Implicit followership theory – S18.1

One critique of leadership studies has been that followers are receiving inadequate attention, both as research subjects and as complex active participants in the leadership process. In response to this critique, a few scholars have attempted to carry out more follower-centric studies of leadership, sometimes referred to as followership studies.

In a recently published article (Leadership 2018, 14(1): 3-24), Jackie Ford and Nancy Harding suggest that leadership theories developed from the perspective of the followers all contain one tragic flaw. They are based on an implicit theory of followership that assumes leaders and followers serve a common purpose, and followers are for the most part passive and helpless conformers, in need of persuasion or coercion in order to take action.

Implicit theories are those we take for granted, but are often unable to fully articulate. We develop them almost unconsciously throughout our early lives, from our families, our teachers, the television shows and movies we watch, current events, and many other aspects of our culture.

Ford and Harding explore three influential approaches to leadership, in order to determine if and how the ways in which followership is conceptualized in the end serve to undermine the very theories being proposed.

Bass and Steidlmeier advocate for something they call authentic transformational leadership, whereby leaders influence followers to undergo a personal transformation through which they take on the characteristics of the leader, thus in a sense becoming leaders themselves. They differentiate between authentic and pseudo-authentic leaders based on the presence or absence of a moral foundation (whatever that might mean), but how is a follower to determine whether in fact a leader possesses that moral foundation, or is merely acting as if they do? This approach assumes that followers are empty vessels waiting to be filled by the leader, but if the leader is successful then there will no longer be any followers and hence no need for a leader.

Gronn wants to eliminate the dichotomy between leader and follower, advocating for a notion of distributed leadership in which everyone works together to carry out an organizations mission. In this approach leadership becomes a product of cooperative action, rather than an input. So, beyond eliminating the roles of leader and follower, is there still a need for a concept of leadership if it is only recognized after the fact? Further, the approach is based on the assumption that everyone in the organization shares a common vision and is willing and able to work together – a sort of state of perpetual happiness and positivity. If leadership is distributed, then to be a follower would mean that one has chosen not to participate, thereby positioning oneself as negative and destructive to the environment.

Robert Greenleaf’s theory of servant leadership retains the roles of leader and follower, but also introduces the idea of the servant, who in many ways is the genuine leader, without any reference to their position in the organization. Servants are able to respond to the needs of an organization, because they are somehow capable of moving beyond the flawed attitudes and behavior of others, to offer what is really needed to benefit the collective. These rare individuals have no desire to lead, or to be given credit. They are somehow morally superior to the unsophisticated and brutish masses around them. If the need arises they simply feel obligated to respond.

While there is much more that could be said about the three approaches, Ford and Harding suggest that they all fail to move beyond the power differential set up in traditional leadership theories in which the leader is in some way superior to, and therefore has influence over, the followers. Followers come across as fundamentally bad, or at least empty, waiting to be filled, corrected, and oriented by the leader. No attempt to alter terminology, eliminate followers, or eliminate leaders, manages to escape the bonds of this implicit theory of followership.


About Robert A. Campbell, PhD

Robert A. Campbell, PhD, teaches courses in change management, leadership, and organizational behavior, as part of the MBA program in community economic development, for the Shannon School of Business at Cape Breton University.
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56 Responses to Implicit followership theory – S18.1

  1. Shengjing Wu( Silverdew) 20140381 says:

    After I look through this article, I got new knowledge of leadership. I agree with the implicit theory of followership that claims leaders and followers have the same purpose, but most of the followers are passive and helpless so that they need to have a person to convince them to take action. In the real world, many of us may have the same purpose, for example, against the war, however, we are hard to see many of us would like to stand up to do something for stoping it, such as Syria’s war…, if there have some countries leaders stand up and to against it, I believe there will have more countries will follow the step to protect peace.

    In contrast,i am not really understand the explanation that Bass and Steidlmeier mentioned. They assume that “ followers are empty vessels waiting to be filled by the leader, but if the leader is successful then there will no longer be any followers and hence no need for a leader”. Could you please talk about it in our Monday’s class? Thanks.

    • Han Cao (Augustine) says:

      I agree that followers need a person to convince them to take actions. Those followers can be passive and helpless, but this situation seems to last only for a short time. In other words, once the leader comes to inspire them, those followers can be active. Therefore, like what you mentioned, most followers do not necessarily need “help”, instead, they might need a person to provide inspiration or direction to them.

  2. Sultan Ali Sadat 20174418 says:

    Shengjing Wu, It is very nice of you to think that many of us are having the same purpose or value …. against the war.
    War starts when people have no longer see the same value, they see things from different perspective. There are governments and companies around the world that do not want peace. they want a perpetual war to allow them to sell their military goods and services.

    on your second point, “ followers are empty vessels waiting to be filled by the leader, but if the leader is successful then there will no longer be any followers and hence no need for a leader” I believe Bass and Steidlmeier are stating that if a leader do their job well the follower will become a leader and learn the skills that are needed to be a leader. therefore once the follower becomes a leader, there is no need for a follower or a leader.

