News Op-Ed

It Is Leadership, Yet, It Is Followership By Musa Toyyib Olaniyi

It Is Leadership, Yet, It Is Followership By Musa Toyyib Olaniyi
  • PublishedSeptember 10, 2018


A key concept that has been relegated in discourses relating to societal development is followership. It hardly features in public discussions or scholarly works. It is never given prominence. This inadvertent or wilful denigration of the concept reflects the unenviable position it has been consigned. Yet, followership is not exactly the opposite of leadership. It does not connote blind obedience, being a ‘yes man’ or being disingenuous in one’s support of a leader.

Despite this oversight, wilful or not, we still complain about the quality of leadership in our society, forgetting obviously, that the leadership cadre inexorably emerged from the pool of followership in the society. After all, every leader is, at a point, a follower, and this resonates with the opinion of Aristotle that ‘ he who can not be a good follower cannot be a good leader’

Nexus between Leadership and Followership

The relationship between leadership, followership and societal development is beyond contestation. More so, leader-follower relationship is an enduring one that transcends ages. Matter of factly, the relationship between leadership and followership is symbiotic and it fundamentally feeds societal development. Where followership is a failure, not much gets done or what does get done is not what was supposed to be done!

This reality is exacerbated by the fact that leaders do not drop from the sky. They get recruited from the followers. Thus, in a political sense, followership is a euphemism for citizenry.

The significance of followership is underscored by the fact that historically, social changes of seismic proportions were usually engineered and led by followers. This is so because the protection of the status quo is sine qua non to preservation of power and maintenance of its symbols by leaders, across time and space.

Energized and conscious followers were indispensable in the French and Russian revolutions which significantly altered the political landscape of Europe in the eighteenth and early twentieth centuries respectively. Even in our clime here, the anti-colonial struggle and the rebellion against military dictatorship, in large measure, bore the imprints of the people’s discontent. This underpins the fact that societal liberation cannot succeed without the citizenry.

Unfortunately in Nigeria today, followership is as absent and alien as leadership hence, the unending travesties and tragedies constitutive of our national experience.

The many Faces of Followership

Even though followership has not got enough attention as leadership among scholars and researchers, different models of followership have emerged in recent time. Barbara Kellerman was of the opinion that followers are subordinates with less power, authority and influence than their superiors and therefore usually, though not invariably,  fall in line. This portrayal depicts some form of powerlessness and this may negate new thinking about the concept.

A more ennobling view of the concept was offered by Suda Lawrence when he averred that followership is the willingness to cooperate in working towards the accomplishment of the mission, to demonstrate a high degree of teamwork and to build cohesion among the organisation members.

In tandem with the foregoing edifying conceptions of followership, Robert Kelly , based on two dimensions; the degree to which followers think independently and critically, and the level of their engagement, whether passive or active in the organisation, recognised five different styles of followership and they were:

• The sheep- They are passive in thinking and engagement and they are motivated by their leaders than themselves

• The yes people- They also allow their leader to do most of the thinking and acting for them but they are generally positive and always on the leader’s side

• The alienated-They are mainly negative but think more independently. While they think for themselves, they do not contribute to the positive direction of the organisation

• The pragmatic – These exhibit minimal level of independent thinking and engagement as they are more willing to exert energy when they see the direction the situation is headed.

• Star followers- They think for themselves, exhibit positive energy and are actively engaged. They agree with and also challenge their leaders.

Closely related to Kelly’s conception of followership was Ira Chaleff’s portraiture of the concept. With his Courageous Followers Model, he proposes the following dimensions of attitude of followers :

• The courage to support the leader

• The courage to assume responsibility for common purpose

• The courage to constructively challenge the behaviours of leaders

• The courage to participate in any transformation needed

• And the courage to take a moral stand.

The configuration of followership presented by the above perspectives clearly establishes the intricate relationship between it and the polity. This presupposes that followership is an integral part of governance cum political process and this of course strengthened the assertion of some thinkers that politics is too important to be left to politicians alone simply because, government is prone to crime and a government devoid of citizens’ control is a potential criminal.

Challenges of Followership

As thrilling as the current perception of followership is, in Nigeria, followership is bogged down, among others, with the following problems:

• Poverty

• Illiteracy

• Ethnicity-

• Our thief is better than your thief syndrome


• Suicidal silence on public issues

•Malleability and gullibility

• Powerlessness in influencing government decisions

• And disunity

The Beautiful Robe of Followership

If followership will exercise significant influence on good governance , which according to World Bank, refers to the manner in which power is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources for development then, it must :

• Exhibit enthusiasm

• Be proactive about issues of public concern

• Eschew indiscipline

• Show patriotism

• Demonstrate appreciable values and virtues

• Be self-reliant

• Be well-enlightened and responsive

• Constructively engage the system

• Render constructive  criticism and proffer solutions

• And also cooperate with leaders on societal goals

Naked Truth

For so long, our society has romanced the illusion that our problems rest squarely with deficit in quality leadership. But this position obviously discountenance our individual responsibilities to make the society work.

When as a citizen (follower), you drop on the road, the banana peel you ate while traveling in a public bus, or threw out the empty sachet of water on the road, you constitute a nuisance to the society.

When you dump your garbage in the gutter simply because it passes through the fontage of your house , you increase the chances of flooding in your neighborhood. You took part in the destruction of the environment

When you inflate invoices and randomly cheat your customers, you are also a nuisance to the society

When as a teacher, you trade grades for flesh and other material inducement, you are a danger to the society

When you beg for marks for poor students that are better off learning trades and crafts or you took part in sustaining the ‘innumerable miracle centres’ where results are minted for students, you are directly and vicariously liable for catalysing the death of the society.

And the list is endless. But all of these are simple every day actions and choices of citizens, not leaders, that invariably determine whether our society will look like a paradise or hell on earth.

Apart from overcoming the highlighted problems and imbibing the aforementioned qualities, citizens (followership) must inculcate the culture of non-violent resistance. To reach the envisaged destination hallmarked by prosperity, greatness and freedom, citizens must learn to reject tyranny, insensitive and hare-brained policies of government that are not beneficial either in the short or long run. Without an entrenched culture of constructive engagements which include resistance and active participation in the affairs of the society, the leadership which in most cases, are misguided and lacking in vision will never believe that they are accountable to the people. Though, resistance must be carried out within the precinct of the grundnorm of the country. Fortunately, the constitution has provided full guarantee on citizens’ fundamental human rights.


While it is true that the problem of the country is leadership, it is equally that of followership because, the morality of every society is determined by the morality of the majority of its people. Incidentally, the qualities that make great leadership are also necessary in followership. Just as we expect our best leaders to be highly competent, credible and genuine, we also expect those traits from the best followers. And since every tree can only produce its kind, leadership in Nigeria is a reflection of followership.

©Musa Toyyib Olaniyi

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