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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.



A few basic definitions are being given in this section, to introduce terms used throughout the article.

There are displayed two definitions for followership, among a variety of which can be foun in bibliography.

  • 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. [1]
  • Followership can be defined as “the characteristics, behaviors, and processes of individuals acting in relation to leaders [11]

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.[2]

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. [2]

Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements. [9]

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.(importance) 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:(kelley)

  • 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

The first two models, Kelley’s and Chaleff’s, concentrate more in the concept of followership when it comes to organizations. With their approach they aim to define the concept of followership, referring to certain characteristics and mentalities. In this way, it is possible to identify which types of followers are more beneficial for an organization and based on that, cultivate corresponding attitudes and form a framework for the development of effective subordinates.

Kelley’s research ultimately resulted in the composition of the “Followership Questionnaire”. With this tool researchers could distinguish the followership styles more methodically, in comparison to plain observation they were previously using. Chaleff, though, has attracted more empirical attention, probably because he extended his approach to include specific practical examples or situational dimensions that required the follower to act. (Putting Followership On The Map: ExaminingFollowership Styles and Their Relationship WithJob Satisfaction and Job PerformanceLeonard F. Favara Jr.Central Christian College of Kansas). As he mentions once people have a sense of the range of follower styles and of their own tendency, they need to connect these to situations they encounter in organizational settings.( Chaleff)

In Chaleff’s approach leaders and followers are presented as satellites of the goal they are pursuing, without overlapping each other, rather circling it from different orbits. Kelley, furthermore, considers followers to be essential in limiting toxic leaders (source), something that Chaleff further develops into a belief that they are capable of even transforming the organizational culture when they are effective.

Barbara Kellerman, on the other hand, stretches the concept out of organizations and offers a more broad view that could be met in various situations and everyday life. Compared to the other two theories, Kellerman really focuses on the level of engagement more than on the other assets of followers, claiming it to be the most definitive element in the distinction of various followership styles. Part of this more worldly viewpoint is the suggestion that followers may not only change organizational culture or influence leaders, but could gradually actually make a change in society. While Barbara Kellerman attributes this potential for change and influence to the degree of engagement, Chaleff states that it is courage expressed in diverse ways that leads to possible transformation. (see Chaleff’s model)

It should be highlighted that all three theories acknowledge the differentiation between different types of followership, the importance of effective followers compared to ineffective ones and the power and responsibility they have to promote transformations and affect the leadership. The incorporation of any of them into a mindset and management of an organization, or project etc. could similarly favor group performance. Thus, having an understanding of the principles of these methods and identifying a way to combine them, could prove valuable for managers. Attention should be drawn towards the fact that the identified types are highly theoretical and in need of empirical support to prove their value in organizational psychology.

Having said that, there are more statistical data supporting the validity and reliability of Kelley’s model. This is because it is the oldest between the described methodologies providing time and opportunity to researchers to study, analyze it and examine its practicality.

Characteristics of effective followers

Over the years the profile of a good subordinate has changed and has come to adapt to the current social and cultural conditions and the attitude of modern employees. In the past, good was considered to be an employee who would take orders from the managers and passively act according to them. Nowadays, people entering the workforce expect to be treated with respect and be assigned with tasks that are meaningful and creative. This is partly due to their generally higher educational background, which provides them with confidence and willingness to change companies, jobs and the way procedures are followed.

Based on this shift, there has been proposed a variety of characteristics that effective followers should possess. Many of these are shared with qualities leaders should present, demonstrating the close connection of the two roles and the importance of a healthy leader-member relation.

As it can be derived from the models in section 3, engagement in the project’s or company’s purpose is a significant behavior required in order to be an effective follower. (Kellerman)Although a project can be completed without the involved subordinates to be fully committed, the result in the last case will demand more time, effort and most probably will not be optimal. The influence of engagement on management, along with its variations, are further looked into through the next chapter.

Enthusiasm is also thought as a positive characteristic, which could provide motivation to coworkers and forward optimism. This in its turn improves the working environment as the levels of stress could be reduced.

Another necessary quality is versatility. Effective employees should not be afraid to face and manage change, on the contrary they should promote transformation when it serves the pursued goals. [10]

Furthermore, followers should demonstrate honesty, reliability and credibility. Keeping their integrity under all circumstances is a virtue highly praised by superiors and coworkers and promotes morality and ethics in every group.

Indispensable assets are, moreover, independent and critical thinking as well as the courage to challenge the leader. (Kelley)This means not always depending on the leader’s notion to proceed with a new task, refusing to comply with orders that one recognizes as ineffective, speaking up when they need to be heard, being able to evaluate own results and so on. The intention to achieve high performance is linked to these traits, too.

In addition, effective followership includes taking initiatives and assuming responsibility. This involves following a new path, being willing to be held accountable for this choice and taking ownership.

Of course, it is necessary to possess all the skills required for the position occupied and to present proficiency in performing one’s job. Relevant to that is also the ability to resolve emerging crises. [10]

A good follower’s virtue is the desire to actively serve the purposes of the programme or the organization. They can, thus, support the supervisor by performing complementary tasks.

Some other characteristics mentioned in bibliography are intelligence, good communicative and social skills, the courage to withdraw when the job does not align with personal aspirations or when a leader is unwilling to proceed to necessary changes etc.