    • Fengyu He says:

      I very much agree with your answer to “when the leader is successful, there will be no need for followers.” I believe that after the leaders succeed, they will delivery their skills, knowledge and methods to these followers. And the delivery of this kind of education will become a key point to help followers become leaders. This explains that leadership is their product when followers are unable to complete their work. So the leader filled the gap. However, when leaders succeed, they do not need followers.

      • Fengyu He 20162979 says:

        I very much agree with your answer to “when the leader is successful, there will be no need for followers.” I believe that after the leaders succeed, they will delivery their skills, knowledge and methods to these followers. And the delivery of this kind of education will become a key point to help followers become leaders. This explains that leadership is their product when followers are unable to complete their work. So the leader filled the gap. However, when leaders succeed, they do not need followers.

      • Sultan Ali Sadat 20174418 says:

        I believe there is always a need for a leader and there always be followers and sometimes you have individuals who love to do nothing but follow.

        One generation train the next generation, a teacher teach a class of students, a master teaches a group of disciples, these are leaders in action. They are training the new followers and this notion will continue forever.

    • Shengjing Wu( Silverdew) 20140381 says:

      yes, I also agree with your point that there are many businessmen does not want peace and want the war. This is the thing that Donald Trump did for the world! Starting the trade war for getting his own benefit, but I question that ” does he really win?” I doubt his moral ethic. Also, I believe if the leader does not have mercy and only chase their own benefit, they will lose the support of its follower eventually.

  3. Edmond Michaud 20152558 says:

    I think it is not useful to try and define followership, which is a concept mandatorily linked to leadership, if leadership has not been well defined in the first place. The question to ask is whether leadership can be defined or not. And by that, researchers could and should ask what exactly they are trying to describe and designate, when they think of leadership: how results ended to be positive; how people accepted to act in line with an agreed orientation; how organizational objectives materialize; how some people found a solution to an organizational problem; how people recognized changing elements in their environment, and reacted to those changes to save the existence or performance of their organization or community, to name a few. If we bundle one, several or all of these situations in one concept, and identify it as leadership, we make an arbitrary judgement and we are left courting peers to accept our original match between the word leadership and our original selection of situations.

    In popular terms, most people would agree that leadership entails influencing other people and, by that, getting things done (in line with a shared objective). The problem is that we still have not found evidence that influencing people is the criteria that actually gets things done (in line with a shared objective). My conclusion is that researchers should look deeper into what actually gets things done (in line with a shared objective), besides, outside, and in spite of one or many people influencing others. We simply don’t know yet what that could be.

    • Karla Winham says:

      Wow, Edmond, I think you nailed it. “The question is to ask whether leadership can be defined or not.” Getting things done seems to be the heart of it. If nothing gets done, what’s the point?! Leadership gets things done. How? I guess that’s what the researchers have to figure out.

    • Shengjing Wu( Silverdew) 20140381 says:

      I really like your analysis that if the leadership has not been well defined, defining the followership is useless. Of course, leaders will influence their follower in different elements and they has close interaction, but I do not think change the research direction will be the better way to understand the leadership.

  4. Fengyu He says:

    In my opinion, most articles use leadership as a starting point but ignore followers. Followership can help us solve problems from another view point. We need to develop leadership by analyzing the characteristics and talents of each follower. This kind of leadership can be even stronger. We cannot ignore the existence of followers because leadership is made up of two parts: leadership and followership.
    For example, for every leader, how to motivate followers is the most important. Some followers are eager for success, and some followers just want to get rewards. The leadership assigned to these two followers is also different.
    So I don’t quite agree that the leadership in the article is a product rather than an investment.I believe that only the initial input of leadership can successfully influence followers.

    • Huanran Zhang 20174356 says:

      I agree with your point. Followership is also an important element of leadership. Followership can reflect some characteristics of leadership and influence of leaders .We should not ignore it. We should try to understand the problem from the perspective of followership. If you can get a better understanding of the needs of your followers, you can get a better understanding of leadership.

    • Mingxuan Ma 20180981 says:

      Yes, leadership is an investment which needs a long-term development. leaders need to pay more attention to the followers. Followers can provide essential reflects that guide the leader to the right direction

  5. Fengyu He 20162979 says:

    In my opinion, most articles use leadership as a starting point but ignore followers. Followership can help us solve problems from another view point. We need to develop leadership by analyzing the characteristics and talents of each follower. This kind of leadership can be even stronger. We cannot ignore the existence of followers because leadership is made up of two parts: leadership and followership.
    For example, for every leader, how to motivate followers is the most important. Some followers are eager for success, and some followers just want to get rewards. The leadership assigned to these two followers is also different.
    So I don’t quite agree that the leadership in the article is a product rather than an investment.I believe that only the initial input of leadership can successfully influence followers.

