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The roles of the follower

By Gordy Curphy

"It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you're gonna have to serve somebody."
Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan got it absolutely right when he wrote the lyrics to the song, Serve Somebody. The fact of the matter is we all work for someone else. Employees work for supervisors, supervisors for managers, managers for executives, executives for Boards of Directors, Boards of Directors for shareholders, etc. Although everyone spends a lot of time in follower roles, the fact of the matter is very little has been written about the topic of followership. One of the most insightful articles about followership was written by a researcher named R.E. Kelley; a modified version of Kelley's model is described briefly below. Read over the descriptions and determine which one most closely matches how you behave on a day-to-day basis.

Self Starters

Are people who seek forgiveness rather than permission. These individuals have a sense of urgency, go the extra mile, challenge the old way of doing things, develop creative solutions to problems, and push back when bosses ask them to do something inappropriate or ineffective.

Yes People

Are people who seek permission rather than forgiveness. These individuals work hard and put in long hours, but do not like making decisions and are constantly seeking guidance and approval from their bosses.

Slackers

Are people who check their brains out at the door and don't pick them back up until they leave work. These individuals do not like to work or think for themselves, and often spend more time and energy devising ways to avoid work rather than just getting it done.

Criticizers

Are people who have yet to find anything right with the company, their boss, or their co-workers. These people constantly whine and complain about what and how things get done, but never offer ideas on how to improve the situation. This is the most dangerous of all four types, as like Jake and Elwood, Criticizers are on a mission to convert others to their cause.

It is important to understand that followership types can and do change over time. For example, I can point out times in my career where I could have been the poster child for Self Starters, Slackers, or Criticizers. (Sorry, I have never been a Yes Person, as I have never been good at strategic sucking up). If organizations have a decent hiring system, then they will add staff likely to be Self-Starters and Yes People. But companies who have Criticizers and Slackers need to look long and hard at their leaders, as bad followership is a symptom of bad leadership. The easiest way to fix bad followership is to ensure people in positions of authority have the right abilities, skills, and values to effectively build teams and get work done through others.