Leadership and followership are two sides of the same coin, with each playing a crucial role in the functioning and success of any team or organization. However, there’s a lot to learn and unpack when we delve deeper into specific types of leadership and followership. One of the most influential and transformative leadership styles is servant leadership. But how does this compare and contrast with the concept of followership? In this article, we will conduct a deep dive into the topic of servant leadership vs followership, unpacking these concepts to provide you with a richer understanding of their roles and impacts.
What is Servant Leadership and what is Followership?
Servant Leadership is a leadership approach in which the primary goal of the leader is to serve others. This leadership style prioritizes the needs of the team members, the organization, and the community above the self. The servant leader empowers and develops people, demonstrates humility, and contributes to the well-being of others. They place a great emphasis on the growth and development of their team, aiming to enhance individuals’ abilities and foster a positive work environment.
On the other hand, Followership refers to the behaviors and attitudes of individuals acting in a subordinate role. While it may sound less glamorous than leadership, followership is equally important in any organization or team. Effective followers are not just passive observers but active participants in their organization’s success. They understand their role, manage themselves well, remain committed to their organizations, and courageously challenge their leaders when necessary.
Key Differences between Servant Leadership and Followership
- Focus: While servant leadership places an emphasis on serving others and putting their needs first, followership focuses on supporting and executing the leader’s vision.
- Position: A servant leader is usually in a position of authority and uses their power to serve others, while a follower operates from a subordinate role, playing a supporting part in the organization’s success.
- Responsibility: Servant leaders are responsible for setting the direction and vision of the team, while followers are expected to understand this vision and work towards it.
- Influence: Servant leaders have a significant influence on organizational culture through their selfless and empowering approach, while followers contribute to the culture by actively engaging in their roles and supporting the leader’s vision.
- Development: Servant leaders focus on the development of their team members, while effective followers seek their personal and professional development within the framework provided by their leaders.
Key Similarities between Servant Leadership and Followership
- Goal alignment: Both servant leadership and followership aim for the achievement of the organization’s goals. They share a common purpose and work in tandem to achieve it.
- Active roles: Servant leaders and effective followers are not passive. They both actively contribute to the organization’s success, though in different capacities.
- Value contribution: Both servant leaders and followers contribute significantly to the team’s culture and productivity. The leader serves and empowers, while the follower supports and executes.
- Ethics and values: Servant leaders and followers both need to adhere to high ethical standards and shared values for their roles to be effective. Honesty, respect, and commitment are common in both roles.
- Continuous learning: Servant leaders and effective followers understand the importance of continuous learning. They both seek opportunities for personal and professional growth.
- Communication: Effective communication is crucial in both servant leadership and followership. Whether it’s the leader conveying the vision or the follower providing feedback, open and honest communication is key to their success.
Pros of Servant Leadership over Followership
- Empowerment: Servant leadership empowers team members, nurturing their skills and encouraging personal and professional growth.
- Morale and Satisfaction: By placing the team’s needs first, servant leadership can lead to higher job satisfaction and morale, which in turn can result in lower turnover rates.
- Team Development: Servant leaders prioritize team development, which can help create a more skilled and adaptable workforce.
- Long-term Vision: Servant leaders often have a long-term perspective, planning for the future and fostering sustainable success.
- Community Impact: Servant leadership extends beyond the organization, often focusing on serving the broader community as well, which can lead to increased public goodwill and reputation.
- Innovative Environment: By empowering team members and encouraging their growth, servant leaders often foster an environment conducive to innovation and creativity.
Cons of Servant Leadership compared to Followership
- Time-Intensive: Servant leadership requires substantial time and commitment to cater to individual team members’ needs and foster their growth, which may not always be practical in a fast-paced environment.
- Misinterpretation: The emphasis on service in servant leadership can sometimes be misinterpreted as a lack of authority or decisiveness, which could potentially undermine the leader’s position.
- Dependence on Leader: Servant leadership can sometimes lead to excessive dependence on the leader, limiting the team’s self-sufficiency.
- Difficult Balance: It can be challenging to balance the needs of individual team members with the overall goals of the organization.
- Slow Decision Making: Decision making in servant leadership might take longer, as the leader seeks to consider and address the views and needs of all team members.
- Potential for Exploitation: In some cases, servant leaders may be taken advantage of by individuals who see their servant-first approach as a weakness to be exploited
Pros of Followership over Servant Leadership
- Less Responsibility: Followership generally involves less responsibility compared to servant leadership, allowing individuals to focus more on their specific tasks.
