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Followers: Their actions count most

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

Followers—the people without whom leaders couldn’t lead and nothing would get done—traditionally have been seen in terms of dominance versus submission, power versus weakness.

But a new typology measures followers according to one metric: level of engagement, says a researcher at Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership.

Good followers, says Barbara Kellerman, author of Followership, make informed judgments about who their leaders are and what they believe in. Then they take action.

Followers range from “feeling and doing absolutely nothing” to “being passionately committed and deeply involved,” Kellerman says.

Here are the five types of followers based on their levels of engagement:
  1. Isolates are detached. They don’t know what’s going on and don’t care. They’re invisible, but like nonvoters in a democracy, they’re a drag on the operation. Seek them out and find out why they’re so alienated.

  2. Bystanders watch but don’t contribute. They’re free riders. Managers like them because they take direction well, but they won’t speak up about problems they see or complaints they hear. Ultimately, they’ll let you down.

  3. Participants engage in some way. They care enough to invest their time, energy or money in making something happen.

  4. Activists feel strongly. They’re eager, energetic and engaged. They work hard, either on behalf of their leaders or to remove them.

  5. Diehards prepare themselves to go down for their cause. They’re rare. Their dedication is all-consuming to a person or cause they find worthy.
Bottom line: Do your followers actively take part in meetings? Do they ask questions and generate ideas? Do they follow through? Or have they checked out?

—Adapted from “What Every Leader Needs to Know About Followers,” Barbara Kellerman, Harvard Business Review.

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