Leadership books line bookstore shelves and continually pop up on best-seller lists. But is modern society’s fascination with leadership causing followers to miss out? What if you desire to meaningfully contribute to your organization as a follower, with no aspirations for leadership? Where’s the book for you?
Allen Hamlin Jr’s Embracing Followership: How to Thrive in a Leader-Centric Culture is this book you’ve been waiting for. In Embracing Followership, Hamlin shows how followership is itself a noble goal—and how followers of all types can make unique and valuable contributions right where they’re at.
Check out this excerpt:
“I think it’s fair to say that our very first calling is to be followers. We are born into this world subject to the authority and provision of parents or caretakers. Most of us don’t come into this life as rulers of our own little kingdoms, even if we are well into adolescence before we realize this!
As I bring my own Christian background to this journey, I notice Jesus Christ’s first invitation was often, “Follow me.” He didn’t say, “Lead me” or “Follow me so that you can lead others” or even “Follow me and I’ll reward you with leadership.” He simply said, “Follow me.” In fact, one of the founding fathers of the modern exploration of followership, Robert Kelley, notes that “major religions … are fertile grounds for examining followership.” Indeed, his own considerations turn to Christianity and the example of Jesus and his disciples.
For some people, an invitation to be a follower feels like a woeful calling to be ordinary and insignificant. As author Jim Smoke observes, “In the age of the sensational, the superb, and the extraordinary, who in their right mind wants to be ordinary? Ordinary is being in the line when everyone wants to be at the head of the line.” But we are all followers, and if we neglect to thoughtfully consider our followership, or fail to invest in helping others develop as followers, we only contribute to organizational dysfunction.
Many of our cultures are leader-centric; we have long looked at leaders as the predominant influence, believing that if we could just make the right investment in them, the trickle-down effect would be enough to guarantee good results. While there is some truth to that thought, either we haven’t succeeded in sufficiently equipping leaders, or the trickle-down effect is less significant than we supposed.
Instead, we find ourselves with crises and dysfunction that are fundamentally issues of followership (Leonard Sweet, I Am a Follower, 211). After all, followers are the largest proportion of any group; to ignore the individual and collective influence of followers is to virtually condemn our associations to disappointment and failure. And that negligence is not only on the part of the “others” who should be investing in followers. We bear the most responsibility for our own growth, development, involvement, and attitude.
I once knew a small team that was experiencing some internal difficulty. The team members and team leader were clearly not on the same page. When the conflict peaked, a team member wrote a manifesto to the leader declaring, “My preferred leadership style is total and complete autonomy.”
While this team didn’t directly affect me, I felt outraged and astonished at this perspective. This person had agreed to join the team, only to announce that he was unwilling to serve under someone else’s leadership.
Such a perspective highlights our deep need for under¬standing our role in creating an empowering group dynamic—one in which both leaders and followers are freed, encouraged, and valued. Only then can they each make their respective contributions. We must also be mindful of engaging with the right posture and motivation. We must not expect others to tell us what we need to be. And we must not hold others—leaders or fol-lowers—responsible for our own deficiencies in perspective or participation.
We may have adopted patterns and attitudes that detract from a positive and profitable group experience, and it falls to us to sort through them—weeding out any that weaken our appreciation for our role or our leaders.
So how will we make this investment? And how will we encourage other followers to reach a new level of satisfaction and effectiveness?
We turn first to reshaping our own paradigms concerning followership as we address some of the misconceptions about what it means to be a follower…”