Nothing gets done in organizations without followers, and virtually all humans are essentially followers at some point in our life. In organizations, self-motivated followers are hard-working, extra productive, engaged, and more likely to stay during critical necessities. Good followers can help their leaders avoid making questionable decisions, and high-performing followers often inspire leaders to raise their performance levels. Armies with the best soldiers usually win wars, teams with the best athletes usually win championships, and companies with the best employees usually surpass their competitors. So, it is a leader’s necessity to surround him or herself with quality followers.
Any leadership domain is constituted by three distinct features- the context, the leader himself, and the people following the leader. An excellent leader has nothing to do where the environment has no challenge. A brilliant commander can hardly accomplish any mission if his followers are not in an appropriate mindset. Hence, effective collaboration of all those three elements is vital for any leadership success. Although the importance of sound leadership has been studied a lot over time, followers’ roles are often overlooked. Researchers, writers, educators have spent a lot of time and effort to address leadership, yet only little on followership. Thousands of training programs and books are available to develop leadership skills, but there is little to teach people to be good followers. Since the success of any organization or society largely depends on the quality of followers they hold, it is vital to study and train people on appropriate followership skills. Leaders also need to master the art of transforming infertile souls into the more productive asset of their team.
In an organizational framework, followership essentially meant, “be quiet and follow as ordered by the leader.” In the past, followers were expected to keep their heads down, engage in an honest effort in work, and only speak whenever asked. Leaders used to have complete authority in those hierarchical relationships, but this is no longer the reality facing many organizations and societies today. The perception of liberal lifestyle has labeled this century as the ‘age of no obedience.’ We often find a different essence of obedience among youngsters in family, community, and social life. The human psychological domain has shifted from cooperative-obedient followership to self-centric motivations of freedom in the present age. Over the past several decades, peoples’ expectations from their organization have also changed in manifolds. Rising education levels, globalization, access to healthy or unhealthy information, cultural modifications, and increased opportunities in society have profoundly impacted people’s attitudes and behaviors. To match contexts, many organizational cultures have changed so dramatically that even the classical leader-follower organization, like many militaries, has fundamentally changed how officers lead and treat their soldiers.
Although all organizations seek for best followership yet, they do not always attain that. Depending upon the socio-economic-cultural background, people act differently in their followership role. They often have different patterns and categories as well. Curphy-Roellig Followership Model has described a comprehensive understanding of the categories of followers and their psychological patterns. It says there are essentially four types of followers in any society or organization. Those are:
Self-Starters. These types of followers are self-motivated, quick to resolve issues, and can make suitable decisions at the time of need instead of waiting for the leader’s permission. They work hard and are found committed to their responsibilities. They help improve their leaders’ performance, as they also voice opinions and offer constructive feedback after any decisions. They are found critical thinkers, motivated, contented, and spirited in their works, yet they sometimes lack patience. They are found emotionally attached to their work and organization. Self-Starters are a decisive component of high-performing leadership teams. They are the best and most expected followers in any organization. Leaders who want to create more and more Self-Starters in their teams should consider these people’s underlying psychological drivers and behavior patterns.
Brown-Nosers: These people are sincere, dutiful, reliable, and loyal followers who will do whatever their leaders ask them to do. They never point out or raise objections. They make waves and act whatever possible to please their bosses. Brown-Nosers constantly check in with their leaders and operate by seeking permission. They always try to keep their leader in a good mood, comfortable and hardly miss any opportunity to admire their bosses. These people are not critical thinkers or creative. They often lack confidence in dealing with unusual contexts and are unable to make essential decisions. Brown-Nosers does not bring up bad news but puts everything positively. They never raise objections to bad decisions and remain reluctant to make decisions. It is not surprising that many leaders surround themselves with Brown-Nosers, as these individuals are sources of constant flattery. It may not be surprising that Brown-Nosers often go pretty far in organizations, although they do not have good objective performance metrics. Organizations that lack appropriate measures of individual performance indicators often make decisions based on politics, and Brown-Nosers mostly win in their careers.
Leaders can take several actions to convert Brown-Nosers into Self-Starters. Perhaps the first step is to comprehend that fear of failure in a career is the underlying psychological issue driving Brown-Noser’s behavior. Although many of them have all the experience and technical expertise needed to resolve issues, they lack the self-confidence to raise objections or make decisions. Many leaders also sometimes feel happy with Yes Boss followers. Therefore, leaders who want to convert Brown-Nosers need to focus their coaching efforts on boosting the self-confidence of their men. Whenever they come forward with problems, leaders need to ask them to find different options to resolve the problem and allow them to make mistakes if not very critical. Leaders need to recognize them for their innovative efforts and always encourage them to make decisions. The process will boost Brown-Nosers, enhancing their critical thinking skills and self-confidence.
