Connect Is The New Follow

by  Jane Perdue  |  Leadership Development
Connect Is The New Follow

“You are my follower.” His inflection caught me off guard. Put me off a tad, too. In my mind, we had simply connected via social media.

Yes, I had clicked a button labeled follow on his page. By doing so, I committed to learning more about him, but I certainly wasn’t thinking in dictionary terms of being an adherent or devotee of a particular person, cause, or activity.

Shoot, I hardly knew the guy. The coffee meet-up was supposed to change that.

“Interesting. Could it also be said that you’re my follower? Something reciprocal?”

“No, I connected with you first. I took the lead, you followed.”

Given my fascination with power and stereotypes, what a fascinating comment. One that highlighted an outdated and misdirected mindset: the view that the leader is dominant and the follower subordinate.

The rank, authority, and blind obedience thing. Ugh. An orientation that’s ego-based, not character-based.

It’s an outlook that’s also out of step with the reality of today’s flatter, more technologically driven workplaces. As Carnegie Mellon professor Robert Kelley notes:

“Most of us are more often followers than leaders. Even when we have subordinates, we still have bosses…so followership dominates our lives and organizations, but not our thinking, because our preoccupation with leadership keeps us from considering the nature and the importance of the follower.”

Even if a boss/employee relationship does exist, taking orders and direction doesn’t automatically make someone a follower. Being a follower is a conscious choice, one rooted in managing from the mind and leading from the heart.

Kelley describes effective followers as competent, courageous, honest, and credible people who are self-directed, self-motivated, and take risks. Don’t leaders do those same things?

To me, leadership and followership are the two sides of the same coin. One can’t exist without the other, and one isn’t better than the other. I see both as intentional attitudes that require us to be self-aware and to self-regulate our actions.

12 Thing Leadership & Followership Have In Common

Both roles have many things in common:

  1. Both require us to stand up for what we believe and stand up to those who would hold us back.
  2. Neither is a status to be entered into blindly, passively, or indifferently.
  3. Neither condition is a job title. They’re roles we willingly choose to fill.
  4. Both come fully loaded with negative stereotypes and connotations to be overcome and changed.
  5. In either leading or following, we can expect days where our best efforts won’t be enough and will be under-appreciated and under-valued.
  6. Both require fluidity of thought and a willingness to practice reciprocity as we shift between filling both roles.
  7. Both require equal paradoxical focus on results and relationships, structure and consideration, and individual and team.
  8. The best of both practitioners intuitively understand that the less ego that’s involved the better.
  9. Both roles recognize the value of moral courage.
  10. Neither status is hung up on labels or categories of who should or shouldn’t take the initiative to make things so. They just do it.
  11. Both require us to practice critical thinking as well as active participation and engagement.
  12. Leading and following are both an art and a science in which we use our heads to manage and our hearts to lead.
“Increasingly, followers think of themselves as free agents, not as dependent underlings.”
~ Barbara Kellerman, Harvard’s JFK School of Government

In effective leadership and followership, there’s no keeping score about who went first.

What’s your take on leadership and followership?
Photo Credit: Morguefile

About The Author

Articles By jane-perdue
Jane is a leadership futurist and well-mannered maverick who challenges stereotypes, sacred cows, gender bias & how we think about power. She loves chocolate, TED, writing, kindness, paradox and shoes.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Page Cole  |  11 May 2015  |  Reply

I always come away with several HUGE take-aways from your posts! Thank you!

Here’s my first one:
“Neither condition is a job title. They’re roles we willingly choose to fill.” I’ve always known that being the leader was a role I choose willingly, but hadn’t really thought about “choosing” to be a follower. Most of the time I think people feel like being a follower is something that is forced on them, outside of their choosing. Truth is that if that’s the case, they truly aren’t a follower… they may be a part of the crowd, a spectator or critic, but not an authentic follower.

“Both roles recognize the value of moral courage.” I think this is the most vital part of being a leader or follower. Whether the person is a leader or a follower, there will be challenging times, times where their ethics and values will be tested. Courage is not an accessory… it’s a mandatory!

Thank you for the reminder and the challenges!

Jane Perdue  |  08 Jun 2015  |  Reply

Hey there, Page — belated thanks for your kind words and great additions! The month of May evaporated for me in a swirl of family obligations. Love your admonition that courage isn’t a leadership accessory but rather a mandatory state of mind (and heart). It’s something we can help one another to have.

John E. Smith  |  12 May 2015  |  Reply

Hi, Jane – as always, your post is thoughtful and enjoyable to read.

I had two thoughts:

1) All through the first part, I was waiting for you to add “… so I popped him on the chin and down he went.”:)

I think your initial negative response would have been mine as well. This reinforces something we talk about regularly here: Words matter.

You did a fine job of deconstructing both your reaction and the realities of our current connected world.

2) I have read several things with the same general message that leadership and followership are more closely related than we sometimes think. After all, if leadership occurs at all levels (and I absolutely believe this to be true), then following must also be occuring, usually in the same people.

If I met someone who claimed to only be a leader and not a follower, I would gently suggest he read up some on servant leadership, starting with Robert Greenleaf:)

Thanks for a very enjoyable post:)


Jane Perdue  |  08 Jun 2015  |  Reply


As always, I appreciate your thoughtful reading, analysis, and comments.

Given my bent for paradox, the concept of leadership and followership have snagged my attention…and been added to my list of paradoxical situations leaders face. While I heartily agree with Susan Mazza when she says, you don’t have to be THE leader to be A leader, more often than not leaders, both formal and informal, do have followers. Something for all of us to remember!

My apologies for the delay in responding and with a smile,


Marcella Bremer  |  14 May 2015  |  Reply

This post made me smile… You encountered an old-fashioned thinker :)

New leadership means to me that we change roles all the time. You can take the lead and I follow. Next time, in a different context, I take the lead.

It’s not about us – it’s about what wants to be manifested through our collaboration, whether we’d like to label that leading or following. It doesn’t really matter to me – but it still does to many people.

Marcella Bremer

Jane Perdue  |  08 Jun 2015  |  Reply

Hi, Marcella —

So glad the post made you smile…and thanks for sharing that!

Rigidity of anything is what’s old-fashioned! *smile* I’m going to hold on to the belief that thinking never will be!


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