders and followers. It is leadership's responsibility to effectively
and clearly cast the organizational vision to followers. That vision is only effective if there is
commitment from followers to see the vision come to light. When followers become committed to the
vision, they become excited about participating in the organization itself and in events the organization
sponsors to reach the vision. It is imperative that followers become emotionally committed. When
followers are emotionally committed, they are more willing to work harder towards that vision (Lipton,
1996). When there is no commitment to an organizational vision, then you lack that the support of your
followers that a leader needs in order to make the vision come to pass in an effective manner. The
Leadership's vision is an action that leaders and followers do together. Leaders do not simply do
leadership, and followers do not simply do followership. Leadership is a partnership in reciprocation –
both leaders' and followers' goal should be the organizational vision. Leaders and followers, together,
do both leadership and followership in working together to make the vision happen (Riggio, 2014). The
differences in leadership and followership in making an organizational vision happen has been
drastically exaggerated. There are three stages in making a vision happen. That's simply called the
beginning, the middle and the final stage (Grayson & Speckhart, 2006).
The Beginning: The beginning stages are where the most drastic differences lie in leadership and
followership. This is where leadership provides direction and outlines the vision. A quality leader will

Leaders and Followers. Success takes Two.

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outline clear objectives and guidelines. For the follower, the first stage is where they should ask
questions and make sure they have a clear understanding of exactly what the vision is and why
leadership has the specific vision. When both leadership and followers have laid out the vision and fully
understood the vision, it makes the second part much easier.
The Middle Stage: The middle part is where the majority of the work occurs. In this stage,
leadership and followership are mostly the same. We could potentially see an actual shift in leadership
during this stage. Leadership should allow followers to do what they do. Leadership allows subject
matter experts to lend opinions and guidance on how to accomplish the specific goals at hand.
Leadership should put aside egos and listen and allow followers to offer ideas and expertise on the
vision and how to make it happen. When leaders truly listen to followers during this stage and allow
them to lead when necessary, it can greatly increase the odds of success of their project.
The Final Stage: The final stage is where we begin to see differences in the roles again. This is
where the leader decides the ending of the project and concludes whether or not it was a success. If the
leader deems the project is not a success, he can then revert back to the middle stage and allow
followers to take additional leadership roles in order to achieve the original desired outcome.
As we can see, both leaders and followers play a very important role in each stage of vision
implementation. It is very important that followers allow leaders to lead when implementing their
vision, and it is as equally important that leaders check their ego and allow followers to lead when the
situation arises where it is in the best interest of the overall vision for them to take the lead. When
leaders and followers are working together in unity, the chances for accomplishing the vision grows.
How can leaders and followers connect?
Having leaders and followers is quite useless if they are never on the same page. Sometimes, a leader is
put into a situation where their subordinates just do not see eye to eye. Sometimes a follower is placed
under leadership that they just do not mesh well with. That doesn't necessarily make someone a bad

Leaders and Followers. Success takes Two.

8

leader or a bad follower and it does not mean that a situation cannot be successful. It just means they
need to work a little extra hard to get on the same page. It means that leaders have to develop those
followers. There is very little training on followership. In fact, this course is a requirement for a master's
degree in leadership, but there are no master's degrees in following. Organizations focus so much time
an energy into building leaders, that developing followers is usually a forgotten topic. Since so much
emphasis is placed on leadership, how do leaders turn that training around and help them to become
effective followers? First, we should let employees know that it is okay to be a follower. The word
"follower" itself has negative connotations. Most people would take being called a follower as an insult.
As stated before, so much emphasis is placed on developing leaders, yet so little placed on being a
follower. Perhaps if more training is placed on being a follower, it may take some of the negativity out
of the word follower. How do we legitimatize being called a follower? Ronald Rizzio suggests to simply
continue to use and emphasize the word "follower" (Riggio, 2014). By continuing to use it openly and
proudly, you take the negative connotation away, much like the words "nerd" and "geek". Those words
are now used as proud badges by many. Another idea that has been suggested is to move away from
the idea that leadership is the action of one and followership is the action of many. The idea is to simply
make leadership be the sum of the actions of everyone involved. It is co-constructed by both leaders
and followers. (Day, 2000). Another idea is to eliminate leadership positions. Not all leadership
positions, as there will always need to be some form of leadership. However, if you cut down on the
number of managers and supervisors and limit the number that employees report to, you could
potentially see less fighting over lower to middle management positions and more emphasis on
performing tasks employees have been assigned to do.
No matter the method leaders use to connect with followers, there no doubt has to be high
levels of leader-member exchanges (LMX). The leader-member exchange theory focuses on the
relationship and communication interactions between leaders and followers. There are three

Leaders and Followers. Success takes Two.

9

components to the leader-member exchange theory: Direction-Giving language, empathetic language
and meaning-making language (Mayfield & Mayfield, 2009):
Direction Giving Language: Direction giving language gives specific direction to followers. The
expectation of this language is to set specific goals to improve worker performance. Direction giving
language is specific and often gives quantity and quality expectations of job performance. By knowing
specifically what to do, followers' anxiety levels are reduced because they know specifically what is
required of them.
Empathetic Language: This language is used to express sincere emotional connection with
followers. This language is used to create emotional bonds between leaders and followers. Through
empathetic language, we establish greater connection and loyalty between leaders and followers.
Greater loyalty can lead to greater job satisfaction and improved employee performance.
Meaning-Making Language: Meaning-making language expresses to the follower what the
leader considers to be culturally appropriate. This is what is expected of the employee. The better the
employee understands the expectations of their performance, the better they can adapt and create
methods that will help them be more effective within the leaders expectations.
Research has shown that for every 10 percent increase in specific Leadership-Member language
usage, there is a 1.4 percent increase in employee productivity and a 4 percent increase in job
satisfaction (Mayfield & Mayfield, 2009). Based on the research, intentionally increasing positivity in the
leader-member exchange can drastically improve the relationship between leaders and followers and
help both the leader and follower reach the end goal of accomplishing the organizational vision.
Conclusion
Organizations need quality followers to succeed just as much as they need quality leaders.
Leaders and followers work hand in hand and without one, you really cannot have the other. Most
people dream of being the boss. They have goals and desires of being CEO's, supervisors, and having


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