It is apparent from the aforementioned that not all types of subordinates as defined in the models in section 3 are effective. Although all of them should be given attention when managing, it is the ultimate goal to transform the neutral or inactive ones to energetic members and ideally turn them into exemplary-effective followers.

Importance and influence of followership on management

New studies are systematically being published, focusing on new techniques, policies or leadership theories that could boost performance within groups, projects, companies etc. Despite the fact that all these elements favor the enhancement of productivity, the truth is that the primary means of achieving high performance is by utilizing the available workforce, the followers. This suggests that managerial performance might be reflective of the followers’ behavior more than that of the leaders’ or processes followed. There are a lot of parameters that complement the importance and the effects followership has on management


In the article “The Followership Continuum: A model for increasing organizational productivity”, there is proposed an alternative approach, which provides a system to monitor, register and adjust given output according to desired outcome measures. Its goal is to enable management to take corrective actions to improve performance. In this article the concept of engagement is used, classified in five stages, each expressing different levels of commitment and effectiveness. Throughout the reading it is constantly highlighted that followership and its variations, is dynamic, ever-changing and affected by many variables. These variables could be either external sources such as the manager-leader, the nature of the job, the working environment, as well as internal sources that relate to the characteristics of followers themselves. The five stages of engagement are the following:

(image) The 1st stage-Employee starts with simply being employed to perform a job and receiving a form of pay in return. The 2nd stage-Committed begins as soon as the employee gets more involved with the mission, project, organization or develops an inner connection to a motion or person. At the 3rd stage-Engaged the committed follower is willing to stess out of the main routine, become more participative and is actively supporting the chosen purpose. By the 4th stage-Effective the follower is competent and reliable, while at the 5th and final stage-Exemplary the follower demonstrates leadership qualities and self-management capabilities without seeking to overshadow the leader, instead expresses support towards them.

The level of engagement is intertwined with the degree of participation and productivity of followers, as it is presented in the previous model. Management is bound to be affected once the situational nature of followership is realized, which has the potential to obstruct or facilitate high performance and the transission of a follower from one stage to another. Additionally, acknowledging the contribution of followers, particularly the exemplary ones, on behalf of the managers, annihilates the stereotypes against being a follower, that entail the misconception of an inferior post, with minor significance and gravity for the success. The development of exemplary followers is a tool that can be used to optimize procedures and results and to enable employees produce their best contributions.

Proactive behaviors

These behaviors involve actions initiated by followers and aim to prevent unwanted future situations or promote change to achieve wanted outputs. Followers who exhibit proactivity often seek feedback and are ready to take charge and influence procedures. Although that aspect of followership is regularly associated with group success, managers may perceive it as disobedience, as it can influence the dynamics of the leader-member relation. In fact there are papers looking into the extent of influence proactive behaviors have, on the development of personalized or socialized charismatic leadership of managers. [12]Therefore, understanding the motives of proactive subordinates and exploit their positive contributions can prove to be a useful tool of management


Employees commonly show two different kinds of resistance towards their leaders. Constructive resistance includes discussion and negotiations between managers and employees to reach a common understanding that will serve the common goals. Dysfunctional resistance, on the other hand, is typical of followers that choose to be passive-aggressive and not complete tasks assigned to them on time due to claimed busy schedule, or negligence. Both types of resistance affect effective management in different ways. (σχολεία) The first one provides leaders with ideas and approaches possibly not taken into account before, while it also helps the bonding of a team through the exchange of ideas and effort to cooperate with each other. The second one hinders group development and success and needs to be dealt with, so that high performance can be achieved.(putting)

Effective followers

The characteristics of exemplary followers have been described and it is understandable that their existence within a team is a decisive factor of prosperity. More precisely, as Kelley states “Their ability to provide self-management and assess their own work behavior in accordance with organizational values allows leaders to refocus their energies into other aspects of the organization”. In this way, there is the opportunity to concentrate on alternative strategies that may include increased benefits for the programme or organization. There is, consequently, a major advantage in developing followership and particularly the “ideal” type of it, the exemplary.

A research conducted to examine the link between effective followership and job satisfaction, as well as job performance, indicates that there is in fact a connection among them. The research using the model of Kelley, confirms that exemplary followers performed at much higher levels than the conformist and alienated ones. The same was deducted for the job satisfaction parameter. Evaluating the results, the authors suggest that analyzing the types of followers in relation to job performance and job satisfaction can inform management about the ways followership function within a project etc. Being capable to identify people within groups that are prone to high productivity, interest and support can lead to better coordination of the workforce, increased efficiency and effectiveness.(putting followership on the map…)

Followers as stakeholders

Employees are a group of the stakeholders of either a company or a project. Stakeholders supply a company with its productive resources; as a result, they have a claim on and a stake in the company.(Essentials) Considering, thus, that employees-followers, are not equally important and that their influence on management is of minimal importance undermines the potential and future success. Not consulting followers, when managing, equals to not keeping them engaged. This is a critical mistake that puts projects and whole organizations at risk. Not being included in the decision process and being treated as passive recipients, except for discomfort, causes stress, insecurity to followers and finally uncertainty for the total project. Once more that sets the ultimate goal at stake.

Managing through followership


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