    • Xiaoyu Yuan (Leo) 20173133 says:

      I agree with you about the opinion that the leadership assigned to different followers should be also different. In the real business world, different followers have different interests. Some followers want more salary while others focus more on the career. Based on this circumstance, use suitable leadership strategy can improve the effectiveness of the operation of the organization. Followership can be motivated and more followers will participate in the operation.
      For example, if a follower focuses more on the career instead of rewards, we could motivate them by providing opportunities for studies or seminars. They could learn more from these activities. In this way, followership will generate more positive impact on leadership.

    • Parvin Tasharofi says:

      Fengyu, I believe the concept of management with leadership has been mixed up in this theory, but if we consider the higher rank in any organization as the leader, then Yes, I agree with your point that the follower-ship has been undermined in the whole concept of leadership. Both leaders and followers have the ability to create and develop skills by training and can interchangeably play roles. Implicit leaders are the bi product of the people who they lead. A consistent leadership can’t be guaranteed unless followers are engaged and recognized in the circle of leadership process.

    • Yi Fang 20174318 says:

      I agree with your comment that followers are important as well when we talk about leadership. Leaders cannot show their leadership without followers. I believe that followers have their goals to follow leaders, so how to help followers to achieve their goals is significant between leaders and followers.

  6. Xiaoyu Yuan (Leo) 20173133 says:

    I personally think that the followership has a positive effect on the effectiveness of the leadership. Followership and leadership are interactive.

    Firstly, the followership can be defined as the ability to effectively execute the leader’s instructions and support the leader’s work. Its goal is to maximize organizational goals. In other words, followership refers to the interaction between superiors and subordinates.

    Second, the psychological state of the followers affects their perception of the type of leadership and the degree of like or dislike of leadership. From this perspective, the leaders are affected by the cognitive process of the followers and the social impact process between the followers. The followers have constructed the leadership to some extent.

    Finally, the leadership can also have a reaction to the followership. Followership is also influenced by leadership behavior and style. Under the dictatorial leadership, followers are often forced to follow, and it results in a fragile subordinate relationship. Sharing mutual benefits between team members in a leadership style encourages full participation and develops the potential of followers through empowerment and sharing goals.

    In short, the organic integration of the two can promote the improvement of leadership effectiveness. The improvement of followership depends on the improvement of leadership style, and the improvement of followership will inevitably lead to the continuous improvement of leadership effectiveness.

    • Karla Winham says:

      I completely agree with your statement that followership and leadership are interactive. In fact, I don’t believe they can be looked at separately at all.
      I’m especially intrigued by your comment that “the followers have constructed the leadership to some extent”. This is a fascinating idea. It makes sense though, because leadership can’t be called leadership at all until there are followers, can it?…. I’m not sure yet where my thoughts are going with that concept, but I think you’re onto something here!

  7. Huanran Zhang 20174356 says:

    Leadership is a general concept. In the study of leadership, people always ignore followership studies. In my opinion, the followership is an important part of leadership theory. Some conclusions about leadership can be reflected in followership. Compare the ideas in this text, the followers mentioned in this article is not necessarily persuaded by the leader or forced to take action. A good leader is like a magnet to attract people around, and it will also affect followers positive work. I don’t agree with Bass and Steidlmeier idea that “followers are empty vessels to be filled by the leader” I think that a loyal follower will give great help to leaders. Leaders can affect followers, and the followers can influence leaders as well.

    • Xiwen Liang (20162800) says:

      Leaders and followers are symbiotic relationships, like what you stressed, and good followers make good leaders. Good followers will actively support good leaders (with good leadership and integrity) and actively oppose bad leaders (with poor leadership and integrity). Good followers invest time and energy, and reason about who their leaders are? What does the leader stand for? Then, take the right action.
      So followers are not empty.
      On the contrary, I think followers are “full” — they have abilities and ideas, just in a state that needs to be discovered. In the process of leadership practice, the shackles of ability are gradually opened. Then create value under the guidance of a certain value or goal.
      So I don’t understand and I don’t agree that “followers come across as fundamentally bad, or at least empty, waiting to be filled, corrected, and oriented by the leader.”

  8. Karla Winham says:

    I have two main thoughts in response to this article:

    First, labelling some people as leaders and others as followers assumes that these are static identities that are oriented towards the same goals. In other words, one person is always the leader, while others are always the followers, and they are all trying to achieve the same thing. In reality, I think that the states of leadership/followership are always in flux – I might provide leadership to those around me in some situations where I am more competent/confident/creative, but be perfectly happy to follow someone else in other situations that are not as suited to my abilities. Furthermore, just because I’m following someone doesn’t mean I care at all about achieving their goals. I might have my own completely unrelated reasons for cooperating.

