Followership Style

December 3, 2008 - Tags:

There are different ways to represent our individual style of relating to leaders. Useful models for doing this can be found in the works by Robert Kelley and Gene Boccialetti, cited in the bibliography. In my workshops I use a two-axis representation derived from the core of the Courageous Follower model that participants in workshops find helpful in understanding their strengths and potential growth needs

The two critical dimensions of courageous followership are the degree of support a follower gives a leader and the degree to which the follower is willing to challenge the leader’s behavior or policies if these are endangering the organization’s purpose or undermining its values. This holds true at all levels of leadership and followership. We will examine both of these dimensions in depth in subsequent chapters. At this point, however, it is useful to reflect on where you place yourself in this matrix of follower behaviors.

The possible combinations of these two dimensions produce four quadrants that can depict the posture you tend to assume in relation to leaders. There is variance, of course, depending on the leader to whom you are relating. But, if you change quadrants radically based on the leader’s temperament and style, you are ceding too much power to the leader to determine your professional behavior. It is useful to identify your core tendency, or natural position in relationship to authority at this point in your personal development. Then you can chart a growth path for yourself.

The four possible quadrants in this model of followership style are these:

  1. high support, high challenge
  2. high support, low challenge
  3. low support, high challenge
  4. low support, low challenge

HIGH SUPPORT, HIGH CHALLENGE— THE PARTNER

A follower operating from the first quadrant gives vigorous support to a leader but is also willing to question the leader’s behavior or policies. This individual could be said to be a true partner with the leader and displays many of the characteristics identified with courageous followership in this book. Even within this quadrant, of course, there is room for growth as one can become stronger and more skillful in both dimensions.

HIGH SUPPORT, LOW CHALLENGE— THE IMPLEMENTER

This is the quadrant from which most leaders love to have their followers operate. Leaders can count heavily on followers who operate from this profile to do what is needed to get the job done and not require much oversight or explanation. However, if the leader begins to go down a wrong path, these are not the followers who are likely to tell the leader so, or, if they do, they are not likely to pursue the matter if the leader rebuffs their attempts. Growth for those tending to this style of followership lies in the direction of being more willing to challenge a leader’s problematic actions or policies and learning to do so effectively and productively.

LOW SUPPORT, HIGH CHALLENGE— THE INDIVIDUALIST

Surrounding every leader there are one or two individuals whose deference is quite low and who do not hesitate to tell the leader, or anyone else in the group, exactly what they think of the his or her actions or policies.

These are potentially important people to have in the group as they balance the tendency of the rest of the group to go along with what seems acceptable while harboring reservations. However, because these individuals do not display equal energy in supporting the leader’s initiatives, they marginalize themselves. Their criticism becomes predictable and tiresome and the leader finds ways to shut them out. Growth for individuals who operate from this style of followership lies in the direction of increasing their actual and visible support for the leader’s initiatives that forward the common purpose.

LOW SUPPORT, LOW CHALLENGE— THE RESOURCE

Any group has a certain number of people who do an honest day’s work for a day’s pay but don’t go beyond the minimum expected of them. There are often legitimate reasons for this. They may be single parents whose priority is leaving at 3:30 to pick up their children from day care, graduate students whose priority is excelling in their course work, or volunteers who can only give a few hours a week. However, they will not advance their careers or make significant contributions to the organization while operating from this quadrant. When they are ready to give more priority to their participation in the group or organization, they must begin to raise their level of support for the leader and begin to earn the standing to also credibly challenge policies and behaviors that need correction.

The following is a summary of the attitudes and behaviors likely to be displayed by individuals relating to leaders from each of these quadrants.