A few weeks ago, I was preparing to teach by re-reading the chapter for which the material we’d be covering in class. Part of the class session was going to be spent on leadership. Granted, this is an undergraduate textbook in organizational behavior, I was truly disappointed to find that of the 30+ pages on leadership, there were only two — 2 — pages spent talking about followers. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a successful leader without followers.
One of the broader issues here is math. Of all the people in the world, how many of them do you think will be leaders? Of all the people in the world, how many of them do you think will be followers? I’m not saying that people shouldn’t strive to be leaders or be the best they can be, but based on our current definition/understanding of leadership, not everyone will spend a great deal of their time being a leader. In fact, most people will spend the majority of their lives being followers — and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, many of the people that we think of as great leaders were — in fact — once followers. Some say you have to be a good follower before you can be a good leader, but I’m not really going to get into leadership philosophy right now.
Instead, I wanted to draw to your attention to the amount of time we spend thinking about, talking about, and teaching leadership and the absolute void with regard to following. For instance, a quick Google search returns over 450,000,000 results for leadership, but only 420,000 for followership. You might think that’s not a fair comparison, so what about how to be a good follower or how to be a good leader? Follower returns: 54,000,000 (though I think some of these might be returning religious results). Leader returns: 1,350,000.
While leadership is more revered, it certainly seems like there’s room in the popular literature for a few great books on followers and how to be a good one.