Slackers. These people are pretty clever at avoiding work and often disappear at the time of need. They always look busy and have many excuses for not getting the work done in time. They are often found spending more time devising ways to avoid getting tasks. Slackers are stealth employees of any team who are content to spend the entire day inactive, calling friends and family during work hours, surfing and shopping online, gossiping with co-workers, or taking breaks rather than being productive at work. They take all the scopes to stay away from a superior officer or leader. They are self-centric, lack values in life, and often lack self-esteem. Transforming Slackers to Self-Starters is a time-consuming and challenging endeavor as such a well-designed recruiting system is helpful to avoid such slackers enrolling in the organization. Social leaders can create a culture to boost self-esteem and hard work as vital social pride and norms. Indeed, it takes time to transform a slacker society into a self-starter workforce. Leaders’ efforts to convert Slackers into Self-Starters also demand to study the psychological and behavioral causes acting in the environment. There may be unfairness, favoritism, inappropriate organizational practices, resource limitations that contribute to followers’ disengagement and demotivation levels. It may also turn some Self-Starters who lack the necessary equipment, technology, or funding needed to perform well and be productive.
Criticizers. The last of the four types in the Curphy-Roellig Followership Model is the Criticizers. They possess intense critical thinking skills creativity and are often highly talented but are found disengaged from the work. Criticizers are mainly motivated to find fault in anything their leaders or organizations do. They often tell people what their leaders are doing wrong and how things will turn upside down. They discuss how bad their organizations are in comparison to competitors and how their leaders are incompetent. Sometimes, few Criticizers get obsessed with negative thinking and spoil their creative talents. These pessimistic individuals constantly complain and moan about the current state of affairs. Criticizers are often the most dangerous of those four types for teams and organizational performance. They are often the first to greet new employees, propagate negative emotions among people around them, and love to hang out with other Criticizers. Dealing with this type can be the most difficult challenge since critical thinkers possess mainly an unwarranted sense of entitlement. They are intelligent but lack wisdom. They are like cancers since they pollute organizational morale and motivation, and like many cancers, Criticizers respond best to aggressive treatments. However, leaders need to understand that inappropriate recognition or any breaches of leadership trust are the key psychological drivers underlying the Criticizers’ behaviors. Leaders can take opportunities to listen to and publicly recognize these individuals about their talents to revert them. When Criticizers openly raise any point, leaders need to thank them for their valuable inputs courageous opinions and then ask how they think to resolve issues. Most Criticizers may initially resist offering solutions, as they have drawers full of solutions that may have been ignored in the past and may be reluctant to share their problem-solving expertise in public. Leaders need to break through this psychological resistance and may need to press Criticizers for help.
Moreover, once Criticizers offer solutions, leaders can adopt those and publicly thank them for their efforts. Repeating this pattern of adopting suggestions, and publicly recognizing Criticizers for their excellent efforts will make a way towards converting this group into Self-Starters. If leaders make repeated attempts to engage Criticizers, but they fail to respond, then termination is a viable option for this type. However, as they do so, leaders should carefully look in the mirror and soul search what they acted to lose the hearts and minds of these good thinkers. Some individuals may start their professional career as a Self-Starter, move down to become a Brown-Noser, spend some time as a Slacker, and become a Criticizer. If you ask them, what has changed them in the role of followership type over time, most people will say their immediate boss was the most significant factor. Thus a leader’s personality has a straightforward impact on effective followership.
We find differences in qualities even within the same species in the natural biological world. We also find vast differences in human characters, psychology, life values, and self-esteem among different nationalities and societies. People are highly disciplined in some societies, whereas many live an undisciplined lifestyle in other countries. In some societies, people are generally modest, and they respect modesty in leadership, whereas modesty may be often considered a leadership weakness in some odd societies. The sense of self-esteem also differs significantly among people of different nationalities. Therefore, categories of followers are not limited to the only four as described above by the Curphy-Roellig Followership Model. There may be more categories of followers in different societies and organizations. The leadership purpose is to discover the pattern of their followers and adopt appropriate ways to address each type to turn them into the most needed Self-Starter group. If a leader can tap into self-esteem enhancement techniques, it can progress sustainable social and organizational development.
Let your people be valued, give them credit, praise them about their contribution and encourage them to enjoy the glory of their best performance.
 Gordon Curphy, Ph.D., is the president of Curphy Consulting Corporation. He has written many books and numerous chapters, articles, and papers on leadership and teams. Gordy held numerous leadership positions while in the US Air Force served as an Adjunct Faculty Member at the Center for Creative Leadership. https://osipt.com/blog/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Curphy-Roelling-Followership, accessed 1 Mar 2022.