The Normalization of Followership

When my book Followership was originally published, in 2008, the word, “followership,” was almost unheard of. So rarely was it used that when I typed it into my computer a red underline promptly appeared, signaling a misspelling. Though “followership” remains rather an uncommon conception, those days are over. My computer is fine with “followership,” recognizing that at least it’s entered the lexicon.    

What’s remarkable these days is that despite followers increasingly frequently driving the action – the dynamic between leaders and followers has changed, permanently – our fixation on leadership remains. Look around you and you’ll see what I mean. In every liberal democracy – that is, everywhere followers are not oppressed and suppressed – often as not it is followers who are leading and leaders who are following.

I define followers as people without obvious sources of power, authority, or influence. In recent weeks people without obvious sources of power, authority, and influence – “yellow vests” – have changed the politics of France. In recent weeks people without obvious sources of power, authority, and influence – British voters – have driven Great Britain to the precipice of Brexit. In recent weeks people without obvious sources of power, authority, and influence – Catholic laity – have forced the Vatican to cope with the crisis of priestly abuse. In recent weeks people without obvious sources of power, authority, and influence – residents of New York City – have forced Amazon to retreat from its plan to build in Queens. In recent weeks people without obvious sources of power, authority, and influence – Venezuelans – have marched by the tens of thousands to push from his perch President Nicolas Maduro.

I could go on. But the point’s been made. How is it possible at this moment in time to fixate on leadership to the exclusion of followership? It’s not – the importance of followers is screamingly obvious. Followership has been normalized.   

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