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Emergence of Followership - Part 3

The Coast Guard's Leadership Academy Training course demonstrates the relationship between Leaders and Followers
Coast Guard Leadership Academy Training Course

How do Leadership and Followership Relate?

For researchers, understanding leadership has proved to be immensely difficult. Winston and Patterson (2006) searched through 160 articles and books and compiled over 1000 leadership constructs which they finally categorized into 91 discrete dimensions. Leaders influence people in many ways, however, by focusing only solely on leadership a great deal of the process is left unexplored. “If there is one generalization we make about leadership and change, it is this: No change can occur without willing and committed followers” (Bennis, 1999, 74). Imagine if Winston and Patterson’s approach were extended to a review of all the followership articles and books, and then the resulting follower constructs were compiled into dimensions and compared to the leadership dimensions. Perhaps then an even more robust description of the intricacies of the leader-follower process would emerge.

Yet such a description would likely prove unwieldy for practical use. To Bennis (1999), it is clear that practical application based on our emerging understanding of the complexities of the leadership-followership process will require new approaches. “The new reality is that intellectual capital, brain power, know-how, human imagination has supplanted capital as the critical success factor and leaders will have to learn an entirely new set of skills” (p.76). All of Bennis’ leadership admonitions are follower centric. In his view, “TOPdown” leadership is based on a misunderstanding of the leadership process and the skills of the “New Leader” will require activities such as demonstrating appreciation to followers, continuously reminding them about what is important to the organization, and sustaining trust.


Early leadership theories focused on the traits of successful leaders. The measure of success was organizational success, tremendously profitable businesses, military victories in war, and other forms of achievement that led to the misconception that traits of power and dominance were all that defined leadership. Over one hundred years of subsequent research paints an entirely different picture where leaders and the followers are intimately allied. People assigned to leadership positions must be aware that there is a full spectrum of leadership activities that are available to meet organizational goals, and their responsibility is to understand and apply the most effective leadership approach in order to capitalize on emotional investment, creativity and productivity of followers.


Bass, B. M. (1995). Theory of transformational leadership redux. The Leadership Quarterly, 6(4), 463-478. 10.1016/1048-9843(95)90021-7

Bennis, W. The end of leadership: Exemplary leadership is impossible without full inclusion, initiatives, and cooperation of followers. Organizational Dynamics, Volume 28, Issue 1, Summer 1999, Pages 71-79

Castro, B. C., Periñan, V. M., & Bueno, J. C. (2008). Transformational leadership and followers' attitudes: The mediating role of psychological empowerment. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 19(10), 1842-1863. doi:10.1080/09585190802324601

Hersey, P. and Blanchard, K. (1969), “Life-cycle theory of leadership”, Training & Development Journal, Vol. 23, pp. 26-34.


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