    My second thought is that studying leadership and followership as distinct identities just serves to further separate them. The more we look at what defines leadership, the more it becomes glorified as some elevated state of being. And the more we try to define the characteristics of followership, the more we see it as an undesirable state. The implicit theory that Ford & Harding have highlighted is that the followers in leadership studies are unintentionally perceived as inherently “less-than”. I think the only way to avoid this is to study leadership/followership as the dynamic relationship that it is. (Or to put it another way – give up on the “leadership” unicorn completely and just study what does & doesn’t make people cooperate with one another.)

    • Tiara Dhenin says:

      I agree with your observation that it makes more sense to study the dynamic relationship between leaders and followers. The more I consider this, does it fit into Gronn’s theory about distributed leadership as a product of cooperative action? If it does, then I disagree with his point that everyone necessarily shares a common vision or goal, except perhaps to support the mission or vision of the organization (hopefully). Even then, there’s always discrepancies between people about exactly how to achieve the mission, goals, etc. I don’t think someone should be considered as destructive to the environment if they don’t participate – perhaps they have their own opinion about how to accomplish something. A healthy debate is great for innovation! The specifics on the shared vision aspect aren’t very clear in this theory, which creates some wiggle room for debate about its application.

    • Sherma Boudreau 20174186 says:

      To your second point Karla, I see followership categorized as a “behind the leader” type of backseat approach. However, without good followership, there wouldn’t be good leadership! Poor ethics, and distraction from goals can set a domino effect for failure. Many good followers are good workers, most have good work ethic and are the foundation of any organization, or the glue that hold the organization together.

    • Parvin Tasharofi says:

      Karla, In response to your second thought, I agree that followership and leadership are the two-distinctive entities that should be investigated on their own, but individually they can’t fulfill their meanings, if not reviewed in dynamic relationship. Even though the idea of leadership still under construction and ambiguous, but it plays an important role in forming groups for a team work environment where individualism is discouraged to ensure certainty and managing risks.

  9. Xiwen Liang (20162800) says:

    I don’t understand Gronn’s theory.

    Distributed leadership refers to everyone works together to carry out an organizations mission. It is equivalent to a shared, collective and expanded leadership practices that build capacity for change and improvement. Each member has the potential to contribute wisdom (in action or in thought), and each idea can evolve into a goal or direction.

    Distributed leadership emphasizes “interdependent interaction and practice rather than individual and independent actions related to formal leadership roles or responsibilities (Harris, 2014).” Therefore, “Leadership becomes a product of cooperative action, rather than an input.”

    Since distributed leadership comes from the interaction and practice of followers, why is it that followers are ultimately defined as “negative and destructive to the environment?”

    Source: Alma Harris, 29 Sept. 2014. Teacher. Retrieved from

    • Sarah O'Toole says:

      Xiwen, I found this the most interesting of the theories discussed. To your last point, I am curious about the role that neutrality can play in this dynamic – especially the presence of a number of neutral members of the organization. If not neutral as I imagine them, then I would be curious to explore further, the role that these ‘negative and destructive’ followers might have upon the forces/elements of leadership, Are they actually destructive or might they serve to galvanize the energy and focus of the ‘distributed leadership’?

    • Sultan Ali Sadat 20174418 says:

      Xiwen Liang
      To way I understood, Peter Gronn has a good vision for the world with no one leader but full of leaders.
      Build capacity to tap into the members hidden potential to improve and contribute their wisdom. A world that everyone is trained to be a leader. they all have the same knowledge, skills, and training that is needed to allow them to contribute as an equal member to the group.

      • Mary Emma MacNeil says:

        Sultan, I agree that this is Gronn’s approach. Although on the outside he presents his theory differently, I think within it the traditional leadership framework still exists. The idea that everyone is a leader… what does that mean for people who have no interest in leading? To echo Dr. Campbell, “if everyone is a leader, no one is a leader”. Everyone has the potential to be a leader- but how do we recognize that without casting a negative shadow on those individuals who choose not to lead? Even with Gronn’s approach we still end up classifying certain people as more capable/competent leaders than others (because they either choose to engage or don’t), and I’m not sure how you get away from that.

  10. Tiara Dhenin says:

    I agree with Nancy and Ford that there are and will continue to be flaws in followership studies. Whether studying leaders or followers, I’ve noticed there’s a tendency to oversimplify human nature. Simply put, people are complex. From an anthropological point of view, I don’t think it’s possible to narrow down a particular set of reasons for why someone follows another without understanding their culture, upbringing, life experiences, etc. Even then, circumstances change. Based on these fluctuations, followership studies as a movement seems most likely to disregard social contexts and as such, can only make assumptions about people’s individual motivations.

