For Leadership to Change, Followership Must Change

If the new path to organizational excellence rests upon dispersed power, then followership as we know it must reinvent itself. A follower is a person who moves or travels behind someone or something. But when the leaders learn to get out of the way, a fresh path will be cleared and illuminated for all. 

The traditional philosophy of nation building required lots of followers, and entire societies were initiated into that orbit. The reservation system is one of many examples. The Lakota were required to report to their agencies and stay there during the last decades of the nineteenth century. Government agents and missionaries awaited, ready to teach tribal members to embrace a Euro-Christian agricultural path. Followership was the essence of this system. Someone else in a position of higher power had already determined what you should become. Free choice and the accountability that comes with it were not required attributes.

The rules of followership have long been etched into human societies. Children were seated in alphabetical order in classrooms that emphasized memorization and recital. At work, supervisors gave orders and employees did as they were told. Followership became a hallmark of good citizenship. This hierarchical dance has long been institutionalized and must now be carefully deconstructed.

As modern leaders learn to disseminate power, those accustomed to following must learn new skills. This will take courage. Reinventing followership requires us to trust in our own abilities, speak our truth, and embrace our shared responsibility for creating the future.