Why do people follow?
The question of why people follow isn’t settled. Is following about leaders or is following about followers? Chances are it isn’t an either or question.
Most leadership books focus on leaders but there is a growing collection of books that either include or focus on followership. For example:
Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow [STRENGTHS BASED LEADERSHIP] by Tom Conchie & Barry Rath
The Life of Manny: Discovering Why People Follow a Leader by Ray East
Followership: How Followers Are Creating Change and Changing Leaders (Center for Public Leadership) by Barbara Kellerman
The Art of Followership: How Great Followers Create Great Leaders and Organizations (J-B US non-Franchise Leadership) by Ronald E. Riggio, Ira Chaleff, and Jean Lipman-Blumen
Beyond Leadership to Followership by Sviatoslav Steve Seteroff
The Power of Followership, by Robert E. Kelley
A few months ago I read Kellerman’s book, “The Art of Followership.” It’s a broad series of essays that oriented me to this topic.
Back to the original question, “Why should anyone follow you?”
Three Reasons People Follow
#1. You have direction. You are heading in a direction others want to go. Your preferred world matches their preferred world.
#2. You have ability. You seem able to make a difference in this world and achieve your objectives.
#3. You are trustworthy. You don’t manipulate for selfish purposes. You’re focused on helping others not yourself.
I’m still challenged by the question, “Why should anyone follow you?”
What’s your answer to, “Why should anyone follow you?”
Great question. I am currently reading “The Seventh Journey” by an Australian Arctic explorer, Earl de Blonville. I was attracted to the book when I heard him say in a radio interview that “leadership is neither born nor taught; it is circumstance calling forth a champion.”
I have been reflecting on that phrase for a while now and I am coming around to agreeing with him. Why do people follow you? I think they do because they have a sense that for the current circumstances you are the champion who has been called. That view echo’s your key points – you are called not doing it out of selfish motivation and you have the ability to respond to the circumstances. For me it also nicely illustrates why a janitor can lead in an organisation just as easily as the higher paid help.
Links to Earl’s website and book can be found here: http://samuraiguy.wordpress.com/2010/03/22/my-journey-with-the-seventh-journey-part-1/
Thank you for leaving your first comment on LF. I love what you added to the conversation.
The combination of personal qualities and serendipitous circumstances resulted in Washington, Lincoln, King, and so many others.
Best to you,
Paul passes along his wisdom and perspective on his blog at:
An interesting topic yet difficult to digest. You have already provided the clues to remain a good leader. However, a slight modification in the text for ‘You have direction’. A leader needs to drive the vision and show the direction by bringing the conviction in people that the planned step is in their interest and overall benefit. Only thereafter, it will become the preferred direction for others to follow. Other two reasons are quite okay.
It will be wrong on our part to differentiate ‘An Art of Leadership’ from ‘An Art of Followership’ since both are complimentary to each other and are inseparable things.
Probably, you are trying to sell an old wine in a new pack!
Dr. Mrunal K. Asher
ITM Business School, Kharghar
Navi Mumbai. INDIA
Great comment on “you have direction.” As I wrote this article I wondered if direction should be the responsibility of the leader or the follower. In other words, do followers already have direction and all they need is someone to get out in front of them. OR, do leaders determine and inspire direction. Because this post focused leaned toward following I opted to focus more on direction already being in the follower.
However, the illustrations of Lincoln or King speak loudly to a leaders ability to determine, articulate, and motivate toward a preferred future. I don’t know if it’s two sides of the same coin but as you state, “both are complimentary issues.”
Best to you,
People will be more willing to follow you when it’s NOT about YOU. I commented on this phenomenon as it relates to how movements get started based on a TED video. It’s short, but sweet and demonstrates this point: http://wp.me/pQYre-20
Thanks for dropping in and offering added resources that enhance the conversation.
Your comment suggests that leadership is more about followers than it is about leaders.
Best to you,
Other than something to keep in mind as we pursue quality in our living and thriving, I’m not sure I’m a fan of the question “Why should anyone follow you?” It seems to place us in a state of focus on self-consciousness, which is not what leadership is about.
It is not entirely necessarily to have someone else follow in order for one to “lead.” I realize that may sound radical or even against the laws of grammar. But I see true leaders as guides and sometimes map makers. And such guides don’t always have to be on your path or even walk with you. They help establish direction. Even if that direction is towards another path. It may come from them, but direction is not contained by them.