    That being said, I do think it’s possible and important to observe the situational circumstances that bring people together to accomplish something effectively and cooperatively. However, I don’t think this process needs to be observed through the grandiose lens of leadership/followership theories because if we continue to categorize people as leaders or followers, then we assume that someone is either one or the other when, in my opinion, this dynamic fluctuates depending on the context. My conclusion is that leadership theories are too narrow to capture these kinds of nuances and so followership studies, couched in a similar conceptual framework, will inevitably follow suit.

    • Edmond Michaud 20152558 says:

      Hey Tiara, your comment made me re-read the whole thing and change my perception! I now think that Nancy and Ford are wrong about the servant leadership theory (from Greenleaf). I think this theory does not present itself with the “tragic flaw of the implicit theory of followership that assumes leaders and followers serve a common purpose, and followers are for the most part passive and helpless conformers, in need of persuasion or coercion in order to take action.” Here’s my argument. I think we can all agree on the point that Nancy and Ford are making: the dynamics created when putting leaders and followers in the same room, (to solve problem or bring about positive change), are full of undesirable attitudes and behaviors, to the eyes of both the leaders and the followers in the room, and to the eyes of outside observers as well. But Greenleaf is getting out of that dynamic, when he introduces the role of servant, because that role can come from anyone in the room, leaders or followers. The person jumping in a servant shoes is a very temporary jump, but long enough to enter some kind of attitude that prioritizes the collective or organizational good, over their usual position as either follower or leader. Greenleaf states that these persons, while they wear those servant shoes temporarily, “are somehow morally superior to the unsophisticated and brutish masses around them.” This sounds haughty and boastful, but since it is a very temporary role, to be taken by anyone, then it means that those persons, after their brief moment of insight, simply return to their brutish and unsophisticated attitude or behavior! If I am not mistaking, this is in line with your statement that humans are complex. I like to think that people, everyone, anyone, can have their brief moments of insight, and their moments of brutishness too. Not because I enjoy brutishness, but because it relieves the pressure of anyone to be adequate in all situations at all times. It is simply impossible, too big of a task, illusory, and most probably a source of anxiety, and mistakes, for either leaders or followers to try to be perfect. Additionally, this servant theory also gives the opportunity for anyone to have insight, regardless of position, disposition, temper, culture, background, experience. Temporarily being in a “servant’s shoes” simply means to feel obligated to respond if the need arises, regardless of hierarchical dynamics, and in a very brief, unconscious move out of the dynamics of leaders vs followers. That’s how I understand Greenleaf, and that’s why I think Nancy and Ford are wrong about his theory. Even if he talks of leaders and followers, his introduction of the temporary servant role makes the implicit followership theory inapplicable to those brief moments of lucidity. What do you think?

      • Karla Winham says:

        “Brief moments of lucidity” – I like that. I think that perfectly sums up my (current) understanding of leadership. It’s something that happens, and it can be fleeting and can shift from one person to another.

        My only gripe with the concept of servant-leadership is that I really believe serving is something we ALL should strive to do with the skills we’ve been given. Some will only ever follow as they serve, and that’s ok. Those who have ambition to rise through the ranks of management into authority positions should study management, and use what they’ve learned to serve as managers. If they stay open to what’s going on around them and keep the big picture in mind, they MIGHT experience those brief moments of leadership. But no one can be counted on to consistently demonstrate leadership, no matter how well they serve, and I think calling someone a servant-leader sets up a discouraging, unattainable expectation. Let’s all just be servants, and leadership might happen! (I think I’m saying the same thing as you, Edmond, just in a different way. I really like the concept of servanthood, I just get concerned that combining it with “leadership” makes it into just another thing that people try to do to get ahead – which completely negates the spirit of it.)

        Perhaps the best leadership behaviour is when people learn to recognize when those lucid moments are happening in others, and help pave the way for them to continue.

      • Tiara Dhenin says:

        Edmond and Karla, I think you’ve both interpreted a version of servant leadership I could relate to. Interesting that this interpretation better embraces human complexity, and views followership and servant leadership more symbiotically. I especially like the idea of being able to turn the servant button on and off – something I think we all could appreciate. You’ve both flipped Nancy and Ford’s argument on its head. G’job!

