I had a recent interaction with a website editor that made me smile.
In creating the content tags to be used for future posts, the editor didn’t want to include ‘followership’ as one possibility because it’s too new of a term and thus needs further development and explanation; he posited that readers will need instruction and understanding before they’ll connect with the concept.
Being personally passionate about the topic of followership, I must admit that my initial reaction was umbrage, a bit annoyed and aggrieved that something so intrinsic to life, work, and relationships could be thought to be too new to highlight. But eventually, as I reflected on the journey of ‘followership’, I smiled.
True enough, in much modern business culture, followership is now making an appearance, and is often labeled as a bit of a fad. It’s trending more and more as a Twitter hashtag, and the pool of published literature is growing. I myself released one book last year (Embracing Followership), with a follow-up forthcoming later in 2017.
But followership is not new. Authors Robert Kelley (in 1988 & 1992), Eugene Habecker (1987), and Max DePree (1992) were readily making use of the term and validating the essential nature of the leader-follower relationship. I can think of no other field where a 25-30 year old concept is considered new.
But rolling back far earlier than the late 80’s and early 90’s, the concept of followership is woven throughout Western culture and literature. King Arthur had his Knights of the Round Table; Jesus of Nazareth had His Twelve Disciples. Each of these leaders affirmed and taught the virtues of following with excellence, and noted the honor, value, and impact of followership.
Followership is not new. But it is only recently that it has been creeping onto the global radar as a topic worthy of discussion. When The New York Times published an opinion piece on March 24, 2017 (“Not Leadership Material? Good. The world needs followers.”; https://nyti.ms/2mZTetL) it made its way around the internet, attracting interest from many for whom this was their first overt encounter with followership.
But why now? Why is a concept which has been around for decades, centuries, and even millennia just starting to grab attention?
After decades, if not generations, of investment in leadership within Western society, a realization is being made. Capitalist cultures have finally begun to look for a return on their overwhelming emphasis on leadership. Having expected that making leadership development and training and resourcing an almost exclusive focus would lead to increased productivity, stability, security, etc. across our organizations, the culture is finally taking stock and seeing that the impact of the leadership investment hasn’t lived up to the hype.
Apparently, there’s some other factor that needs to be looked into, some other phenomenon that needs to be addressed.
And there is: it’s the people that make up the bulk of any organization. Followers. And the quality of their engagement. Followership.
Followership is not new. But better now than never for it to surface onto the global consciousness.
The website editor thinks that readers need instruction and understanding in order to embrace the topic of followership. Are you educating yourself? Don’t stay content with a 400-word blog post containing 4 bullet points on essential characteristics of followers or steps leaders can take to create good followers. Here’s a list of several recommended books; dive deeply into this topic. It’s been under development for thousands of years, and sits at the center of nearly all of our group interactions in business, volunteering, and even religious activity. Something for everyone.
Because we are all followers.
And no, that’s not a new idea either.
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)
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