“Neither a follower nor subordinate be.”

Not exactly Polonius’ advice to his son. [Hamlet, Act I, scene 3, 75-77], but it’s close to the current philosophy. In fact, no one ever advises someone to be a good follower, at least in this country.  How many high school or university valedictorians have your heard who praise the virtues of followership?

God forbid!  We are the future leaders of yada-yada-yada.

According to popular belief, it’s leadership that counts.  It’s also a popular belief that if you’re a follower, you’re also a slacker.  This is a good example: http://www.inspirationalarchive.com/1505/leaders-vs-followers/

● When leaders makes mistakes, they say, “I was wrong.”
When followers make mistakes, they say, “It wasn’t my fault.”

● Leaders work harder than followers, and have more time.
Followers are always “too busy” to do what is necessary.

● Leader make and keep commitments.
Followers make promises and forget them.

I’ll spare you the rest.  I found this insulting to the many hard workers who get the job done.  The article really made me mad and inspired me to write this blog.  While I assume the article was intended to be inspirational, it couldn’t be further from the truth.

You Can’t Lead If No One Follows.

I got myself in hot water when I was Planning Director for Fresno County over that statement.  The County wanted certain policies that affected all the incorporated cities within the county, and the cities were opposed. At public hearing before the Board of Supervisors, one of the supervisors was going on and on about how the County had always been the leader in these matters.  I open my big mouth and rebutted that I’d always understood that to be a leader, someone had to be following, and in this case, no one was.

Well, this man was not happy with me, but afterward he showed me a great deal more respect, even though he did refer to the Planning Department’s recommendations as “sophistic.”

 What is Leadership?

Joseph Rost, one of the foremost thinkers in the leadership field today says leadership is “an influence relationship among leaders and followers who intend real changes that reflect their mutual purposes.”

By this, he means that the essence of leadership lies in the process of influencing; that leadership is a process — not a person, not personality traits, not the behaviors — but a process that leaders and followers engage in together.  Without influence no one can exercise leadership.

The process of influencing can’t occur without interactive relationships between people that make that influence possible.  Influence relationships are mutual, reciprocal and multi-directional.  In other words, followers influence leaders, leaders influence followers, and peers influence each other.

An article on changingminds.org characterizes the relationship as “the leader-follower dance”.  It takes both parties, and it is the choice of both…a balance of give and take, influence and motivation.  It achieves strategic and practical goals through professionally social means.  And it’s one of the highest arts of changing minds.

Are Leaders Born, Not Made?

According to psychologist Richard D. Arvey, the scientific studies his researchers conducted “support the idea that leadership can be rooted in an individual’s nature and a built-in drive to lead comes in the form of genes passed on from parents.”  He also points out that there is no “leadership” gene.  Hundred of genes interact with a great deal of complexity to produce the biological tendency to want to wear the crown.  One of the conclusions of the study is that about a third of the tendency to desire to lead is genetic.

That leaves two thirds of the “drive to lead” up to the individual’s environment, their upbringing, education, and life experience.

How You Follow Determines How You Will Lead

Dr. Bret L. Simmons [College of Business, University of Nevada] has some keen insights into leadership.  Since most people have the opportunity to follow and to lead, even at the same time [but in different way or on different tasks], how a person follows will determine how that same person will lead.

Dr. Simmons says you have to learn to be a good follower in order to be a good leader.

● “If you wait to be told, do it and then stop, or criticize and complain, and don’t do what you’re supposed to do, you’ll never be a leader”

● “If you give 110% and do your job well but never challenge or make suggestions, you’ll probably become a leader but you will lead in the same manner: i.e. not appreciate suggestions and challenges as opportunities to improve the project/project.”

● “If you give 100%, do a good job, look for ways to make the project better, are willing to look for what you can do right now to help, and challenge and make suggestions for ways to improve,” you will not only become a leader but a good one.

So, the bottom line is that individuals are not just followers or leaders.  They can be, and probably will be, both.  So learn to be a good follower so you can be a good leader, too.

Followers Choose To Follow

Leadership is not a supervisor/subordinate relationship.  Sure, as a manager or supervisor you can be a good leader, but just because you’re in that position and others have to do what you tell them, does not make you a leader.

Ask yourself the question, “Why do people follow leaders?”  People don’t choose to follow just anyone.  Even on the job, where you are required to do what your supervisor says, you make the decision [consciously or unconsciously] whether or not you are going to be the follower in the Inspirational Archive article I began with, or to become a real follower.

Research indicated these are the basic reasons why people will follow one individual and not another:

● Faith in the leader

● Intellectual agreement

● Buying into the vision/the solution

● Respect and mutual support

Are there leadership roles for Writers?

I’m an advocate for making informed decisions.  I believe people should make choices because they know what the choices are and have weighed the consequences, and not act emotionally without thinking about it or without information.

There are roles for leadership in every profession.  I’m not sure what I want writers to take away from this blog, but leadership and followership opportunities exist everywhere.  We’re faced with these choices daily.  Perhaps understanding the dynamic will assist in identifying those opportunities which come your way and help you make conscious choices.

If nothing else, a good understanding of the “leader-follower dance” will come in handy in developing characters with leadership roles and challenges in your novels.




ann/docs/writing/blog-unpublished/leadership followership

Updated 11/27/2012

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About RWA San Diego

The Romance Writers of America's San Diego chapter promotes excellence in romantic fiction, helps writers become published and establish careers in their writing field, and provides continuing support for writers within the romance publishing industry. Contact us for more information about RWASD.

4 thoughts on “LEADERSHIP VS FOLLOWERSHIP By R. Ann Siracusa

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