  11. Sultan Ali Sadat 20174418 says:

    I found this article very deep and interesting I will briefly talk about Robert Greenleaf’s theory and the Peter Gronn’s idea.
    I agree with Robert Greenleaf’s theory in a sense that those servant leaders “are the rare individuals who have no desire to lead or to receive credits”. They do it with good-heart and for the greater good of their communities. Aren’t we all familiar with at least one servant leader? We have them in every community. Servant leaders are usually doing the work they are familiar with and are used to it. Although there is no title or credit, they still receive the intrinsic fulfillment by helping their communities in areas they can. They are not necessarily capable in terms of power or have the ability in terms of skills sets to come up with new or innovative ideas to do things differently.
    From my personal observation, I believe these points were left out of the equation.
    1. Servant leaders are mostly doing the heavy lifting, literally the physical work that others are trying to avoid.
    2. They do it out of good deed and good well for their community, they do receive a sense of fulfillment.
    3. Because they are not in a top leadership position, the society assumes that those tasks are assigned to this individual by a leader and they expect the work to be done as an assigned task.

    On Peter Gronn’s idea. Gronn’s idea is an idealistic approach to eliminate and remove the relationship between the leaders and followers by transforming all followers and make them leaders. This is easy to do it one time and that will stay for a brief period of time. I think situations give birth to a new leader or in another word, the leader emerges during situations.
    With all respect to our strength and selfishness as human beings, when the situation is not right we seek a leader to guide us at that moment. Once we are guided by an individual we get used to that notion and repeat it, again and again, we will create a new leader an

    • Karla Winham says:

      Sultan, in response to your question – yes, I have known several people I would truly call “servants”. They do whatever they do with no expectation of reward or recognition, and they are fulfilled by it. That is a wonderful characteristic, and one that I wish more of us could emulate, but I personally wouldn’t call them “servant leaders”. They generally are in the background, not specifically leading anyone, but quietly going about making their corner of the world better. They tend not to be lighting fires in anyone or sparking activity. They’re awesome people, these servants – but they’re just servants, full stop. I think the addition of the word “leadership” to the word “servant” is unnecessarily confusing. If anything, I would call these people “servant-models” – amazing examples of selflessness that we should strive to emulate… but that isn’t the same function as leadership in my mind. Does that make sense?

  12. Sarah O'Toole says:

    In these explorations of Implicit Followership Theory, the role and qualities of followers are continuously cast in negative terms – no wonder so many seek to distinguish themselves from the
    role and uncover the secrets to leadership!

    Gronn’s Distributed Leadership theory is interesting in that he attempts to disturb the power differential (that leaders are superior, have influence, etc.) leadership studies, proposing instead, that leadership is a product of cooperative action. I do think that a group may exhibit ‘leadership’ if we can begin to reimagine it as a sort of event, and not as the qualities of a single individual. The problem, Ford and Harding suggest, is that this theory assumes that all members of the organization are involved and in a common and perpetual state of happy engagement. I would ask if that assumption is entirely accurate? Could Distributed Leadership happen among SOME members, with those not engaged as neutral parties? For example, at the scene of an accident, there may be a group that is cooperating to assist in the situation (Distributing Leadership as it were) while the unengaged simply watch – not ‘following’ any leaders per se. Do Implicit Followership and Leadership studies necessarily imply a UNANIMOUS crowd of followers?

  13. Yingzhao Cai 20175313 says:

    There are some opinions about what Gronn says. What he advocates can’t be achieved. The assumption that everyone in the organization shares a common vision and is willing and able to work together is not unrealistic. There is the question that how to make the people in an organization to share a common vision and make them be willing and able to work together without leadership. Everyone’s value, interest, belief are not entirely same, they have their own goals, the role of the leadership is that how to make the organization’s goal become their common goal and make them work together. It’s no doubt that leadership can be a product of cooperative action. Leadership skill is from many management experiences. But leadership is also input. We also need the leadership to mobilize people and conduct effective organization activities.

    • Yingzhao Cai 20175313 says:

      correct: The assumption that everyone in the organization shares a common vision and is willing and able to work together is unrealistic.

    • Yunhe Li 20153186 says:

      That seemed to be unrealistic to me too, I think it is a good point to me that “leadership skill is from many management experiences” I agree with you, maybe leaders are learning and developing more leadership skills during the leading process, and they might change their leadership styles for different situations, they might learn from the past experience, they may be failed on something then they would learn to change a way on coping things, getting more effective as you mentioned.

    • Di Liu says:

      I think you are right. To some extent, they would like to work together, but it does not means they would like to share the common goal. Because they probably want to achieve their individual objectives. The meaning of leader exist in a team is to organize and distribute their interests and values to obtain their common goal. Leaders can continuously learn new things from the practice and past experience as well. Assuming that elimating the dichotomy between leader and follower, that means within a team, there is no leader and the concept of leadership will becomes a eventual product. I think they may have conflict during this process.

