Wanted: Good Followers

We’re all about good leadership, right?  Guess what?  Without followers, there are no leaders.  And, more to the point, good leaders need really good followers.

FastCompany published an article on April 1 written by Nancy Lublin titled “Do Something: Let’s Hear it for the Little Guys.”  Many of her points really hit home with me.

Sexy Topic

Leadership is today’s sexy business topic. The critical topic, though, is followership. The managers and supervisors who make the vision a reality. The front line employees who do the “heavy lifting.” There is no successful leader without good followers doing the hard work.

What makes a good follower? Lublin suggests it is the intelligent follower.

Good followers ask good questions. They probe their leaders.  They crunch numbers to ensure that their visionary boss’s gorgeous plan actually works.

Imagine, she states, if, instead of everyone wanting to be the CEO, we valued people in the jobs that best fit their skills. Imagine if we acknowledged great performance at every level, not just at the top.  Imagine if being a great supervisor was a goal, not a stepping stone to bigger and better things.

Know the Recipe

At ChangingMinds.org, there is a comprehensive study of followership.  In order to determine what makes a great leader, the organization decided to closely examine followers.  By understanding what motivates people to follow others, we can learn what characteristics are needed to develop good leaders.  As the site put it:

Leaders create Followers create Leaders.

Part of the study identifies five key reasons people follow, ranked in levels from negative to positive, from coercion to complete commitment.  Below is a summary, but click here to read about each level in more detail.

  • Fear of Retribution: “If I don’t follow, I may lose my job!”
  • Blind Hope: “We must do something.  I hope this works!”
  • Faith in the Leader: “What a great person.  If anyone knows the answer, they do!”
  • Intellectual Agreement: “What a good idea.  That makes real sense.”
  • Buying the Vision: “What a brilliant idea.  I don’t care who thought of it.”

People will not follow us just because we ask them to.  We need to give them a good reason to follow.  We need to inspire with a clear vision.  We need to unite them around a meaningful goal.  There must be a purpose for their followership.

What about leaders who are also followers?

Most of us follow someone.  Colonel Phillip S. Melinger, USAF, wrote an (undated) article titled The Ten Rules of Good Followership.  In the introduction, he noted:

…how does one become a good follower?  This is a responsibility no less important than that of leadership – in fact, it enables good leadership – yet, it is often ignored.  Moreover, it is likely that all of us will be followers more often that we will be leaders.

While the article was written with a military hierarchy in mind, the rules do translate to leader-followers everywhere.  Among Melinger’s ten rules are:

  • Don’t blame your boss for an unpopular decision or policy; your job is to support, not undermine.
  • Fight with your boss if necessary, but do it in private.  Avoid embarrassing situations and never reveal to others what was discussed.
  • Do your homework.  Give your boss all the information needed to make a decision; anticipate questions.
  • If you see a problem, fix it.  Don’t worry about who would have gotten the blame and who will now get the credit.

In your experience, what makes a great follower?Have you observed patterns in good followership behaviors?  Have you been given feedback from followers that influenced your leadership development?


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Eleanor Biddulph
Eleanor Biddulph
 is the EVP of Client Services at Progressive Medical, Inc.
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Image Sources: 1.bp.blogspot.com

3 responses to “Wanted: Good Followers

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Wanted: Good Followers - - My newest post on Linked2Leadership! Share with leaders and followers! -- Topsy.com·

  2. Good post. Followership is a subject that needs much more study. I’d recommend Ira Chaleff’s The Courageous Follower for more thoughts along this line.


  3. David – Thank you for stoppping by and for commenting. It does take courage to be a good follower. I will definitely look up the book you suggested. El


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