Why Followership is More Important than Leadership

Many books and courses on leadership make the fundamental error that leadership is a quality that resides with the manager, when in fact it is defined by the followers. Leadership is like a mirage it exists in the minds of the followers but seems to be reflected onto the manager. If you look at the manager to understand leadership you are looking in the wrong direction.
Ask yourself two simple questions:

1. If a leader believes they have “leadership” skills but the followers do not, does the manager actually have leadership skills?
2. If a leader does not believe they have “leadership” skills but the followers believe they do, then does the manager have leadership skills?

The answer is clear, leadership skills are defined by the team or followers, and it is a quality in the minds of the followers.
Looking at leadership in this manner explains why a manager can be successful in one situation but with a different team they fail. It explains why, historically, societies indoctrinate, control, use propaganda etc. to condition the followers. Few, if any, “great” political leaders were ever trained in leadership but their followers and supporters were trained or conditioned. Often this conditioning promotes an “image” of the leader, an “image” not based on any quality that the leaders actually possessed.
This belief that leadership is a quality that resides in the leader can be seen in the so called Arab Spring. Western political decisions were based on the myth that if you remove a dictator, such as Saddam Hussain, suddenly democracy and peace would prevail. The definition of effective leadership in such societies lies with the population, you remove one dictator and another one emerges because that type of leadership fulfils the expectations and experience of the population. Western political leaders must realise that to change society you have to change the minds, beliefs and expectations of the population – don’t look at the leaders look at the followers!
At a practical business level, managers need to know how team members perceive their management style.  In different organisational contexts, like societies, the perception of effective leadership differs; try comparing the profile of an effective leader in the military with effective leadership in the social services!
Geoff Ribbens is an author, academic, consultant and co-founder of one of Transcosmos business partners Business Enlightenment. Please visit www.business-enlightenment.com to read the complete article and learn about Pathway Audits™, a new “disruptive” approach to addressing key business challenges.