Monday, 31 July 2017

Desirable Follower and Leader Characteristics

As followers, we can give a lot of our power to leaders, expecting them to do the right thing, while forgetting that we too are a part of that relationship. We need to also take responsibility ourselves for creating and maintaining a partnership with our leader, based on what is good for us, as well as the team. We can remind our leaders that it is our collective job to build engagement, and to remind them that we are not passive sheep who simply do what we are told.

Followers have characteristics in common with leaders, so we need to work on some of the same skills.

There has been a lot of research which tells us what followers expect of leaders: "to be honest, forward-thinking, inspiring, and competent" (Daft, 2008, p. 209). Why? We want our leaders to be trustworthy, and they cannot be trustworthy unless they are honest with us and themselves. We want our leaders to be able to show us the way forward with a clear vision for our collective future: be our standard-bearer. We want our leaders to inspire us to reach for that future by helping us visualise that vibrant future. And we want our leaders to be competent in what they do: to be as expert as they can be at leading, and at the job they are tasked with.

However, we need to remember that leaders too have expectations of followers. We too need to be trustworthy, and that means we too need to be honest. We too need to be expert at the job we are tasked with, but we also need to become as as expert at following as we want our leaders to be at leading. The two areas where we followers differ are in being collaborative, and in getting the job done: and in being dependable and conscientious in delivering that work when and how we said we would.

These two follower factors are written up as being "co-operative" and "dependable" in the US. My students over the years have felt that both those terms are too cold for New Zealand, and don't emphasise the intertwined team nature of work. Successive cohorts have warmed those terms up to "collaborative" and "dependable/conscientious". I like that shift.

So while leaders need to create "a vision and inspiring others to achieve that vision", followers need to deliver on the vision, and work well together.

It sounds so easy, doesn't it!


  • Daft, Richard L. (2008). The Leadership Experience (4th Edition). USA: Thomson South-Western.
  • Kouzes, J. M. & Posner, B. Z. (1993). Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It. USA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

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