What Leadership Needs to Know About Followership


Terina A.Terina A.

CEO | ARVis Institute | “Turning Theory into Practice and Your Strategic Intentions Into Reality”

We talk so much about leadership (this includes me) that we make it sound like the holy grail of personal, professional and career success, and this encourages everyone to aspire to become one.

How silly that even sounds to me as I write this. “Become One” – as if we’d wake up one day and be proclaimed a “leader.” As if there is any title, position, office, budget size, number of employees or college degree that somehow makes us a leader. Just in case you aren’t already clued in – there isn’t.


We spend so much time defining leadership, outlining core leadership competencies, subscribing to leadership styles, reading and learning from the renowned leadership theorists, and applying, espousing and debating different leadership philosophies that I am starting to think we may be missing the most important point – followership and how it is a huge component of leadership.

A critical factor in predicting and sustaining leadership success is being astute enough to appreciate and know when and how to follow. So I ask today, are you willing to follow? Do you appreciate how this is critical to leadership effectiveness?

Principles of Followership and the Connection to Leadership

The best leaders are the best followers. Leaders are not above their followers. They are not superior to their followers. Leaders don’t have some astounding information or knowledge that their followers don’t have access to; they don’t live in an alternate universe and come back from time to time to bestow upon us the privilege of their presence, their sheer existence.

The real impact, the real power is in followership, yet if I offered a workshop on “followership” the response would likely be very poor. Why? Because we don’t value it. We don’t know the value in it, and we don’t understand or appreciate its unbreakable connection to great leadership. I aim to change this mind-set. Will you help me?

There is no leader without a willing follower. There is no celebrated leader bee (the Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfreys, Warren Buffetts, Martin Luther Kings, Michael Jordans, Ronald Reagans and Barack Obamas of the world) without having committed and dedicated worker bees. There are no best-selling authors without having dedicated readers. There are no hall of fame coaches without first having gifted and talented athletes. There are no award-winning educators and faculty without first having exceptional students.

There are no well-run and remarkably effective households, organizations and companies without having committed and dedicated high-performers within them (the followers). And there are no great leaders who don’t simultaneously know how and when to follow.

Leadership and followership run hand in hand – neither is above or beneath the other, and the efforts are synchronized with a focus on the larger goals.

The Best Followers Make the Best Leaders

When you are looking for whom to follow, look for the individual that has been a great follower. Don’t look to follow someone who you know is not a good follower. These people won’t care one dime about your needs and will neglect to even ask for your input. People who don’t appreciate and value followership will see you as beneath them (as someone there just to serve and elevate them).

People who fail to value followership will never value you because they will decide they have ‘become’ a leader and that you should be thankful to be able to work ‘for’ them and benefit from their leadership.

But the best followers make the best leaders. Why? Because these leaders care about their followers. They understand and appreciate the limits of their leadership and how their followers really will make or break them. They understand that no matter how many followers they have, they are still only human and share all the same vulnerabilities, shortcomings and struggles as other humans.

The best followers make the best leaders because they view those who follow them as:

  • equals who have their own minds with their own thoughts, ideas and talents.
  • major contributors to the end goal and not as replaceable parts to achieving the leader’s vision.
  • professionals who add meaningful expertise to the conversation and offer topics worthy of dialogue, debate and discussion.
  • intelligent and thoughtful members of the team and able to make their own choices.
  • thinkers who have a right to question, to seek understanding and to hold them accountable.
  • worthy of building relationships and partnership and taking time to address and resolve conflict.
  • leaders in their own right; these leaders understand that there can and should be other leaders in the room and they don’t have a monopoly on leadership.

If you are interested in assessing your leadership effectiveness, click here for ten (10) questions that followers want leaders to answer.

Sick and Tired of Leadership that Doesn’t Value Followership

I don’t intend to voluntarily follow anyone who does not consider himself a follower and who does not subscribe to followership principles. Do you?

I raise my hand as a follower. I raise my hand to listen to and learn from the great thinkers out there. I raise my hand to support a cause that I don’t lead. I raise my hand to firmly advance the vision and goals of those I follow and organizations I support. I raise my hand to continue to learn, unlearn, ask questions and learn some more (four things followers and leaders do well all their lives – read about it here).

I raise my hand to be a best-in-class follower so I surely raise my hand to be a leader. What about you?


I welcome your comments below…

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