The Challenge Of Followership

Against the backdrop of the growing political awareness and social commentary among Nigerians, one has been paying more than cursory attention to the idiosyncrasies, predilections and general disposition of both the leaders and the followers, the two sides of the coin in government and politics.

So much has been said and even much more will be said about leaders but scant attention or, should I say, emphasis, is being given to the roles, responsibilities and not the least, the character of the followership. And that's what I want to shine the spotlight on here, briefly.

Two of my favorite authors on the subject of followership, Barbara Kellerman and Ira Chaleff, have expounded extensively and intensively too on the psychology of followers and how their effort or lack of it can be tantamount to good leadership or not.

In her book, "Followership: How followers are creating change and changing leaders," Kellerman drew extensively from the postulations of one of the foremost protagonists of the "theorification" of leadership, Robert Kelly, who had identified five different styles of followership.

A. Alienated Followers think freely and critically; but they do not participate in the groups and organizations of which they are members. They score high in independent thinking and low in active participation.

B. Exemplary followers perform well in every aspect. They exercise "independent, critical thinking, separate from the leader or the group," and they are also actively engaged. They score high across board.

C. Conformist followers are content to take orders, to defer to their leaders. They score high in active engage,ent and low in independent thinking.

D. Passive followers let their leaders do the thinking for them, which means they require constant supervision. They score low in independent thinking and in level of engagement.

E. Pragmatist followers "hug the middle of the road." They question their leader's decisions but not very often and not critically. They score "middling" in independent thinking and "middling" in terms of engagement.

While Kelly's thesis focused on participation and critical thinking, Chaleff homed in on support, how followers support or challenge the leader. Thus he surfaced four clear categories.

1. Implementer-These followers are most common, especially in large organizations where superiors depend on subordinates to get the job done.

2. Partner-These followers fully support their leaders; but they are also ready and willing to challenge, if necessary.

3. Individualist-These followers tell their leaders, and, for that matter, everyone else, just what they think and how they feel. But because they regularly withhold their support from people in positions of authority, they are marginalized.

4. Resource-These followers "do an honest day work for a few days pay and don't go beyond the minimum expected."

In Kelly's perspective I am an Alienated follower and an Individualist from Chaleff's viewpoint. I'm now constantly under psychological personal pressure to shift my position towards active engagement.

Perhaps, that should be a natural progression for the Nigerian elite middle class (or whatever is left of it) considering the level of charlatanism and clear demonstration of incompetence by career politicians.

If we all decide to sit back and watch or, at best, stay glued to our grumbling smart devices through which we vent our "unsmart" rant on the leadership, things aren't going to change.

Which one are you and which would you rather be? Food for thought.

As they say, a people get the leadership they deserve, and indeed, every leader was once a follower. Just as we say in my village, every headmaster was a student.
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