Aristotle said, “He who cannot be a good follower, cannot be a good leader.” As Christians we claim to be followers of Christ. But how do we carry that out in our daily lives at home, work, church or within any group situation?
What is Followership?
Followership is how we perform in the workplace, church and personal lives. As we look at the different types of followership, we can identify ourselves and others by behaviors. When I first heard of learning about followership, the first thought I had was this was simple for Christians, after all, are not all followers of Christ, so what more could we possibly need to know? Through the years of having held many leadership roles within the secular workplace and the ecumenical field, there have been many examples of how this was not a simple subject.
Since the time of Aristotle, many people have described what they thought followership should look like. Books have been written about the topic by people such as Jimmy Collins (retired president of Chik-Fil-A), Ira Cahleff, (founder of ILA’s Followership Learning Community), John McCallum, (former Canadian Ambassador to China), and so many others. McCallum wrote in 2013, “The flip side of leadership is followership. It stands to reason that if leadership is important to performance, followership must have something to do with it too. But curiously, followership gets only a small fraction of the airtime that leadership does.”
Jimmy Collins wrote in a message to me, “There is no shortage of material on leadership, but almost nothing on followership. This is puzzling when we consider how many more followers there are than leaders. And, we will all be following someone.”
Our best guide for this is the Bible. Throughout the Bible there are multiple examples of different kinds of followers in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Although the examples I am giving are not a complete list, nor are they necessarily how the individuals changed through God’s directions, it serves as a reminder to us that we can change and become better followers.
Types of followers
Most people divide the different types of followers into four categories. I prefer to use six different styles: Creative Follower, Courageous Follower, Conforming Follower, Alienated Follower, Passive Follower and Disobedient Follower.
This type of follower will take the information they have been given and use it to create interesting ways to construct and accomplish their tasks. In Exodus we learn about how Bezaleel and Aholiab were asked to produce imaginative designs to make the tabernacle beautiful with the skills they were given. David used a slingshot and a stone to take down a giant.
Jesus was the ultimate example, using storytelling, solving problems of sin, creating food and by his example of always putting the Father first.
Esther was a courageous follower, one that risked losing favor by exposing the evil doers. Paul risked his life repeatedly for the sake of the gospel.
Noah was an obedient follower; he built the ark exactly as God commanded him. He did what he was told and followed his instructions carefully. Jonah could have learned from him.
Now there are those that follow like sheep, but watch out, they often will switch allegiance quickly. One of these in the Bible was Saul, found in the Old Testament. We meet Saul in 1 Samuel, anointed King, one who had found favor with the Lord. When he started to disobey the leaders and God, the robe of Samuel was torn symbolizing a split in the kingdom. In Samuel 15:35b, the Bible tells us “And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.
Judas was also an alienated follower; he chose to become a traitor to his leader (Jesus).
These are the most dangerous types of followers as they can bring down an organization.
The people of Israel were passive followers. They attempted to obey the Pharisees. There was no critical thinking on their part or independent thought; they relied on the law to guide them. There was a great need for Jesus to come and open their eyes.
Think of Adam and Eve, the original disobedient followers. One thing they were told not to do, they did it. All of us have been in this position at one time or another; we have chosen to pick our own path instead of relying on our leader and/or God.
When we read or listen to the news, we all have seen leaders that have failed, but have we really looked at the followership side of the example? I grew up in the era of Rev. Jim Jones and other cult leaders. We often forget that those leaders may have started out with good and noble causes, but something happened. Did they forget that they too were a follower, were those that followed them passive and where were the courageous followers that knew something was wrong and stood up? There is nothing more rewarding than watching a student’s reaction to noting that once they make the changes to their followership behavior that they find they are stronger and more effective leaders. This is just a quick glimpse into the understanding of Followership. We all need to become creative and courageous followers in order to become the right kind of leaders.
Patricia L. Colangelo, EdS is an Adjunct Professor for the Masters in Leadership Program at Trinity International University, Florida. TIUFlorida.com
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