Leadership vs Followership – Comparing and Contrasting

Comparing and Contrasting Leadership vs Followership Featured Image

In the realm of organizational dynamics, much emphasis is placed on leadership. However, an equally important concept often overlooked is that of followership. The leadership vs followership debate is not about superiority, but about understanding their unique roles and how they intertwine to drive success. Together, they form the backbone of any successful team or organization. This article aims to dissect these two concepts, highlighting their similarities, differences, pros, and cons.

What is Leadership and What is Followership?

Leadership is about setting a direction, creating a vision and inspiring others to follow towards achieving common goals. It involves taking charge, making decisions, and ensuring that the team or organization is on the right track. Leadership isn’t confined to those with a ‘leader’ title; anyone can exhibit leadership qualities in different situations.

Followership, on the other hand, is about collaborating with and supporting the leader, understanding and buying into the vision, and contributing effectively towards the objectives. A follower is not merely a passive entity but plays an active, crucial role in achieving the team’s goals. Followership is about individual contribution and cooperation within a group, leading to collective achievement. Followers can exhibit different styles, from being fully engaged to disengaged, depending on their perception of the leadership and their own commitment levels.

Key Differences Between Leadership and Followership

  1. Initiating Action: Leadership is about initiating action, making decisions, and setting a path for others to follow. Followership involves understanding and aligning with the leader’s vision, providing support and contributing towards achieving the common objectives.
  2. Responsibility: Leaders are often responsible for the overall success or failure of a team or organization, while followers are typically accountable for their individual tasks and contributions to the team’s objectives.
  3. Decision-making Authority: Leaders usually have more decision-making power and authority compared to followers. They are often responsible for strategic decisions that have a significant impact on the organization.
  4. Risk-taking: Leaders often have to take risks and make difficult decisions, while followers usually work within the guidelines set by the leaders, contributing their skills and efforts to execute the decisions made.
  5. Communication Flow: In traditional hierarchies, leaders often communicate their vision and directives down the chain, while followers are expected to provide upward feedback and inputs on the execution process.

Key Similarities Between Leadership and Followership

  1. Goal Orientation: Both leaders and followers are goal-oriented. They work together towards the achievement of common objectives.
  2. Interdependence: Leaders and followers depend on each other for success. Leaders need followers to implement their vision, and followers need leaders to provide direction and support.
  3. Influence: Both leaders and followers have the potential to influence each other and the overall team dynamics. Effective leaders inspire followers, and proactive followers can motivate leaders through their commitment and performance.
  4. Continuous Learning: Both roles involve continuous learning. Leaders need to learn to adapt to new challenges, and followers also need to continually develop their skills and competencies.
  5. Importance in Team Success: Both leadership and followership are critical for the success of any team or organization. A team cannot function effectively without the strategic direction provided by leadership and the support and execution by followers.
  6. Ethical Responsibility: Both leaders and followers share the ethical responsibility to act with integrity and contribute positively to the organization’s culture and success.

Pros of Leadership Over Followership

  1. Influence on Decision Making: As a leader, you often have more influence over decisions that impact your team or organization. This ability can be empowering and fulfilling.
  2. Opportunity for Visionary Impact: Leaders have the opportunity to create a vision, inspire others, and make a significant impact on the direction and success of the team or organization.
  3. Personal Development: Leadership provides a great opportunity for personal growth. You’ll develop skills like problem-solving, strategic thinking, communication, and emotional intelligence.
  4. Greater Autonomy: Leaders generally have more autonomy in their roles, with more freedom to determine how best to meet their goals and lead their teams.
  5. Recognition and Reward: Leaders often receive more recognition and rewards for their efforts, including promotions, bonuses, or increased respect and influence within the organization.
  6. Ability to Develop Others: One of the most rewarding aspects of leadership is the opportunity to guide and develop others, helping them grow and reach their potential.

Cons of Leadership Compared to Followership

  1. Increased Responsibility and Pressure: Leaders bear the responsibility for the success or failure of their teams. This increased responsibility can result in higher levels of stress and pressure.
  2. Demanding Time Commitment: Leadership often requires a significant time commitment, including long hours and the need to be available even during off-hours.
  3. Difficult Decisions: Leaders frequently have to make tough decisions that can affect people’s jobs and lives. These decisions can be emotionally challenging.
  4. Potential Isolation: Sometimes, leaders can feel isolated due to their position of authority. It can be difficult to maintain the same level of camaraderie with team members when you’re in a leadership role.
  5. Public Scrutiny: As a leader, your actions and decisions are often under more scrutiny. Mistakes or failures can be highly visible and could impact your reputation within the organization.
  6. Managing Conflicts: Leaders often have to mediate disputes or conflicts within their teams, which can be challenging and stressful.

