• Thursday, May 23, 2024
businessday logo


Knowing your followers will improve your leadership effectiveness

Assessing Leadership effectiveness

Followers are like drums and instruments, making a band and a singer outstanding in a concert. Without followers, leaders cannot be successful. In the age of well-being, leaders must understand their followers to get the best out of them. Understanding those you lead could be the turning point in your leadership effectiveness.

While time spent improving our leadership skills is well invested, it is a waste if leaders’ understanding of the followers’ needs and peculiarities is still obscured. Leaders must have followers in every area of endeavour where leadership is required. Though there are a few bodies of knowledge on followership, leaders who have succeeded have shown some influence on their followers. Influence comes mainly from a voluntary or coercive relationship between the leader and followers. The latter is more enduring and sustainable.

Q: “Leadership is an overused phrase, yet it is very important in all spheres of life. It gets more attention than any other word everywhere. There are lots of scholarly articles on leadership. Leaders make or mar nations, organisations, societies, and family settings. However, there are only leaders with followers. It is followers who make leaders effective. The followers are the engine room that drives leaders’ vision and ideas to reality

A notable work on followership is by Robert Kelley, a professor at the Graduate School of Industrial Administration at Carnegie Mellon University, who identified five types of followers. In his article, “In Praise of Followers” (HBR, November–December 1988), Kelly identified five follower groups: effective follower, conformist, passive follower, alienated follower, and pragmatic survivor. His classification is based on two parameters: the level of independence and critical thinking of the followers, and whether the followers have active or passive dispositions towards the leaders and the organisation’s objectives.

Understanding your followers as a leader will enable you to utilise their strengths and improve on their weaknesses in the best interest of your organisation. An effective follower actively pursues your goals with high levels of critical thinking and independence. The leaders have a role in enabling or encouraging autonomy and critical thinking among followers. Effective followers model the leaders’ ability and competence and, in the long run, regard leaders as their equals or peers (Oxford Executive Leadership Programme, 2024). That’s a tiny line of trouble if care is not taken.

A conformist is an active follower but has dependent and uncritical thinking. He is the Yes person, always loved by leaders who love to be praised and deceived. Conformists are the favourites of insecure leaders. Alienated followers can think independently and critically but are passive towards the leaders and the organisations. They are no longer interested in being the best for their leaders or the team. Passive followers, also known as sheep, have passive attitudes and lack independent and critical thinking. They have switched off from the organisations and the leaders. The last but not the least minor category is the pragmatic survivors.

A pragmatic survivor is like an average Nigerian politician without a political ideology. They shift camps based on the need for power, influence, and rewards. In organisational settings, pragmatic survivors can be active or passive, dependent or independent, critical or uncritical in their thinking and attitudes. Their position, efforts, and outputs shift to meet the day’s demands and the situation. I have termed pragmatic survivors as situational followers who will likely slow down the team’s momentum when needed.

Aside from knowing yourself as a leader, understanding who your followers are and the ability to galvanise efforts to improve activeness, allow independent thinking, and encourage decision-making at various levels will breed a more dependable followers group for you.
Similarly, followers can be measured based on the leaders’ relationship( active or passive attitude in Kelly’s model) and the result delivered (a product of independence, execution, and the ability to think critically). If you have a good relationship with your followers and they produce results for you, they are eagles on your team. Other followers are the ducks, peacocks, and vultures. Ducks have good relationships with you but are not competent. The Peacocks are skilled and passive towards you and the team. The vultures are neither competent nor have an active attitude.

Understanding your followers will go a long way in shaping your expectations, developing their capacity plans, and improving their capacity to contribute to the team. Understanding these followers is the starting point, and using the right motivational tools, including showing the big picture, providing directions, and transforming followers from the least to the most desirable types, is the pinnacle of influential leaders.

If followers are essential to leaders, more time must be dedicated to understanding yourself as a leader and your working tools to maximise their presence and output. In understanding myself as a leader, I have realised that the beginning of every new leadership journey, where I get to know the people, processes, policies, culture, and working environment, is pivotal to my success in leading teams. That is the aspect I cherish the most, as it lays the foundation for team cohesion, motivation, and collaboration that come into play in achieving the shared objectives.

Babs Olugbemi FCCA, the Chief Vision Officer at Mentoras Leadership Limited and Founder, Positive Growth Africa. He can be reached on [email protected] or ‪08025489396‬.