Every once in a while, somebody comes along with a theory so brilliant, so iconoclastic and yet so blitheringly obvious that the rest of us sit around grumbling, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Such a theory is “followership,” a bold concept delineated in the new book Followership: How Followers Create Change and Change Leaders. The brainchild of Barbara Kellerman, who teaches public leadership-though not public followership-at
An all-out assault on this society’s obsession with those who lead, as opposed to those who follow, Followership singles out Greenpeace and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals as examples of organizations that have transformed the world through the heroic actions of many, many followers but few actual leaders. In a somewhat less appealing context, but one which is even more effective at driving home her point, Kellerman stresses that, without the German people’s complicity with Hitler, the Nazis would not have been able to destroy
The implications of “followership” in the corporate world are enormous. If followers are anywhere near as important as Kellerman suggests, then nobody at the top of a corporation should take all the blame for a disaster, given that the followers are equally responsible. This means that when Citigroup and Merrill, Lynch recently made changes at the top, a lot of followers should have been deep-sixes as well, since without their disastrous followershipping, the disastrous leadershippery could never have taken effect.
Viewed from another perspective, George Armstrong Custer should not be saddled with exclusive blame for the disaster at the Little Big Horn, because nobody forced his followers to follow him. This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as “lemmingship,” where followers follow the leaders right over the cliff and then try to act like it was somebody else’s fault.
One area of followership that has not fully been investigated is followership compensation. While debate about executive compensation rages, no one seems to be paying much attention to how much followers should be paid for following the leader. Because following may be more important than leading, given how many followers a leader needs in order to be successful, perhaps followers should be paid just as much as leaders. Obviously, this could get expensive.However the issue of followership compensation plays out, we should all be thrilled to know that such outstanding work is being done at the