Monday, June 23, 2008

Kelly's Typology of Followership

The first model we will look at is perhaps the most widely used in the leadership / followership literature. The focus of the model are followers' behaviour and thinking characteristics. Kelly who published a book called the 'Power of followership' in 1992 proposed that followers tended (conveniently) to fit into four different behaviour types (this is a typology), each type of which are elements of two dimensions of passivity and critical engagement. In other words followers are more or less active or passive in terms of activity - (doing stuff) and more or less active or passive in terms of (critical and creative) thinking.

Looking at each quadrant in order Kelly describes their behaviour thus:

Alienated: These tend to be capable but cynical individuals. At the top left side of the Alientated quadrant, these people do little but snipe (usually with devastating results as they have the critical faculty to make valid negative comment, but actually produce little unless supervised. Alientated followers tend to be loners with influence who can get others to follow them, especially if people are scared or things are ambiguous.

Passive followers tend to be just that, uncritical and unproductive unless they are shown what to do and are actively managed. These people will tend to follow blindly and just do what they are told to do, and they will do it how they have been shown to do it and no more. They tend not to vary their working practices and don't engage with change well unless they are told exactly what to do. If these people aren't given a brief and managed they will do nothing productive, typically surfing the internet or anything else they want to do. These people often appear to have lots of time on their hands. If you give them a job they will do it and stop, waiting for the next instruction.

Conformists on the other hand tend to be 'yes' people. They will be industrious and will work hard doing what they have been told to do. These are the people who actively follow others orders without question - even if following orders right now is not the best thing to do. These are busy people who get on with 'process'.

Effective followers are those people who actively engage in work and actively engage in thinking things through. They are independent, creative and will question the leadership when they think there is a problem. These tend to be very principled people, however they tend not to work too well for more autocratic leaders who don't want feedback and challenge.

The pragmatic survivor in the centre of the matrix is the sort of person who weighs up what it is that the leader wants at any moment and will reflect whatever they think will increase their own chances of survival / enhancement. So that if they have a more autocratic leader they will flip into conformist mode. If the leader genuinely wants challenge they are capable of doing this but will first ensure that the leader really wants it rather than just saying that they want challenge. They are very flexible individuals, however they tend not to work from the basis of principles.

My comments about the model:
This can be a useful model to examine people's motivations and work ethic. More importantly it helps to open the discussion about work effort and thinking effort, autonomy and depth of thought. Autonomy, creative and critical thinking (different from being critical) are key aspects for the development and profitability any organisation. They are also the aspects that are sadly often lacking in organisations, with the culture, rules and policies of the organisation promoting control, obedience and compliance instead of crtical, creative and autonomous thinking and behaviour.

Unfortunately many leaders come to such models interested in how they can use it to manipulate people to do what they want them to do. So having this model is all very well however calling people 'effective' who challenge when the context is one where the leader can't cope with, or doesn't want challenge suggests that this is an idealised model of followership where the leadership is seen as having one set of (perfect) attributes. Indeed autocratic (mode one) leaders would quite likely see 'effective followers' as a threat and troublesome. Conformist followers however would be seen by such leaders as being the most effective from their perspective.

Given those points, the effective follower typology does usefully blur the distinction between leader and follower (see last blog posting).

The other advantage is that having identified your follower this model enables you to contruct differentiated strategies for each. On the other hand the problem with categorising people is that we can tend to then feed into the categoristaion and only see the evidence that puts a particular person in a particular category; in effect typecasting them.

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