Followership. This blog, and many books, are focused on the topic of following. But what is it that we’re talking about?
The abundance of books on leadership, each of which offers its own definition of that concept, hasn’t really brought us any closer to a universally agreed-upon characterization of this fundamental idea. And honestly, this drives the mathematician/scientist side of me a little nuts.
So is there any hope for us to achieve something definitive for the notion of ‘followership’?
Being a relatively modern term, many of us begin (as I do, in the quote found in the featured image for this post) by defining followership as the complement to leadership (Embracing Followership, p.4). But perhaps that’s not ideal since society has yet to offer a precise definition of leadership!
Then we have an additional challenge: contemporary culture is pushing the idea of ‘following’ in a very different way from the excellent followership that we are exploring and encouraging.
“With the more recent advent of Twitter and other social media, the notion of following has been redefined as something markedly different [from the concept of followership that we’re interested in]. Whereas Twitter followership can be merely an expression of appeal or the fruit of charisma, the kind of followership we’re looking at is the reality of a relational dynamic that exists within any community that has one or more formal leaders” (Embracing Followership, p.5-6).
Perhaps those sentences contain the seeds of a precise definition (something “that exists within any community that has one or more formal leaders”), but they also describe another reality: we may never arrive at a technical definition of followership because what we’re fundamentally identifying is the quality of a relationship. Quantitative evaluation and scientific exactitude are likely to eternally elude us.
But qualitative evaluation (some measure of good/excellence) and personal reflection (does my interaction with others look like that?) can indeed lead us into exploring the depths of this relational reality. Not only can they, but it is only via this avenue of consideration and contemplation that we can fully appreciate and digest the role of follower…which we all fill in some aspect of life.
So, to prompt a bit of reflection for you, here are a few statements of “followership is…” both from myself and other authors. I offer you the chance to consider and evaluate these words for yourself, as I have done in my own journey of embracing followership.
Reading these may not lead you to the formulation of a tight definition of ‘followership’ (though please do add your thoughts in the comments below!), but the opportunity to reflect on these concepts is a first step in grasping the encouragement, opportunity, and necessity of following with excellence.
“True followership is an act of one’s will…a choice.” (Omokhai Imoukuede, quoted in Embracing Followership, p.32)
“The most fundamental aspect of following is simply this: to participate.” (p.47)
“Followership is an identity.” (Leonard Sweet, quoted in Embracing Followership, p.62)
“Followership is one source of identity, but it can also be a calling, a stewardship, a necessary role. What it really comes down to then, is our attitudes.” (p.63)
“Followership is lifelong learning.” (Leonard Sweet, quoted in Embracing Followership, p.64)
“Creative Followership is about shaping your character.” (Jimmy Collins, quoted in Embracing Followership, p.117)
“The flavor of your particular followership is essentially defined by your responses to the person in that leadership role.” (p.142)
“Followership is about relationship.” (p.211)
“Followership is an honorable role.” (p.212)
“Following is about knowing God from a different perspective.” (Rusty Ricketson, quoted in Embracing Followership, p.212)
For a Christian challenge to consider the place of followership in your ministry, see “Is your church considering the quality of its followership?“
You might also like:
For encouragement and guidance in understanding and applying yourself to following with excellence and helping others to do the same, see:
Embracing Followership: How to Thrive in a Leader-Centric Culture (by Allen Hamlin Jr; Kirkdale Press, Feb 2016)
Find other recommendations for various aspects of followership on our Resources page.
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