Thursday, June 19, 2008

Models of followership - a problem with the models

In this the first of a small series of blogs about models of followership I want to give an overview of the current models and examine the whole concept of followership from a number of different perspectives.
However I will start by criticising and arguing against the whole concept of followership! It might sound a little odd to start a series by knocking the whole concept, however I do think that it is important to be honest about my own personal arguments about followership.

The biggest criticism I have about talking about followership is that it can codefy the positions of leadership and followership. By this I mean that the concept is often introduced in organisations as a means to control people, to make them good followers, to ensure that they don't challenge or criticise the leaders - 'now run along and be a good and loyal follower', 'do as I say'. By codifying followership as a loyal activity usually means that leaders are fixed in their role as well. Someone is paid to lead and everyone else follows. Leaders lead and followers follow.

However from my own research it is often the case that (especially in crises situations) that leaders rise up in times of difficulty from the ranks. Frequently someone who is a good leader in one set of situations are not necessarily the best leaders when conditions change.
Really great leaders recognise that different times require different modes of leadership and often requires different people to take the lead. Generative or mode four leaders are great when fast change is required. However if the situation needs some stability more technical or co-operative (mode one and two) leaders tend to excel. It is rare that one person is good in all situations. There are a few multi-modal leaders around however most aren't and tend to excel in one or two types of situation. (Which is why we focus on developing leaders that can work across situations and when necessary know when to step aside). The interesting thing is that mode four leaders who aren't multi-modal themselves will engage other people to take the lead when necessary. Mode one leaders particularly tend not to notice that conditions have changed and that their thinking is out of date. Other leaders (Modes 1-3) will hardly ever hand leadership over to anyone else, for a variety of reasons.

So the criticism I have of many of the models of followership (and indeed many leadership models) is that they tend to assume that leaders should be leaders regardless of the circumstances. My view is that in certain situations most leaders would serve their organisations better by recognising their own situations of strength and moving aside when someone else would be better in a particular set of circumstances. Ego often gets in the way, which is why only mode four leaders tend to do this. I am arguing her for a model of shifting followership, not static like most of the models I will review here assume.

In a resilient organisation leadership will shift, followers will challenge and help to build stronger leadership. Some followers will lead and influence at times. The lines between leadership and followership should be flexible and fluid depending on what is best for the current situation. At other times the delineation will be clearer and better defined.
An example from my own past, as a senior police officer during briefings and debriefing, planning and normal day to day work I needed challenge and at times leading by others. However on certain operations, once the plan was agreed and was in action, operationally people did what they were told. They could criticise later. However even this rule was fluid if someone (a follower) noticed something (going wrong or new information) that wasn't part of the plan. Then they were expected to tell me and help with a solution. We discussed this often. People were part of the leadership / followership thinking. They and I discussed and knew when to flick into following, when to partner and when they (or I) needed to take the lead.
These are issues to be considered as we discuss models of followership - in reality the seperation between leader and follower is not always as well defined as many assume it to be, and in my opinion a resilient organisation would not want such a hard delineation and would prefer a more complex relationship to exist and be recognised.

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