- Skill Development: In a followership role, individuals can concentrate on developing specific skills and competencies in their area of expertise.
- Flexibility: Followers often have the flexibility to adapt to different leaders and leadership styles, making them versatile contributors in various situations.
- Supporting Role: Effective followers play a critical supporting role that contributes to the overall success of a team, which can be rewarding and impactful.
- Learning Opportunities: Followership can provide valuable learning opportunities. Observing different leadership styles can prepare followers for future leadership roles.
- Efficiency: Followership can lead to more efficiency as responsibilities are divided, and individuals can focus on specific tasks.
Cons of Followership compared to Servant Leadership
- Limited Authority: Followers generally have limited authority to make decisions, which can be frustrating for those who want more control over their work.
- Dependent on Leadership: The success of followership is highly dependent on the quality of leadership. A poor leader can make followership challenging.
- Limited Recognition: Followers may not receive the same level of recognition or reward as leaders, even when they contribute significantly to the team’s success.
- Potential for Exploitation: There is a potential for followers to be exploited or undervalued by unscrupulous leaders.
- Less Influence: Followers generally have less influence over the team or organization’s direction compared to leaders.
- Challenge in Growth: Sometimes, growth opportunities may be limited in a followership role, especially if the leader does not prioritize the development of their team.
Situations when Servant Leadership is better than Followership
- Employee Engagement: Servant leadership is particularly effective when higher levels of employee engagement and morale are needed. By putting the team’s needs first, servant leaders can foster a supportive and positive environment.
- Organizational Transformation: In situations requiring significant organizational change or transformation, a servant leadership approach can be beneficial. It encourages collaboration, communication, and supports team members through changes.
- Team Development: Servant leadership excels in situations where team development is a priority. It allows leaders to focus on nurturing and enhancing the skills of each team member.
- Community Engagement: If an organization aims to strengthen its community relations or CSR initiatives, servant leadership can be an ideal approach.
- Innovation and Creativity: Servant leadership is effective in environments that encourage innovation and creativity, as it empowers team members to think freely and take risks.
Situations when Followership is better than Servant Leadership
- Highly Specialized Tasks: In situations where tasks are highly specialized and require specific expertise, a strong followership can be beneficial as it allows individuals to focus on their specific roles.
- Inexperience with Leadership: For those inexperienced in leadership roles, effective followership provides an opportunity to observe, learn, and gradually develop leadership skills.
- Autocratic Leadership Style: Under an autocratic leadership style, followership can be more suitable as decisions are typically made by the leader, and followers are expected to execute them.
- High-Paced Environments: In fast-paced environments where quick decision-making is necessary, a strong followership might be more effective to promptly implement decisions.
- Large Organizations: In large organizations with established processes and hierarchies, followership may be more effective and necessary for maintaining order and efficiency.
- Crisis Management: In crisis situations, where decisive action is needed, having effective followers who can quickly execute instructions can be invaluable.
Servant leadership vs followership summary
Throughout this exploration of servant leadership and followership, we’ve seen that both play significant roles within a team or an organization. While they differ in their approach, responsibilities, and expectations, they share a common goal: contributing to the success of their teams. Understanding the key differences, similarities, benefits, and drawbacks of servant leadership vs followership can help individuals better navigate their roles, whether they’re leading or following. Remember, there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach – it’s about choosing and adapting the style that best suits you and your organization’s unique needs and goals. As we’ve discovered, both servant leadership and followership have their time and place, and recognizing this can lead to more effective, harmonious, and productive teams.
|Serving others, team needs
|Supporting, executing leader’s vision
|Authority, uses power to serve
|Subordinate, supporting role
|Setting direction, team vision
|Understand, work towards vision
|Significant on culture
|Contributes by engaging in roles
|Focuses on team member growth
|Seeks personal, professional development
|Goal alignment, active roles, value contribution, ethics, continuous learning, communication
|Goal alignment, active roles, value contribution, ethics, continuous learning, communication
|Empowerment, high morale, team development, long-term vision, community impact, innovative environment
|Less responsibility, skill development, flexibility, supporting role, learning opportunities, efficiency
|Time-intensive, misinterpretation, dependence on leader, difficult balance, slow decision making, potential for exploitation
|Limited authority, dependent on leadership, limited recognition, potential for exploitation, less influence, challenge in growth
|Employee engagement, organizational transformation, team development, community engagement, innovation
|Highly specialized tasks, inexperience with leadership, autocratic leadership style, high-paced environments, large organizations, crisis management