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Identifying oneself as a follower is not as popular as choosing to be a leader. The term leadership, for most people, depicts an influencing role, which is responsible for the accomplishment of the pursued goals. But how is it that leaders produce such good results, if not with the support and effort of their followers. That realization led to new researches, which focus on the concept of followership as a directly affecting and affected by leadership role.

After the definition of some basic concepts mentioned in the article, there are presented the three more influential models in the theory of followership and styles of followers that they determine. A comparison of these models is then made to show the focus areas of each one of them and the differentiation in their approaches.

Having distinguished various types of followers, the characteristics of the effective follower are being described as they are mentioned in relevant bibliography, containing independent and critical thinking, the level of engagement, self-reeliance and courage to participate in transformations.

Next, there are presented the influences of followership and its qualities on management and the significance they have in achieving high standards.

Subsequently using tools from general management that apply to project management, an attempt is made to provide managers with techniques that can develop effective followership within a project and allow them to reap the fruits of high performing groups.

Finally, a few limitations are mentioned that are related to the fairly theoretical nature of followership, the short period and changing form of a project’s implementation, as well as the unavailability, for different reasons, of the wanted workforce.


Structure of this article


Leadership is the process by which a person exerts influence over other people and inspires, motivates, and directs their activities to help achieve group or organizational goals.

Followership is the willingness to cooperate in working toward the accomplishment of the mission, to demonstrate a high degree of teamwork and to build cohesion among the organization members.

Leader-Member relations is the extent to which followers like, trust, and are loyal to their leader; a determinant of how favorable a situation is for leading.

Changing Perspective

The accomplishment of the desired outcomes both at an organizational but also at a multi-company level has often been, at a great extent, attributed to the leadership skills of managers. Thus, since the beginnings of the 20th century a lot of studies have focused on the various leadership styles and the effect they have on the efficiency and effectiveness of different groups. The last decades, though, there is a stream of scholars who choose to shift the attention from leaders to followers and research their characteristics and contribution to the performance of the teams of which they are members. They justify this choice by highlighting that Leadership and Followership are two fundamental roles that individuals shift into and out under various conditions. It is therefore equally important for any project’s, programme’s or organization’s success to include people that have the skills and will to lead, as well as others that have the skills and will to follow. Furthermore, learning how to effectively follow can give a person valuable experience in understanding the perception of coworkers and eventually make them better leaders with high effectiveness.

Styles and Models of Followership

Kelley’s Model

Kelley’s model enables organizations to distinguish the different perceptions and negative notions of followers and through the identification of the different types of followership, value the diversity and take advantage of the positive aspects.

In order to define the distinct types of followership Robert Kelley uses two behavioral parameters that are relevant to the behaviour and personality traits of followers: the one measures the degree of independent and critical thinking and the other assesses the level of engagement, in other words whether they are passive or active in the organization. The five styles of followers that result from this distinction show variability in the extent of independent thinking as well as organizational engagement, while their motivation does not originate from the same sources. The types identified by Kelley, along with their main qualities are:

  • The sheep, whose thinking and engagement is passive and their motivation derivers from their leader rather than themselves.
  • The yes-people, who in most cases allow their leader to think and act for them, but are generally positive and always on the leader's side.
  • The alienated, who have more independent thinking, but are predominantly negative. Although they think for themselves, their contributions are not towards the positive direction of the organization.
  • The pragmatic, who show a minimal level of both independent thinking and engagement as they are more willing to exert energy and get involved when they see where the direction of the situation is headed. The pragmatics demonstrate poor critical thinking and are motivated by maintaining the status quo.
  • Last, the star followers, who think for themselves, have positive energy and are actively engaged. They agree with and challenge their leaders.

Ira Chaleff’s Model

Chaleff notes different aspects of followers’ attitudes and behaviors and defines the power that they exhibit in their expressions as courage. In his model named “Courageous Follower” he distinguishes five different dimensions of attitudes and behaviors:

1. The courage to support the leader

2. The courage to assume responsibility for common purpose

3. The courage to constructively challenge the leader's behaviors

4. The courage to participate in any transformation needed

5. And the courage to take a moral stand when warranted to prevent ethical abuses.(Chaleff 2008,p.87)

Based on the above Chaleff describes four types of followership depending on the level of support or challenge followers show towards their leader.

  • The resource type of followership demonstrates low support and low challenge.
  • The individualist type shows low support, but high challenge. The ones belonging to this style will usually oppose themselves to the majority but will speak up.
  • The implementer type exhibits high support and low challenge.
  • Last, the partner type presents both high support and high challenge, assumes full responsibility for their actions and acts accordingly.(Chaleff 2008,p.82)

(Table with the types- one axis support other axis challenge)

Barbara Kellerman's Model

Kellerman with her model connects the different groups of followers with each other but also with their leaders. She uses a hierarchy that includes a range of various styles of followership, from one displaying low engagement to one presenting absolute devotion to the leader. The five followership styles that she distinguishes are the following:

  • The isolates, who are completely separated and either do not know their leaders or have no interest in them.
  • The bystanders, who do not participate but stand as plain observers.
  • The participant followers that are slightly more engaged and either support their leaders or clearly oppose to them.
  • The activists that feel strongly and act accordingly.
  • Finally, the diehards, who are deeply commited to their leaders. Their actions and existence in an organization is defined by this commitment and the followership the exhibit.

(Image of Kellerman’s continuum of followers)

Comparison of the three models

Characteristics of effective followers

Influence of followership on management

Managing through followership


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