I do however believe that “followers,” as you put it, are drawn to leaders even if only to briefly find the next direction in their path, no matter how brief or how long. Sometimes leaders are the ones who cut the new trails. Sometimes they are the ones who help maintain the ones already there. Either way, without them, the path can be difficult to find alone. But we are all drawn to them because they anchor the essence of a direction, even if it’s not ours. We don’t have to be on the same path to respect the vision of a leader or even develop a relationship with them. I would also add that “followers” often follow because a leader is mutually recognized and respected by other leaders.
Thanks for your useful comment. I love it when LF readers offer alternative ideas.
I hear you saying that leading is all about direction. Going somewhere.
I read into your comment that “follower” is not your favorite term. I think our culture degrades followers. Thats why I’m excited about the work being done in this area.
Best to you,
Julia Chambers is a crochet designer in the Austin, TX area with a background in music and writing. http://aberrantcrochet.wordpress.com/
I really appreicate what Dr. Asher stated about Leadership and Followership being complimentary. Not to get too philosophical, but I also think that it depends upon the circumstances and expectations of the act of leadership and followership.
One example would be a business that needs managers to ensure operations are carried out effectively. However, I know many businesses where employees will lead themselves, at least for a while. They have been emplowered to make decisions to get through the day. But, without leaders, the company would eventually fail.
Another example is a church where the congregation arives expecting the pastor to lead. This is an example of a group of followers who desire leadership. However, if the pastor arives and no one is there, is he still a leader? Hmmm…
Great post Dan! Keep ’em coming.
Thanks for your comment. As I read it, you made me think about the blurring of lines between leader/manager/follower that inevitably happens in our complex business world.
Company expect individuals to do more. It’s exciting but it’s also very challenging.
Best to you,
Jake is a business consultant.
For what it is worth I think that people often follow when their hearts beats for the same thing as ‘the leader’s’ does. (Whether it be adventure or some form of ‘vision achievement.’) I recently read (Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek)that illustrates this point fairly well.
In it he shares bits and pieces of the remarkable story of one of Ernest Shackleton explorations. Against all odds he and his whole crew survived some pretty challenging circumstances. The Author believes that the success was due to the kind of people that Shackleton attracted. He pleads a fairly convincing case.
Shackleton did not simply look for men who wanted to go on an expedition. He wanted something more than that. The actual ad he placed in the newspaper read as follows, “men are wanted for a hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.”
The only people who applied for the job where those who read the ad and thought it sounded great. Their loved insurmountable odds. The only people who applied for the job were survivors. Shackleton hired only people who believed what he believed. Their ability to survive was guaranteed.
Thanks for leaving a great comment with a great illustration. I’m in love with the power of vision to direct decisions, evaluate actions, galvanize teams, and motivate everyone.
“hearts beat for the same thing” — supper way to put it
Best to you,
Werner distributes his perspective and wisdom on Leading Smart
Interesting topic. I think I’m in the same place as Julia, but for a different reason. I think this is a question where we can all very easily just walk round and round in a circle.
My circle of choice is in why label? I don’t think it’s what you call the role, it’s in the execution. We each have our own skills, and for any given opportunity or problem we need to apply a mix of skills. All who participate are equal on the team, but one person has the role of organizer / motivator / manager / and maybe even decider. Ain’t no big. (Sorry, desperate attempt to feel young and with it.)
“Leader” and “Follower” define hierarchy. Hierarchy is often felt as better or worse, thus leading to emotion. Emotion can be (isn’t always) a tremendously distracting use of time and energy. Level it out, and let each do their job.
But I will play along. I think you have three good reasons why people follow. Why they follow me I think is because I listen, I keep an open mind, I minimize judgment, and I make decisions. I admit if I’m wrong, I accept responsibility, and I work at doing my job really well. And I’m always trying for a laugh.
You are young and with it. It’s just a matter of which crowd you are young to.. 🙂
Thanks for jumping in again. I’m delighted you added listening to this conversation. What a great addition.
Best to you,
Jeremy is a hip cool business consultant in Massachusetts
I really liked the image for the topic. I can see myself in the bunch, waiting for that breakaway to the short cut detour 🙂
Once again, you have struck a cord on a very delicate, yet important subject that has come under the knife, following the recent crisis.