Pros of Followership Over Leadership

  1. Less Pressure and Responsibility: Followers generally experience less pressure compared to leaders as they are not typically held accountable for the overall success or failure of a project or organization.
  2. Focus on Individual Skills: Followership allows you to hone in on your specific skills and strengths, which can lead to a high degree of specialization and expertise.
  3. More Flexible Hours: Followers typically have more predictability in their schedules and may not be expected to work beyond their designated hours as frequently as leaders.
  4. Less Exposure to Conflict: As a follower, you’re less likely to be involved in high-stakes conflict resolution or decision-making processes, which can be emotionally taxing.
  5. Greater Team Camaraderie: Followers often have the opportunity to build closer relationships with peers without the complications of power dynamics.
  6. Opportunity for Learning and Growth: Followership offers a great opportunity to learn from leaders and gain experience before taking on a leadership role.

Cons of Followership Compared to Leadership

  1. Limited Decision-Making Power: Followers often have less influence over decisions and may not have their ideas implemented as frequently as leaders.
  2. Dependence on Leadership: Followers are typically dependent on their leaders for direction and approval, which can be frustrating if you disagree with your leader’s decisions.
  3. Less Recognition: Followers may not receive as much recognition for their contributions compared to leaders, even though their efforts are crucial to the team’s success.
  4. Lower Potential Rewards: Followers often have fewer opportunities for promotions, bonuses, or high-profile assignments compared to leaders.
  5. Less Control Over Work: As a follower, you might have less control over your tasks and how you do your work, especially in more hierarchical organizations.
  6. Limited Scope for Innovation: Followers may find it harder to implement innovative ideas or make substantial changes due to their position in the team’s hierarchy.

Situations When Leadership is Better Than Followership

  1. When a New Direction is Needed: If an organization is stagnating or needs to change its course significantly, effective leadership is vital to navigate the transition.
  2. During a Crisis: In times of crisis or high uncertainty, strong leadership can help guide a team or an organization through the challenges, making critical decisions swiftly and effectively.
  3. Setting Up a New Team or Project: When a new team is formed or a new project is launched, a leader is needed to set the vision, establish norms, and delegate responsibilities.
  4. When High-Level Strategic Decisions are Required: Leaders are often better positioned to make decisions that require a broad view of the organization, its goals, and its environment.
  5. When Accountability is Required: Leaders are necessary when there’s a need for someone to take responsibility for the results and make tough decisions.
  6. When Team Morale is Low: A good leader can boost morale, motivate team members, and improve productivity when the team’s spirits are low.

Situations When Followership is Better Than Leadership

  1. When You’re New to a Team or Organization: If you’re new, it’s often better to start in a followership role, learn the ropes, understand the culture, and gain experience before stepping into a leadership role.
  2. When Expertise is Needed: In situations where specific skills or expertise are needed, effective followership can be more valuable than leadership. Specialists in a field can make substantial contributions to a project or task.
  3. In Highly Collaborative Environments: In settings where collaboration and consensus are valued over hierarchy, effective followership can often lead to better results.
  4. When the Current Leadership is Strong and Effective: If the existing leadership is performing well, it might be more beneficial to contribute as an effective follower rather than trying to take on a leadership role.
  5. During Periods of Stability: In times when an organization is stable and running smoothly, effective followership helps maintain productivity and harmony within the team.
  6. When You Prefer Working in a Supportive Role: If you thrive in a supportive role rather than a leading one, followership allows you to make significant contributions while playing to your strengths.

Contrasting Leadership vs Followership Summary

Leadership and followership are two sides of the same coin. They coexist in a symbiotic relationship, each fulfilling unique roles essential for overall success. The leadership vs followership debate helps us understand that neither is superior to the other; instead, they complement each other in fascinating ways. Embracing both roles, understanding their nuances, and harnessing their strengths is key to fostering effective teams and achieving organizational success.

AttributesLeadershipFollowership
DefinitionSetting a direction, creating a vision, inspiring others to followCollaborating with and supporting the leader, contributing effectively towards the objectives
Key DifferencesInitiating action, responsibility, decision-making authority, risk-taking, communication flowFollows initiated action, individual task responsibility, less decision-making authority, works within guidelines, provides feedback
Key SimilaritiesGoal orientation, interdependence, influence, continuous learning, team success, ethical responsibilityGoal orientation, interdependence, influence, continuous learning, team success, ethical responsibility
ProsInfluence on decision making, visionary impact, personal development, greater autonomy, recognition and reward, ability to develop othersLess pressure and responsibility, focus on individual skills, more flexible hours, less exposure to conflict, greater team camaraderie, opportunity for learning and growth
ConsIncreased responsibility and pressure, demanding time commitment, difficult decisions, potential isolation, public scrutiny, managing conflictsLimited decision-making power, dependence on leadership, less recognition, lower potential rewards, less control over work, limited scope for innovation
Situations BeneficialWhen a new direction is needed, during a crisis, setting up a new team or project, high-level strategic decisions, when accountability is required, when team morale is lowWhen new to a team or organization, when expertise is needed, in highly collaborative environments, when current leadership is strong, during periods of stability, when you prefer working in a supportive role

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Hidayat Rizvi
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