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Another look at Robert E. Kelley’s “In Praise of Followers”

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It seems self-evident that one cannot be a leader unless he or she has followers; put differently, one cannot hold a leadership role unless others are prepared to hold followership roles. These roles are more or less symbiotic - done effectively, each role can support and benefit the other. Nevertheless, the term “follower” has acquired a negative connotation, and leadership is generally considered to be the pinnacle to which we should all strive in our working lives, if not our personal lives as well. However, thanks to the work of authors such as Robert E. Kinney, who introduced the concept of followership, the characteristics, roles and paths of followers now receive increased attention. Kinney’s groundbreaking article, “In Praise of Followers”, appears along with the work of other authors on followership in The Leaders Companion.

In keeping with our current awareness of followership, none of the authors in The Leader’s Companion debates the importance of followers in the leader-follower relationship. However, some (discussed below) differ in their definitions of followers and in their focus on the role of followership. This essay attempts to draw together some key ideas about followership, taken from several authors in The Leader’s Companion, with a focus on Robert Kinney’s contributions to the study of followership. Next, I will discuss some of Kinney’s subsequent work and his continuing contribution, not just to our evolving understanding of followership, but to its practical applications in a variety of contexts.

The features of followers

In “Leaders and Followers”, Gardner (1987) poses a number of questions about interactions between leaders and followers. These include the degree of structure versus informality, con...

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...e Leader’s Companion (pp. 185-188). New York: Simon & Schuster.

Hersey, P. & Blanchard, K. (n.d.) Situational Leadership. In Wren, J.T. (Ed.). (1995). The Leader’s Companion (pp. 207-211). New York: Simon & Schuster.

Kelley, R.E. (1988). In Praise of Followers. In Wren, J.T. (Ed.). (1995). The Leader’s Companion (pp. 193-204). New York: Simon & Schuster.

Kelley, R.E. (1992). Followership. In Goethals, G.R., Sorenson, G.J. & Burns, J.M. (Eds.). (2008). Encyclopedia of leadership (pp. 504-513). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

Kelley, R.E. (2008). Rethinking Followership. In Riggio, R., Chaleff, I. & Lipman-Blumen, J. (Eds.). (2008). The Art of Followership (pp. 5-16). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Rost, J.C. (1991). Leaders and Followers are the People in this Relationship. In Wren, J.T. (Ed.). (1995). The Leader’s Companion (pp. 189-192). New York: Simon & Schuster.
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