The Essence of Followership: Review of the Literature and Future Research Directions

The Essence of Followership: Review of the Literature and Future Research Directions

Sajjad Nawaz Khan (Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, Malaysia), Abdul Halim Busari (Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, Malaysia) and Siti Mariam Abdullah (Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, Malaysia)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 23
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-4996-3.ch006


Followership is an emerging field of research in the current era. This chapter reviews followership literature and provides future research directions. This review is based on two theoretical frameworks of followership, namely role-based approach and constructionist approach. The purpose of this chapter is to provide a cursory review of followership research conducted in the last two decades. This chapter is a good starting point for novice researchers who want to pursue research in followership and leadership. In relations to future research directions, research topics that could be investigated in the light of leadership and followership are proposed.
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Kelley (1988), articulated that for organizational success not only leadership but followership is equally important. Chaleff’s (1995) work about courageous followers also claimed that followers are not passive subordinates but active participants of the organization. Thus it has been known for a long time that followership and followers are important to leadership. However in spite of a large number of research studies on leadership in organizational studies (Yukl, 2012), less attention has been paid to followership (Bligh, 2011; Carsten et al., 2010; Kelley, 2008; Sy, 2010). The study of followers as an important part of the leadership process, through their approval of followership has been mostly missed in the literature of leadership. According to Uhl-Bien et al., (2014) the oversight of followership is due to in a large part to misunderstanding and confusion about the constructs of followership and how they relate to leadership. This confusion is due to the reason that we have not understood the process of leadership that is co-created in relational and social interactions between people (Fairhurst & Uhl-Bien, 2012). Following behaviours show willingness to defer to someone else one way or another (Uhl-Bien et al., 2014). This is similar for granting leader identity and for oneself claiming follower identity (DeRue & Ashford, 2010). “If leadership involves actively influencing others, then followership involves allowing oneself to be influenced” (Uhl-Bien & Pillai, 2007). Additionally, nowadays with shared, distributed leadership where individuals play the role of both a leader and a follower at the same time has positively identified that the concept of followership has become important to both academician and practitioners (Crossman & Crossman, 2011;Horsfall, 2001).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Role-Based Approaches: These approaches explain followership as a role played by individual under structured organizational hierarchy.

Constructionist Approaches: These views explain followership as a relational interaction between individuals to co-construct leadership and followership.

Implicit Followership Theories: Implicit followership theories (IFTs) argued what leaders think about their followers (i.e., how followers’ behaviors and characteristics shaped leader-follower relationship).

Implicit Leadership Theories: Implicit leadership theories (ILTs) explain what followers think about their leaders (i.e., how followers cognitive categories or schema affect followers’ perceptions about their leaders).

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