The Art of Followership: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: July 9th, 2011 by bobmorris

The Art of Followership: How Great Followers Create Great Leaders and Organizations
Ronald E. Riggio, Ira Chaleff, and Jean Lipman-Blumen, Co-Editors
Jossey-Bass (2008)

“Candles” and “mirrors” in the contemporary workplace

This anthology brings together the essays of 31 contributors who participated in the Kravis-De Roulet Leadership Conference on February 24-25, 2006. To what does the title of this book refer? As with so many other significant human activities, there is both an art and a science to effective followership. Immediately opinions vary as to what is an intangible (e.g. mutual trust) and what is a tangible (e.g. shared tasks) in the relationship between a leader and a follower. I suggest that you ignore the title, not worry about differentiating tangibles and intangibles, and focus on what the book offers that is of specific interest to you and of greatest value to what you hope to accomplish.

The material is carefully organized as follows: A brief Foreword by James MacGregor Burns and then an Introduction by Warren Bennis. (More about Bennis’ remarks in a moment), followed by 23 “author chapters” that are divided within four Parts: “Defining and Redefining Followership” (Chapters 1-5), “Effective Followerhip” (Chapters 6-12), “The Pitfalls and Challenges” (Chapters 13-17), and “Followers and Leaders: Research and Practice, and the Future” (Chapters 18-23).

Here are a few of several that caught my eye.

In “Rethinking Followership,” Robert E. Kelley identifies and then discusses five basic styles of followership: The Sheep, The Yes-People, The Alienated, The Pragmatists, and The Star Followers. Others may quarrel with such descriptives but Kelley’s key points when examining the field of followership in terms of seven topics (i.e. world events, culture, leader [ship], follower qualities, role of the follower, language of followership, and “courageous conscience”) seem eminently sound to me.

Ernest L. Stech explains what he has identified a “new leadership-followership paradigm.”

Joseph Rost asserts that followership is “an outmoded concept and explains why.

In an essay that I found especially thought-provoking and informative, Linda Hopper shares her thoughts about “courageous followers, servant-leaders, and organizational transformations.” On Page 118, she identifies five common barriers to engaging “disaffected, disgruntled, distrustful employees who appear reticent to make a commitment to and be accountable for work or decisions.” Courageous followership can help to lower (if not eliminate) these barriers. How? Hopper offers four suggestions: Seek ways to work for conjoint efforts toward common goals, see others as allies rather than enemies or even as opponents, see their own success as the goals of the organization become a reality, and recognize that their participation in successful change initiatives substantiates the belief that their efforts as well as collaborative efforts with others really can make a difference.

Another essay I thoroughly enjoyed reading is “Following Toxic Leaders: In Search of Posthumous Praise” in which Jean Lipman-Blumen shares several of the insights she explores in munch greater depth in her brilliant book, The Allure of Toxic Leaders: Why We Follow Destructive Bosses and Corrupt Politicians – and How We Can Survive Them. Obviously, there are toxic followers as well as toxic leaders in most organizations, with the major difference being that toxic leaders tend to do much more extensive damage. In this essay, she has much of value to say about how to differentiate “the exhilaration that comes from noble, life-affirming causes” that constructive leaders experience and the “excitement that flows from grand illusions that toxic leaders ask us to engage in or merely endorse.” (See Pages 192-193). She concludes with an admirable affirmation: “One answer to the human condition calls for freeing ourselves from anxious subservience to, as distinct from knowledgeable support of, [begin italics] all [end italics] leaders, not just the toxic ones. This coupled with the necessity to take action despite our fears, may be the best hope we have in the long run.”

About 75-80% of the material was of interest and value to me. However, I realize that that can also be said of almost any other anthology of this scope and length. Moreover, what I found boring may be of great interest and value to others. So, I took that consideration into full account as well as my opinion of most of the material when determining my rating of this book. Those who are thinking about reading this book need to check out the table of contents as well as all of the reviews provided by Amazon.


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