  14. Sherma Boudreau 20174186 says:

    In Robert Greenleaf’s theory both leaders and servants move in the direction of organizational goals. Some servants are perfectly happy to stay as is and remain as “servants” of an organization. Others may choose to prosper and grow with the aspiration to lead. My belief is that it is often better to serve first, to learn about the organization, to mentor. They grow as people, caring for a better society both in their organization and in their community. Having a shared responsibility in the leadership role. There are many instances where even servants present themselves as leaders of various projects and thereby become servant-leaders.
    Rooted in Bass and Steidlmeier’s transformational leadership theory is ethics. I believe that ethics in leadership positions are especially important to the performance and operational goals of the organization. It would be difficult to tell the ethical makeup of a leader. Influencing “followers to undergo a personal transformation through which they take on the characteristics of the leader”. That would mean an organization full of leaders and no followers. He speaks of authentic transformational meaning they have a common concern for the goals of the organization, while pseudo-authentic leaders are more opportunistic leaders. However, I do not agree with the followers being referred to as “empty vessels waiting to be filled by the leader”; which gives a visual that followers are doers of all the grinding work, the leader takes all the credit.

  15. Yunhe Li 20153186 says:

    The approach of authentic transformational leadership assumed that followers are vessels waiting to be filled by the leader, being transformed their personalities and becoming leaders themselves, hence the outcome is if the leader was successful then there won’t be any necessary of leaders, because there would not be no followers, well personally I don’t believe that anyone could be totally transformed into another one, and the outcome of being no leaders and followers in end won’t happen, there will be leaders and their followers always, no matter if the leader is a good leader or not, for example, if someone was lazy of working on things in an organization, it would be difficult to transform him into a productive staff, only if he sees benefits that he wants in turn. But the leaders influence followers for sure, motivating them as a result of setting up a model of the leader herself so followers got motivated to work on the shared goals. However, that influence is just to organize people into a direction that the leaders want to see, well to influence the followers to a personal transformation taking on the characteristics of the leader and becoming the leaders themselves is an ideal way of thinking regarding leadership but it will be almost hardly to complete that.

    • Yingzhao Cai 20175313 says:

      I think you are right. anyway, leaders and followers always exist. I don’t think there’s a leader without a follower. Leaders and followers interact with each other in different situations, so as to achieve personal and organizational goals. Leaders influence followers through leadership, and followers influence their leadership through their followership. Leaders are impellers of change, and they are constantly developing new followers. From the perspective of followers, they gradually achieve their personal goals by sharing their vision and learning skills in the process of follow up.

  16. Han Cao (Augustine) says:

    For Bass and Steidlmeier’s theory, I agree that the leaders can influence followers to achieve “personal transformations through which they take on the characteristics of the leader”, and it makes sense to me that when everyone can become a leader. However, the assumption of which “followers are empty vessels waiting to be filled by the leader” is not reasonable for my own perspective. Specifically, this assumption ignores personal efforts made by followers for “becoming leaders”. In this case, followers are not supposed to be 100% passive. In my opinion, the function of the leader is basically “to influence” or “to inspire”. In other words, the leaders are supposed to be “idols” that stimulate followers to learn or even imitate. Also, I am doubting the outcome that “there will no longer be any followers and hence no need for a leader” because I believe that everyone will not stay on a same “level” eventually. In other words, there will be always a small number of people being outstanding or going to be outstanding.

    • Zilong Zhu says:

      I am interested to your point that the leaders are supposed to be idols that stimulate followers to learn or even imitate and everyone will not stay on a some level eventually. In my opinion, the reason that most researches of leadership theories are about how to be a good leader because the process of “imitating” or “spreading values” are difficult, which once leaders and followers succeed, the assumes that this article mentioned almost are achieved.

  17. Parvin Tasharofi says:

    I agree that the implicit theories are unable to fully articulate the relationship between leaders and the followers.This theory devalues human ability to create and advance their life. I think we should look into the origin of this concept and focus on its purpose serving the business world.
    In my opinion,Capitalism has created the concept of “Leadership” to create a holistic approach where on the surface people and moral are at the center of business practices. Lately, religious representatives have lost their credibility and power to over role their followers and it seems that the business world is incapable of handing the global frustration and human cost, then the need or thirst is induced in our society. Perhaps, this created demand is the “leadership” as an alternative and as an imperative solution to salvage the total collapse of system.
    Capitalism is evolving and replacing the monetary value to something more superior so that the control of wealth remains in the hand of minority and yet responsive to human intuition. leadership could be the missing puzzle that can helps in this transition so that easily grasp the control of capital undermining human ability to live freely for another next while. The title “leadership” seems nicely fits in today’s IT world and business model. Since everything around, us sold to be “Smart”, then the concept of “leadership” is a smart word that cleverly serves the business world but run at the expenses of its followers.