I am in full agreement with all three reasons why people follow.
After reading some of the comments, I wish to qualify that we should discern between someone occupying a leading position, i.e CEO, and a leader. Leadership is that “intangible” qualification that followers honour because of the three reasons you said.
Of the three, TRUSTWORTHY is the most critical. The first two is learnable through some training (MBA), effort through experience. But trustworthy is something else. You either have it in you or you don’t. The only snag is that some leaders can feint it wearing the sheep skin, until exposed later. People like Hitler, Pol Pot, Sadam are example of people who exploited this and took the gullibility of followership to a different level. Perhaps, they are poor examples, a more accurate description of “dictatorship” that thrives on use of fear driven force. OK, how about spiritual ‘leaders”, be it freemason, church or freethinkers. Recently, an Indian spiritual guru was implicated in a sex scandal. Lots of juicy findings have surfaced, including the millions of stashed wealth. The guy has worldwide followership!. Does this guy qualify to be a “leader”. there’s no denying, he certainly had Direction, Ability and Trustworthy. Guess which of the quality “exposed” his true self.
Moving down to the business, we have seen the manifestation of TRUST operating at both extremes. On one side you have the “low profiled’ level 5 leaders (Herb Kelleher type) and on the opposite you have the “charismatic” (Jeffrey Skilling type).
BTW, I just stumbled upon Mintzberg”s article, in which he suggest corporate America’s financial crisis “is actually one of management. We are overled and undermanaged”. http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/09_33/b4143068890733.htm
My view runs counter because “managers focus on process and resources, leaders focus on values and people. Managers focus on short term bottomline for shareholders, leaders focus on long term visions and stakeholders.
I say, we are underled and overmanaged. Merely reversing the equation is not going to build-in integrity, ethics and governance. It involves change and that takes humility, conscience and trust.
In conclusion, TRUSTWORTHY can’t be “managed” by managers.
It’s wonderful to see you again and thank you for leaving useful material that adds to the conversation.
I’m with you on the priority of trust. Yet, even as I read your comment I thought about competence as a component of this equation. I might trust my dentist because he is a person of character but I wouldn’t trust him to perform heart surgery on me.
Best to you,
‘People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.’ unknown
What we have found through our personal ‘on the job training’ in connecting with others is that people need to sense a leader’s belief, the sold-out, bridges burned, type of passionate belief in a cause/vision bigger than themselves.
Then through relationship, trust needs to be constructed. Integrity, wholeness and vulnerable openness needs to be experienced between the leader and his team. Making memories, John Maxwell says, is one cementing way to forge enjoyable, lasting experiences. John also taught when we lead we give up our rights specifically to privacy. We must be really transparent (not deceptively so) and open and thus vulnerable to the possibility that we may be hurt and disappointed by others. But common ground must be established between the leader and his team.
Leaders are connectors and must always remain adaptable because circumstances and situations and people are ever changing and of a wide variety of personalities. Anyone can learn and develop to be a connector!
Taken from my notes at Leadership conference with John C. Maxwell April 2010 based on his new book, Everyone communicates, Few Connect.
Thank you, you’ve added very practical insights to this wonderful conversation.
People follow because:
We’re Passionate & Transparent
Best to you… and I love John’s latest book.
You might be followed enthusiastically by your followers because you share the same mission. You may respect and courage followers who know how to guide and collaborate with their leaders in a reciprocal partnership. These are some of the topics touched upon by Ira Chaleff in The Courageous Follower: Standing Up To and For Our Leaders, 3rd ed. (Berrett-Koehler, 2010) http://www.courageousfollower.net
Thanks for stopping in and leaving a useful link. Ira is a leader in understanding followership and leadership. As I mentioned, a few months ago I read the first book he worked on.
I hope you keep coming back,
Best to you,
Another good post. May I suggest Seth Godin’s Tribes? It looks at leadership appearing in the most remarkable places and ties in social media as well. Great bargain for $17…
Related post (shamelessly leveraging your great blog…how’s that for honesty?) http://landoncreasy.wordpress.com/2010/03/30/leadership/
Thanks for suggesting Godin’s book. “Tribes” changed the way I thought about leading in this world. Great read.
Regarding shameless self-promotion. HAVE at it!
The conversation is enhanced by your participation.
