What Followership Isn't

“No followers; no leaders.”

That was the point of my last blog post. While it might be true “everything rises and falls on leadership,” it is incomplete. I’m not saying it’s untrue because actually do believe this to be true, but “no followers; no leaders” is also true. I believe everything rises and falls on leadership and followership.

The idea of followership is not a new concept. It’s as old as history going back to the first humans. However, followership is a relatively new field of exploration within leadership arenas today that has largely been unexplored at best, written-off completely at worst. Take a moment to open up a new tab in your internet browser. Do a quick survey of building names on our nation’s university campuses. What do you notice?

Here’s what I see:

  • Staley School of Leadership Studies at Kansas State University
  • Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, UVA
  • Harvard Graduate School Leadership Institute
  • Graduate School of Leadership and Formation, Evangel Seminary
  • DBU Gary Cook School of Leadership, Dallas Baptist Univ.

You got it.

Leaders, professors, donors, consultants, CEO’s, business owners, civil servants, and ministers alike are all abuzz about leadership. And they should be. Leadership is important. And I would argue so is followership. A Google search of “school of followership” will yield you zero results in 0.88 seconds. No one these days is naming buildings for generous donors with followership attached. You won’t find the “Fill In The Blank Graduate School of Followership” anywhere.

So, why not?

I could waste all kinds of time speculating, but the bottom line is: history has been on the side of leaders and leadership. Gwen Moran communicates this sentiment well, "The relationship between leaders and followers seems pretty straightforward: Leaders lead. Followers follow." Nobody wants to be known as a follower. Everybody wants to be a leader. Even if you don't consider yourself a leader, but you have a position, title, or authority as a leader, you want to lead well, and you probably wouldn't consider yourself a follower. 

I believe followership has been given a bad reputation and is in need of redemption today. The reality is we're all followers in some areas of our lives. In my vocation I'm a leader as a pastor who oversees ministries and equips people for the work of ministry, but I'm also a follower because I'm not the lead pastor and more importantly I'm a follower of Jesus. And this may be the case for you too. So we're all followers in some aspects of our lives. Before we talk about what makes for a creative follower, it would be helpful to highlight what a follower is not. 

A follower isn't:

  • mindless
  • a slave to boss around
  • a drone to control or tell what to do
  • a soldier to bark orders at
  • a permission seeker
  • necessarily subordinate
  • a "yes" man or "yes" woman
  • someone who "likes" you or "follows" you on social media

That's my short list of what a follower isn't. What would you add to the list?