Followe rsWhat Every
Needs t o Know
The distinctions among followers are every bit as consequential as those among leaders - and have critical implications for
how managers should manage.
by Barbara Kellerman
84 Harvard Business Review | December 2007 | hbr.org
There is no leader without at least one follower - that's obvious. Yet the modern leadership industry, now a quarter-century old, is built on the proposition that leaders matter a great deal and followers hardly at all.
Good leadership is the stuff of countless courses, work- shops, books, and articles. Everyone wants to understand just what makes leaders tick - the charismatic ones, the retir- ing ones, and even the crooked ones. Good followership, by contrast, is the stuff of nearly nothing. Most of the limited research and writing on subordinates has tended to either explain their behavior in the context of leaders' development rather than followers' or mistakenly assume that followers are amorphous, all one and the same. As a result, we hardly notice, for example, that followers who tag along mindlessly are altogether different from those who are deeply devoted.
In reality, the distinctions among followers in groups and organizations are every bit as consequential as those among Jil
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86 Harvard Business Review | December 2007 | hbr.org
What Every Leader Needs to Know About Followers
leaders. This is particularly true in business: In an era of ﬂ atter, networked organizations and cross-cutting teams of knowledge workers, it's not always obvious who exactly is following (or, for that matter, who exactly is leading) and how they are going about it. Reporting relationships are shifting, and new talent-management tools and approaches are constantly emerging. A conﬂ uence of changes - cultural and technological ones in particular - have inﬂ uenced what subordinates want and how they behave, especially in rela- tion to their ostensible bosses.
It's long overdue for leaders to acknowledge the impor- tance of understanding their followers better. In these next pages, I explore the evolving dynamic between leaders and followers and offer a new typology for determining and ap- preciating the differences among subordinates. These dis- tinctions have critical implications for how leaders should lead and managers should manage.
A Level Playing Field Followers can be deﬁ ned by their behavior - doing what oth- ers want them to do. But for the purposes of this article, and to avoid confusing what followers do with who they are, I deﬁ ne followers according to their rank: They are low in the hierarchy and have less power, authority, and inﬂ uence than their superiors. They generally go along to get along, particu- larly with those in higher positions. In the workplace, they...