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The Power of Followership

The Power of Followership

Like many of you, I have watched the events unfolding in North Africa with great interest. Many in the news media were ascribing the uprisings to sinister forces attempting to rule the world. While I don’t doubt the people behind those forces are attempting to take advantage of the situation, what we are actually seeing is a struggle of citizens or followers to empower themselves and seize freedom as they define it for themselves and their families.  When this occurred in Egyptover a period of 18 days, the will of the people overcame the perceived power of the dictatorial ruler. As one Egyptian woman put it in referring to former President Hosni Mubarak, “He is not a Pharaoh!”

From the reports of some of the media, the crowds of citizens were described as mainly mindless automatons reacting to the strings of some grand puppet master. I felt that the myth of the majority of followers are passive beings was being perpetuated. The point is the majority of followers do embody these behavioral attributes:

  • Initiative,
  • Physical and moral courage,
  • Integrity,
  • Humility,
  • Wisdom,
  • Creativity,
  • Compassion and passion.

All of these attributes many ascribe to the sole province of the good leader.

Exemplary followers as defined by Dr. Robert Kelley, one of the seminal authors of followership, do exemplify those behavioral attributes described above. Ira Chaelff the other seminal author of followership defined what constitutes being a courageous follower and listed similar behavioral attributes associated with that term. Dr. Eugene Dixon in his research operationalized those behaviors in his Follower Profile survey. My research suggested that all follower types do display some degree of Courageous Follower attributes.  The assumption many people make is that most followers display the passive followership style. This is a common misconception, but certainly not what the research reveals. The real point is leaders spend 20 to 30 percent of their time leading and 70 to 80 percent following. Leaders should also focus recognizing those traits in their followers and empowering them to use more of their potential to strengthen their organization.

 The key to remember is that the more toxic a leader is, the more these leaders attempt to build an organizational culture that marginalizes their followers into passive beings. In Egyptthat worked for a while, until the citizens had enough. You notice that the news pundits were baffled that no leader emerged as the head of the rebellion. What they failed to recognize is the power of followership. Followership is not an appendage of leadership as many people believe, but a symbiotic partner with it.

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Colonel (Ret) Terry Fobbs, PhD, Consultant and Facilitator for Gailforce Resources, is an accomplished public speaker, facilitator and media commentator on human resources, leadership, motivational, national security and community issues. With a BS-Zoology, MBA, Masters in-Strategic Studies, PhD- in Organization & Management specializing in Leadership, Terry has earned the respect of his peers, employer and Gailforce clientele. Terry is an ISO 9000 Certified Lead Assessor, a Baldrige Quality Examiner with the Center for Excellence in Education and the Michigan Quality Council and a recipient of the Michigan Quality Council Quality Hero Award. Terry has served as an adjunct instructor in Business Management for the University of Maryland. He is a member of the Academy of Management and serves as a member of the Academy’s Organizational Development and Entrepreneurship committees. Terry plays active consulting and facilitating roles for Gailforce Resources, working with CEO’s, Boards of Directors, Business Owners, Municipalities and Sector Groups to turn their business strategy into execution and their people into valuable business assets.


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