It’s not you, it’s me

Stoke Consulting - Executive Coaching | Leadership Development

We have all worked for or with many leaders.  My experience is that some were exceptional.  Most were good.  They knew and used their strengths and were focused on broadening their competencies.  And yes, there were a few who were just duds. 

Often the effectiveness of the teams that each of these leaders managed mirrored their overall qualities.  Good leaders and team effectiveness went hand in hand.  Maybe the leader made the team, maybe the team made the leader.  I’m sure I’ve seen examples of both, where good leadership was the driving force and where good followership was the cause.

A valid conclusion is that both leadership and followership matter.  And that in combination is unbeatable.  Followership also matters because even the most senior leader is also a follower.  They report to someone.

We read and hear a lot about leadership but despite the efforts of some notable pioneers (Robert Kelley being my favourite) there is still little being written and said about followership. 

Robert Kelley, way back in the late 1980s presented a two-dimensional assessment of followership.  On one axis was where the individual lay on a dependence – independence thinking scale.  On the second axis was where the individual lay on a passive – active behaviour scale. 

Followers who are dependent and passive require constant supervision and show low engagement, often referred to as “sheep.” Those who are dependent but active enthusiastically follow instructions without independent thought, known as “yes people.” “Alienated” followers are independent thinkers but passive, often critical of the organisation without taking proactive steps.

Kelley identified “effective followers” as those who are both independent and active. They think for themselves, bring positive energy, and offer constructive criticism.

Building on Kelley’s work, I’d add another two dimensions to the work done by Kelley.  Both relate to how followers respond to their environment.  First, is an intolerant – tolerant scale.  That is, the level of tolerance for the behaviours and actions of others, the team leader, team members, their customers, and suppliers.  In my somewhat arrogant youth, I learnt the hard way that just because not every decision and not every action was understandable by me didn’t make it the wrong thing to do.  Good followers accept this and move on.

Second is an individual’s belief in their own ability to influence an outcome.  The level to which a follower sees their contribution as unimpactful versus impactful. By impactful I mean that the actions taken or not taken matter.  Good followers can see that there is a consequence to their behaviours.

As the British Army, a rare example of an organisation that has an explicit doctrine of followership, puts it, “To follow effectively…is a choice.”

So, what choices are available to you?  I’d suggest a few.  Leave your ego at the door.  Revel in and being part of a team’s success, rather than your own glory.  Second, be patient.  You may not always agree with your leader’s approach but if we don’t allow them to achieve their outcome how can you judge them?  Finally, being an effective follower enhances your influence and contribution to the team’s success, and through that, your success. 

A final thought.  You’ve no doubt heard “people don’t leave bad companies; they leave bad bosses”.  Often true.  But I’d add another, “people leave bad peers”.  Good followership enhances retention of good talent.


Kevin Wallace
Stoke Consulting

Kevin guides business leaders through their toughest challenges to achieve their goals.  With a deep understanding of organisational issues and a broad business knowledge base, Kevin is a valuable external asset to any team. His talent for deep listening helps him uncover root causes and develop tailored solutions. Kevin thrives on complexity and brings proven concepts, applied experience, and personalisation to every project.