The purpose of this paper is to draw a more nuanced picture of what characterizes followership in an organization.
This exploratory study including seven depth interviews conducted with Swedish armed forces personnel at various levels – both officers and civilians – on what characterizes followers. Additional two group discussions were conducted with employees; one representing followers and one representing middle management.
The paper provides empirical insights about three follower roles – workmate, colleague, and co-worker and how they correspond to individual-related and organization-related categories. The most prominent feature of the role of workmate is work solidarity. The characteristic of the colleague is professional loyalty. Finally, the co-worker is looked upon as exercising leadership by extension.
Because of the chosen research approach, the research results may lack generalizability. Researchers are encouraged to test the proposed propositions further, and to further investigate the relationships between other followers’ roles – such as temporary agency worker, flexible worker, and expert.
The paper includes implications for the leader-follower relations, first, how management should lead subordinates in an organization. Second, there are ramifications for how followers’ work is best organized. Finally, the paper verifies the importance of individual-related categories, not only between leaders and followers, but also between followers.
The paper argues that followers should not only be seen in terms of traits or labels, but as the product of relations within organizations. Followers’ actions are restrained by the frame of their positions. This has an impact on the development of the followers’ roles.
The author would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on a previous draft. The author also would like to thank Professor Gerry Larsson, Dr Eva Johansson, and Project Manager Developmental Leadership, Ann Zander for their insightful comments and support during the study.
Danielsson, E. (2013), "The roles of followers: an exploratory study of follower roles in a Swedish context", Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 34 No. 8, pp. 708-723. https://doi.org/10.1108/LODJ-01-2012-0007Download as .RIS
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