    • Mary Emma MacNeil says:

      I think my personal beliefs align most closely with that of Gronn (with some exceptions). I don’t agree with the way he approaches organizational diversity. Often you do make the assumption that an individual’s personal value overlap with that of the organization of which they are employed. No, this is not always the case, but I think that organizations genuinely want and try to hire employees who are reflective of their values. When I think of instances were I saw someone demonstrating leadership, as opposed to just leading a group, aside from being the first person to act- they rarely acted alone. My point being that I see the action of leadership as a collective approach particularly within organizations. Unfortunately, the way we have conceptualized leadership has created this idea that leaders are superior, special individuals who possess skills that others must take expensive training courses to learn. This perception of leadership is what we really need to work on. Furthermore, this power imbalance created between the “leader” and the “follower” results in a negative connotation being attributed to the “follower”. When in actuality, everyone should be able to participate in any way they choose. Why isn’t there room for choice in our perception of leadership? The idea that everyone wants to be a leader is simply incorrect and when we get away from the idea that we have to categorize positive human behaviour/collective action we will be much better off.

    • Tiara Dhenin says:

      Very interesting perspective, Parvin! I do find that leadership as a practice isn’t necessarily isolated to the business world but when it is considered in this context your interpretation provides some interesting insights.

  18. Di Liu says:

    Leadership look at the horizon, setting long range goals to provide strategic direction. In this process, the role of followers are easy to ignore. Generally, leaders inspire people to follow them, challenging followers to become the best they can be. I agree with Bass and Steidlmeier’s theory, because there is no doubt that leaders are transformational, they providing purpose and meaning, building communities in terms of creating a sense of trust, confidence and belief.

    • Di Liu says:

      Add: This process can be regarded as a positive rotation. Because everyone have opportunity to become a leader. From the perspectives of Bass and Steidlmeier, they highlights “leaders influence followers to undergo a personal transformation through which they take on the characteristics of the leader, thus in a sense becoming leaders themselves. ” However, I suggest that followers can not only use moral foundation to justify the leader who is in fact a leader possess. They should look at other factors, like professional area, skills and ability. If the leader did, it definitely will be a positive rotation and it also can improve the efficviency.

  19. Tiara Dhenin says:

    My favourite YouTube video on the topic of leaderships and followers: “The Lone Nut”.
    Worth a laugh and it also raises some interesting points about followers.

  20. Yi Fang 20174318 says:

    I strongly agree that eliminating the dichotomy between leader and follower. Based upon my personly experiences, we need a leader when we assigned group work. But not every time we have a good leader in the team. So leadership comes from every group member collectives ideas and experiences to solve problems.

    • KAIYI CHEN says:

      The leadership you mentioned in group work is nominated. Since it’s hard to tell who got the capability of leadership in a short time, we lead ourselves by collective ideas. However, there can be another kind of leadership, which is elected, generated by group members. When the group member see the leader character on one person, here comes a leader.

  21. Mingxuan Ma 20180981 says:

    The flip side of leadership is followership. It stands to reason that if leadership is important to performance, followership must have something to do with it too. But curiously, followership gets only a small fraction of the airtime that leadership does. Sometimes, leaders need to observe followers, in other words, followers are the guidance of the leaders.

  22. Zilong Zhu says:

    This article focuses on how followers function in leadership, which most of followers do not recognize. Because compared to leaders, followers are naturally passive and helpless. Ford and Harding explored three ways to destroy implicit followership theory. From points of my perspectives, all of these three methods are similar theories, which all finally eliminate traditional relation between leaders and followers. Due to these theories, they need to assume an imaginary foundation. Firstly, followers are waiting to be filled by the leader, then each one shares a common vision and is willing and able to work together, finally servants are capable of responding the needs of an organization. These assumes are capable of analyzing followers being leaders with neglecting absence of competitiveness and individual differences. Followers are easy to have same values with leaders, but most of them are hard to follow what leaders do. During these long-term circle, most followers became real followers, and few of them achieve higher goals – become a leader. I love this article, it wakes followers and create more values in organization.

  23. KAIYI CHEN says:

    This article focuses on the interaction between leadership and followership. These three method of implicit followership study is to eliminate the gap between the leader and followers.
    In my opinion, leadership wakes the followership up, and the followership reflects the impact of leadership. I assumed that the followership doesn’t exist before leadership, leadership shows a goodwill in the shared value which attracts the followers. Historically, most of revolutions were launched by the leaders, then to wake up people in suffering. The followership is monitoring leadership, the follower’s behavior reflects how leadership affect the whole group. I think it’s unnecessary to eliminate the distinction between leadership and followership.
    However, leadership doesn’t mean a sense of privilege, leadership is a part of motivation to the common goal. Leadership is like a coordination, if we eliminate the traditional relationship between leader and followers, we would lose the direction in change.
    What we are trying is to balance the relationship between the leader and followers because of the distribution of power.

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