There are thousands of books and articles on leadership. However, there are only a few books on followership. Followership, although very important in terms of management and political science, is one of the last concepts that is examined in academic fields, according to Barbara Kellerman of the Harvard John F. Kennedy School of Government.
|She has written a book on followership titled “Followership: How Followers Are Creating Change and Changing Leaders.”
In her book Kellerman asks an important question about World War II. Who is responsible for World War II and its millions of casualties? A total of 10 million people died during World War II. An ordinary person answering this question simply says, “Hitler was responsible.” This simple and ordinary answer is quite logical because Hitler was the leader of Nazi Germany.
Kellerman in her book accepts Hitler as the responsible party for all of the sorrows of war; however, he was not alone. Millions of Germans followed him. German society did not stop Hitler. In my opinion, Kellerman makes a good point. Today, even a kindergartener can easily make a judgment and say killing people is wrong, irrespective of the reason. In the 1940s, the Germans did not engage in this simple reasoning and did not stop Hitler. If Hitler’s followers had been more active in thinking, they could have stopped him.
Kellerman gives an interesting example of German women who were married to Jewish men. Jewish men were imprisoned; after a few years, their German wives demanded their freedom and organized a demonstration. Then, surprisingly, their husbands were freed. Kellerman claims that if followers act together, they can lead the leader. It is not only that the leader can pull the followers, but that the followers can also pull the leader.
Kellerman also makes an interesting categorization of followers. According to her theory, there are five categories: isolates, bystanders, participants, activists and diehards.
The isolates are not interested in politics or what is happening in the world. They just pay attention to their private lives. They might be homeless or very rich. Their common characteristic is that they don’t pay attention to the acts of management or government. They unconsciously obey. When I say management, I mean the management of a company or a nonprofit organization.
The bystanders are very similar to the isolates. They are interested in the government or the management, but they prefer to observe what is happening. They make no effort to intervene or influence events. The participants, as their name implies, “participate.” This participation means open support to management or government.
The activists are more active than the participants. In order to achieve their aim, activists, as their name implies, go into action. They might organize demonstrations or write thousands of letters, etc.
The diehards are adamant, stubborn people who are ready to die for their leader’s mission without question. Kellerman claims that this is the most dangerous type of follower.
According to her, the most valuable group of followers is the group that questions and challenges the leader’s assumptions. In this way followers do not become stupid robots of leaders.
In the last chapters of her book, Kellerman emphasizes the importance of ethics in followership. Followers should follow one leader if his aims are good and ethical. Otherwise, they should abandon him.