Since I saw this YouTube video on The First Follower, I’ve been fascinated by who follows whom, and why?  We often see analyses of various leadership styles—but why do we follow people with one or two styles but not others? Could our follower-style be the real difference between success and failure of our country? Together, leaders and followers work in tandem to co-create our future. Labels are useful descriptors, which we can discard at any moment -- so read on!
If our country were a TV show, which character would you elect to lead our country?  (Yes, these are your only choices--and there is a notable lack of ethnic diversity)
  • Peggy Olson from Mad Men
  • Captain Kirk from the original Star Trek
  • Colonel Potter from M*A*S*H
  • Khaleesi Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones
  • Claire or Frank Underwood from House of Cards
  • Captain Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation
  • Martha Stewart as herself
OK -- now take a deep breath and think about the people who would enthusiastically follow your chosen leader. We rarely examine the types of followers we are or must be for our leaders to succeed. My question is this: What type of followers are we?  And how does that inform our opinion about our leaders?
I would suggest, that our follower-style is as potent as the leaders we choose.  The seven characters listed above are (mostly) collected from this slideshow in Entrepreneur which outlines what we can learn from these seven leadership styles. The styles (in order) are:
  1. Democratic
  2. Laissez-Faire
  3. Paternalistic (or Maternalistic)
  4. Inspirational
  5. Narcissistic
  6. Servant
  7. Authoritarian
So if these are classic leadership styles, what would be the classic follower-styles for each? What are attributes of their followers, both positive and negative? Here’s my take -- feedback welcome!
Democratic followers are highly engaged, informed and opinionated. The higher the level of trust, the better the group will perform together. The democratic leader welcomes input and leads the group through the process of sausage-making.  Have a strong opinion and want others to hear it? This is your chosen leader. The dark side of this style is analysis-paralysis.
Laissez-Faire followers like to do their own thing without much interference or input from others. They rely on their own intelligence and experience -- collaborating when needed and often eschewing bureaucracy as unhelpful. The dark side of this style is rogue actors and unintended consequences.
Paternalistic or Maternalistic followers appreciate the guidelines or structure, within which they have some freedom.  There is a sense of stability within this leader/follower relationship, where loyalty is reciprocated and rewarded. The dark side of this style is where followers act like children, do not accept responsibility for their own actions, and let the leader hang for followers actions.
Inspirational followers know they are on a mission to make the world a better place.  These followers respond to emotional appeals that may shape their understanding of what a “better” world looks like. They dark side of this style is self-righteousness that causes harm to our relationships.  Remember the Crusades…
Narcissistic followers are looking for a little power or control for themselves or “their” tribe.  Some narcissistic followers are clearly selfish and self-centered but others may be nice people who feel left out; they want a leader who will put “their tribe” first. Some of these followers like to help others but they actually are using service to gain status and feel useful. The dark side of this style is a lack of compassion for others outside their tribe or giving up their own identity in an attempt to please others. (Note: I’m not sure there is a light side to this style?)
Servant followers think they are the leaders--and sometimes they are. They are supported through guidance, mentoring or even administrative support -- to do “the right thing” in the world.  The dark side of this style is arrogance, especially about one’s own knowledge and effectiveness.
Authoritarian followers like knowing that their leader has the clear authority and  “the answer” to address their concerns and fears. This certainty of vision plus action equals safety and these followers like to feel safe and protected. The dark side of this style is stagnation from progress, because all progress appears to be unsafe.
When we examine leadership styles in others, we tend to look through our preferred follower-lens. In other words, where I see consolidated power, others may see safety and reassurance.  Where I see independence and compassion, others could see weakness and hypocrisy.
So my question is this: What type of follower are you?  And how does that inform your opinion about our leaders?
Debilyn Molineaux is a transformation facilitator. She works with visionaries and movements in support of a new national and global social contract focused on personal dignity and sovereignty. Her work highlights the relationships between individuals, institutions and governments for conscious transformation. Debilyn works with Living Room Conversations and Bridge Alliance.