Cutting-Edge Leadership

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You Can Lead, But Are You a Good Follower?

What does it mean to be a good follower? How you can lead from behind?

There are hundreds of books and thousands of articles that focus on developing your leadership. But what about your followership? No matter what position we hold in an organization, we will do more following than leading throughout our work careers. How can you tell if you are a good follower?

There is a growing body of research on followership. Why? Because our preoccupation with leaders and leadership has distorted our focus. Leadership is not something that is done solely by the leader. Leadership is co-created by leaders and followers working together. In fact, it might be the other way around: followers may be more important to leadership, and getting things done, than leaders.

What makes a good follower?

Robert Kelley, who began studying followership a generation ago, says that effective followers:

• Think for themselves

• Carry out assignments with energy and assertiveness

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• Are self-motivated, self-starters

• Take calculated risks

• Receive high ratings from both superiors and peers

Ira Chaleff has written a book titled “The Courageous Follower” and the subtitle of the book discusses the most important aspect of followership. According to Chaleff, a good follower is able to “stand up for and stand up to” the leader. What that means is supporting the leader when he or she is on the right path, and having the courage to let the leader know when she or he is making a mistake, doing something unethical, or potentially harming the group or organization.

Here are some other characteristics of good followers:

• Taking initiative and not waiting to be told what to do

• Having a broad view of what your job entails. A good follower never says, “that’s not my job,” but pitches in and helps out where needed.

• Mentoring, teaching, and helping co-workers

• Having strong support for the mission of the organization or group

• Encouraging a sense of fairness in the group and organization

Here are some references to read more about Followership:

Chaleff, Ira (2009). The Courageous Follower: Standing up to and for our leaders (3rd ed.), Berret-Koehler.

Kelley, Robert E. (1988). In praise of followers. Harvard Business Review

Riggio, Ronald E., Chaleff, Ira, & Lipman-Blumen, Jean (Eds.). (2008). The Art of Follwership: How great followers create great leaders and organizations. Jossey-Bass.


Follow me on Twitter:!/ronriggio


Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., is the Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College.


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