The Art of Followership: The Truth About Leading Effectively - Grace Hill
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The Art of Followership: The Truth About Leading Effectively

Posted on May 1, 2024 by Grace Hill

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When you hear the term “followership,” it’s easy to associate it with social media followers. However, it extends far beyond that realm.

Followership encompasses the role individuals play within a team structure, operating under the guidance of a leader within their organization. Understanding how to contribute as an effective follower is crucial to your team’s success, but it also provides the groundwork for future leadership endeavors. 

In this blog, we’ll explore the importance of followership, what it takes to be an effective follower, and how it all relates to becoming an exceptional leader.

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The Definition of Followership

Followership is the act of willingly and actively supporting, cooperating with, and aligning oneself with a leader’s or group’s goals, vision, and direction. It involves being responsive to leadership, contributing to the achievement of shared objectives, and demonstrating commitment, loyalty, and trust in the leader or leadership team.

What is “The Art of Followership”?

Followership is not for the meek and passive. Followership means being responsible and taking action when it comes to what you do in life and work. Being a follower is not a science; it is an art. However, leaders only arise when there are followers committed to achieving a universal goal. This is a fact we cannot ignore or take lightly. 

We should all aim to be good followers, as we are groomed to be great leaders. Once we become leaders, we must take the time to train and increase the skill level of our followers, as they are an essential component of our team.

Five Levels of Followership

There are five levels of followership, and each individual falls under one level. Understanding these levels and where you fall can help determine if you’re on track to effective followership.

Level 1: Fear of Retribution

The lowest level of followership is motivated by fear. “If I do not follow,” something terrible will happen: I will lose my job or my respect. Those at this level follow to avoid trouble, not because they desire to be effective followers and part of a team.

Level 2: Blind Hope

The next level of followership comes from a place of faithless hope. “We must do something. I hope this works!” This person is following out of desperation and is not certain of the outcome. They are using the “hope and pray” strategy without much trust.

Level 3: Faith in Leader

This level of followership is motivated by confidence in the leader’s abilities. “What a great team member. If anyone knows the answer, she does!” Those who fall under this category do not require 100% certainty to follow the leader because they have faith and trust in them.

Level 4: Intellectual Agreement

This level of followership is very conscientious; the follower is on the same page intellectually. “What a great idea! That makes sense!” They follow the leader because they agree with the leader’s reason and rationality. This gives the follower a higher level of investment in the outcome.

Level 5: Buying the Vision

This last level of followership is the highest level and where you want your followers to be when they are with you. It is the “What a brilliant idea! I’m completely on board!” This level also has a great deal of influence over how the leader motivates and communicates with others.

As you reflect on the five levels of followership, here are two questions to ask yourself:

  • Are you a good follower?
  • Which level of followership are you currently operating at?

Characteristics of a Good Follower

Now that you understand the levels of followership let’s examine the characteristics of a good follower.

  • Loyalty: An effective follower shows deep commitment to the organization and respect for the leader. The follower may disagree, but they can do so in a respectful manner.
  • Adaptability: A leader is often involved in change within a company or organization. An effective follower can move fluidly through these changes and act as a leader or follower as needed.
  • Teamwork: Followers should be able to work efficiently with other followers. This involves actively participating in and contributing to a collaborative effort within the team.
  • Critical Thinking: Great followers are not a sheep to be herded; they should be able to think critically of the leader while taking initiative and practicing self-management. 
  • Integrity: An effective follower values integrity above all else. They are not afraid to tell the truth and can follow directions well.

Expectations of an Effective Follower

  • Understands Their Responsibilities: Good followers know what they are expected to do because they make sure their tasks have been clearly communicated. If there is any confusion or questions about what you should be doing, follow up with your leader.
  • Is Informative and Takes Initiative: Effective followers take personal responsibility for removing obstacles to team goals and achievements. They take the time to foster respect and trust by keeping the leader up to date on goal completion progress.
  • Provides Accurate Information and Feedback: Good followers know it is their responsibility to provide clear feedback to the leaders. The information they provide can influence the leaders, so honest, accurate, and sometimes direct feedback is vital to the company and the team.
  • Is Supportive of Their Leaders: Reaching an objective or goal often requires change. The leader needs support in this area, and effective followers are excellent at providing this to the leader and the company.
  • Shows Appreciation for Their Leaders: Leaders are under a lot of pressure and bear many responsibilities. Good followers are sensitive to their leaders, as they often must carry emotional weight for the team.
  • Stands Up for Themselves and Their Team: A good follower should never accept abuse or unethical treatment from a leader. Addressing these types of concerns is important before unacceptable behaviors become habitual.

