Measuring Followership

Measuring Followership

Paul Kaak (Azusa Pacific University, USA), Rodney A. Reynolds (California Lutheran University, USA) and Michael Whyte (Azusa Pacific University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2172-5.ch014
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The focus in this chapter is a proposal for a measure of followership with three dimensions: resistant follower, compliant follower, and mature follower. The chapter contains an internet link to specific items and a format for the measure. The rationale centers on various theoretic views about followership. The chapter provides suggestions for use of the measure within organizations. The conclusion centers on a program for future research.
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A History Of Followership Research

The question of good leadership has not always concerned itself with its necessary corollary, good followership (see Baker, 2007; Collinson, 2006; Dvir & Shamir, 2003; Goffee & Jones, 2006; Haslam & Platow, 2001; Russell, 2003). James MacGregor Burns (1978), the renowned “father of leadership studies,” launched the conversation in noting, “One of the most serious failures in the study of leadership has been the bifurcation between the literature on leadership and the literature on followership” (p.3). Hollander (1978) notes “…the followers as well as the leader are vital to understanding leadership as a process. Followers support the leadership activities and the leader’s position” (p.16). While Hollander has made a career of studying this process (1992a, 1992b, 1995, 2008), it was Kelley (1988; 1992) who provided the most extensive critique that our obsession with leadership was missing the associative emphasis on followership.

Although the bell had been rung by these scholars, those focusing on leaders continued to fill the space sparsely inhabited by researchers interested in followers. But among them, there have been those who suggested leaders would do well to consider the motivations and developmental readiness of their followers. Hersey (1984) suggests that the key to successful leadership is in choosing a style appropriately based on the “situation” of the follower (p. 58). In reflecting back on the legacy of the Path-Goal theory, House (1996) points out that working with followers to achieve their goals would have “powerful effects on follower motivation and work unit performance” (p. 343). Although followers are instrumental for these theorists, the focus is still on what leaders can do to strategically influence follower effectiveness.

As the conversation has continued, there has been increasing acknowledgement that leadership is highly dependent on relationships of mutual trust (Brower, Schoorman, & Tan, 2000; Uhl-Bien, 2006; Uhl-Bien & Maslyn, 2003; Golden & Veiga 2008.). The Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) theory made this “vertical dyadic linkage” between leaders and followers the hub of its analysis (Dansereau, Graen, & Haga, 1975; Graen & Cashman, 1975; Graen & Uhl-Bien, 1995). LMX is a means of recognizing relationships based on in-groups and out-groups, with reference to leader-follower proximity. The model submits to the reality of hierarchical relationships in which loyalty is fundamental to successful relationships while betrayal is a deal-breaker. The LMX is helpful for followers who want to negotiate their place in the leader-follower relationship through maneuvers that are designed to please their particular leader.

One wonders, however, if this kind of followership is mutually transformational in the same way as Burns (1978) understood leadership as transformational for both the leader and follower. Furthermore, in keeping with recent conceptualizing in leadership studies, how can followers be more “authentic” (Shamir & Eliam, 2005)? Perhaps, as Rost (2008) points out, the word followership has too much baggage and needs to be traded in for “collaborator.”

In practice, successful followership appears to have some similarity to emotional intelligence. Since followers typically don’t choose their leader, there may be another set of choices for which they have agency. Because leaders themselves arrive at their roles in the organization with various degrees of emotional maturity, followers who are emotionally intelligent themselves will be more capable of making either a bad situation tolerable or fair, or a good situation great.

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