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This is a good approach to understanding the effects that create followers. I believe that you have correctly articulated the reasons why others will follow a person who has found themselves in the position of facilitating attainment of the group goal (which is the real purpose of leadership).
If you don’t mind, I am going to reword them a little:
#1. You have a vision. You are heading in a direction others believe is OK. Your preferred world does not necessarily match theirs but it is more attractive or interesting than the available alternatives. (In other words – leaders do not always have to sell themselves to their teams. But they have to represent an acceptable possibility. What they do have to do when they occupy an actual position of authority, is earn their respect every day.)
#2. You are competent. You seem able to make a difference in this world and achieve your objectives. (Modified to focus on the concept of competence: demonstrated ability to apply skills and knowledge. Applies to the situation within which the person finds themselves. Different competencies for different levels in an organization. See one of the episodes of “undercover CEO” to watch a CEO demonstrate no ability at one of the line functions in his company.)
#3. You are trustworthy. You don’t manipulate for selfish purposes. You’re focused on attaining the group goal – not your own. (This has to be more than simply helping others. I do not believe that leadership is truly altruistic. It may look that way sometimes, but I believe that it is mostly exercised order to accomplish something important to the person exercising the leadership function – and just helping others is not enough. Refer to the “teach the man to fish” versus the “give a man a fish” argument.)
Real leaders’ successes are written in the eyeballs of the people they work with. That reward is nearly as immeasurable as it is fleeting. But it can be heady.
Thank you for leaving your first comment on LF. Thank you for adding value to others.
Thank you for your thoughts on this important topic. Feel free to re word my work anytime.
I look forward to your comments.
Ned is connected to the Canadian Association for Laboratory Accreditation
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It sounds easy, doesn’t it? Great leaders excel at your points and the rest of the leaders touch on some or all of them part time. Excellent post! Thanks for sharing.
Well said.. love the idea of part-time.
Best to you,
Love this topic, great post and great discussion.
My 2 cents … I want to believe that employees follow leaders who have the best interest of the organization at heart. However, it is clear that the best interests of a particular employee and the organization do not always align – what leader can reconcile that? None – the best a leader can do is be authentic not manipulative. Despite what some think, there is room for profit in this equation.
For those interested in the Simon Sinek “How great leaders inspire action” YouTube link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qp0HIF3SfI4&feature=related
So why would anyone follow us? We believe that the ability to change makes the different to success. The way we approach change is to study it thoroughly and bring forward advanced, pragmatic approaches that will help everyone adopt the new thing, and the next new thing and the next new thing … maybe even learn to love to change …
Keep it up. Gail
I’m so glad you stopped in to share your perspective on change. Clearly, a person cannot lead is something isn’t changing. Good one.
It’s great that you left a link to Simon’s TEDtalk. The ideas he presents challenge the status quo.
Great question and discussion.
My perspective and two cents in a recent blog post “Hello Leaders! Why Should Anyone Work for You?”
Love your list of 10 reasons people follow. Thanks for leaving a useful link.
I am going to go a little bit further down the path cited by Gail. And perhaps disagree, but only a little.
…So why would anyone follow us? We believe that the ability to change makes the different to success. The way we approach change is to study it thoroughly and bring forward advanced, pragmatic approaches that will help everyone adopt the new thing, and the next new thing and the next new thing … maybe even learn to love to change …
I think people follow someone who is exercising leadership because that person gives them hope. Less about facing change and more about hope, in spite of change. And belief that it can all work out in the end. That is an unstated promise of good leadership, under even the most trying of circumstances. It is also a double edged sword for the leader. Politicians play on that very human need all the time (for their own benefit).
Ned, who is now the Americas Director of Health, Safety, the Environment and Quality for Exova Group.
Great addition to the conversation. Thank you.
I like the connection between hope and leadership. I’m jumping in to say if leaders don’t infuse folks with hope they can’t lead. It’s simple to say but hard to do. I think we are back to the idea that we have to talk to them about them and not about us.
Thank you for sharing your insights,
I just took my dog for a walk. I had read this post earlier and it came to my mind that my dog follows me because he expects good things to happen to him when he’s around me – food and drink, affection, training, play time…
When I hang out with a leader, I’m always a bit better off afterward. Maybe I get inspired, come up with a new idea, learn something, feel good… and I always feel ‘challenged’ in a very good way.
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