Phil Hauck's TEC Blog

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Harvard's Kellerman: It's Followership, Not Leadership!

We hear a lot about the impact of Leadership, but what about Followership?  Barbara Kellerman, a Harvard public policy professor, has done research on why Followership has been a force to be reckoned with for centuries, usually in the form of revolutions, but is now integral to organization development and success.  Indeed, she says that all Leaders have to take into consideration at all times two other impacts, the Situation ... and the role of the Followers.
Followers make things happen, and if they're to be most useful, need to be involved in the decision-making process as well.  So she told a recent St. Norbert College audience.  "Followers are changing leaders," she contends.
She has created categories of followers, the most useless being the Isolators, who are totally disengaged, and Bystanders, who don't provide input or help but whose presence actually provides "tacit support" to the Leader's "status quo."  On the other end, even dangerous, are the Diehards, who are totally consumed in their issue (on the positive side, think Nelson Mandela or Gandhi). 
Key players are Participants and Activists, simply different degrees of people who are involved, engaged, supportive.  They are front line with customers, and know what's needed, what works, what's not being done, and what's being done poorly.  They are vociferous, and create the "situation" which the Leader must listen and react to.  Good, effective Leaders know this ... and do listen and react.  It's how they make their assembly line, department, division and company thrive.  
When Leaders don't listen and react, when they ignore their people, when they treat people poorly ... their organizations do poorly, and in the past have created the need for unions as protectors.  Today that's far less true.
Followers have become as important as Leaders.
-- Barbara Kellerman is a long-time lecturer in public leadership at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.  Her most recent book is "The End of Leadership (Harper Collins, 2012).


  1. Phil, As far as I'm concerned, a leader has to 'earn' his/her followers. Give them a clear goal, let them understand the upside of success, listen carefully and consider their input...then implement changes that enhance the process. The worst 'leaders' are those who bully their associates and who don't listen to any input that doesn't support their own plan. They create 'negative activists' who aggressively follow the leader off the cliff...along with the 'participants'. Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

  2. nice opinion.. thanks for sharing.

  3. Hi Phil - Thanks for this post, very insightful. I came across a post suggesting that the Olympic opening ceremonies were one the of the most successful instances of followership ever. What do you think?