The Ten Rules of Good Followership

Being a good follower is vital in any industry. In fact, Col. Phillip S. Meilinger of the United States Air Force shares his wisdom in “The Ten Rules of Good Followership,” which he created based on 23+ years of military experience.

  1. Don’t blame your leader for an unpopular decision or policy; your job is to support, not undermine. Whether we agree is beside the point; the decision has been made, and it’s our duty to execute it.
  2. Fight with your leader if necessary, but do it in private. As followers, we should express our concerns about an issue but do so in private. Avoid embarrassing situations and never reveal to others what was discussed. 
  3. Make the decision, then run it past your leader. Use your initiative. Show initiative and provide the best recommendation even though you may not have the final decision.
  4. Accept responsibility whenever it is offered. Your team cannot succeed and evolve unless followers are willing to take risks and accept responsibility.
  5. Tell the truth and don’t quibble; your leader will be giving advice up the chain of command based on what you said. Always tell the truth about a current or upcoming situation. Do not sit on the sidelines and simply tell the leader what they want to hear.
  6. Do your homework. Give your leader all the information needed to make a decision; anticipate possible questions. Become an expert on your subject and think through the implications of the problem. Anticipate questions and prepare answers to those questions. Then, propose your course of action.
  7. When making a recommendation, remember who will probably have to implement it. This means you must know your limitations and weaknesses, as well as your strengths. Avoid proposing impractical solutions. Know your skills and put yourself in a position to maximize your strengths.
  8. Keep your leader informed of what’s going on in the office. People will be reluctant to tell leaders about their problems and successes. You should do it for them and assume someone else will tell the leader about you. Do not be afraid to share the good and the bad with your leaders. This may also happen to you, so accept it with an open mind.
  9. If you see a problem, fix it. Don’t worry about who would have gotten the blame or who now receives the praise. Focus on removing obstacles and helping your team succeed regardless of who gets the credit.
  10. Put in more than an honest day’s work, but don’t ever forget the needs of your family. If they are unhappy, you will be too, and your job performance will suffer accordingly. Work hard, but don’t let your work life overpower your family and their needs.

The Connect Between Followership and Leadership

Great followers and great leaders share many essential qualities. After all, every leader was once a follower, so becoming a strong leader often builds from a foundation of excellent followership. 

In an article at that examines the relationship between leaders and followers, the author notes how they influence each other: “Leaders influence their followers according to the company’s needs, while followers influence leaders with their attitude and actions – it can have both positive and negative impacts.”1 

Great followers are intelligent, independent, and courageous. They are critical thinkers who take initiative, have a strong work ethic, and are not afraid to challenge the status quo or offer constructive criticism. 

These same qualities are also essential for effective leadership. A leader who cannot take direction or consider alternative viewpoints is unlikely to succeed in the long run. As Aristotle once said, “He who cannot be a good follower cannot be a good leader.”

Great followers can also positively influence leaders. Their dedication, initiative, and willingness to go the extra mile can inspire leaders to achieve great things. By providing constructive feedback and support, a great follower can help a leader grow and develop their abilities. In short, a strong relationship between leaders and followers is a two-way street where both parties can learn from and influence each other.

Training Solutions That Support Effective Followership

Exceptional leaders emerge from employees who understand the importance of effective followership. More importantly, organizations that develop both leaders and followers through purposeful training position their teams to succeed, build loyalty, and create a culture of meaningful engagement. Catering to the needs of one and ignoring the other is a short-sighted approach to employee training and development. 

Writing for Harvard Business Review, Barbara Kellerman notes:

“The modern leadership industry… is built on the proposition that leaders matter a great deal and followers hardly at all. Good leadership is the stuff of countless courses, workshops, books, and articles. Everyone wants to understand just what makes leaders tick. Good followership, by contrast, is the stuff of nearly nothing. Most of the limited research and writing on subordinates has tended to either explain their behavior in the context of leaders’ development rather than followers’ or mistakenly assume that followers are amorphous, all one and the same. In reality, the distinctions among followers in groups and organizations are every bit as consequential as those among leaders.”

Isn’t it time to stop spinning your wheels with training solutions that don’t develop and support effective followership? The competition for all levels of talent is tight, and 76%2 of employees say they are more likely to stay with a company that offers continuous training.

Grace Hill wants employees to love where they work and believes learning and development are critical to the success of every multifamily company. So Grace Hill Training offers a comprehensive approach to employee development — developed by industry experts — that enables and empowers learners.

Now you must ask yourself: Are you fostering a culture of effective followership? If not, maybe it’s time to make a change.

Talk to a Grace Hill expert today to see how our Training platform can help create effective followership that develops exceptional leaders and strengthens teams.


  1., “Relationships Between Leaders and Followers”
  2. Society for Human Resource Management, 2022

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