Without followers, a leader is just a person taking a walk.

Followership Lesson

What’s Included:

  • Video
  • Types of Followership
  • Suggested Activities
  • Suggested Debrief Questions for any leadership / followership activity

A little entertainment goes a LONG way to opening minds!

The single most important aspect of being a leader is your first follower.  True follower, voluntary and not someone who must follow you

The single most important aspect of being a follower is who are you going to follow and why?

Below is a hysterical example of a crazy man who develops an AMAZING group of followers.

And he was nothing but a crazy guy until he had his first follower.  After his first follower who ‘stuck’, many more joined in.  Watch it!

This is entertaining but also conveys a critical message and talking point that can lead to great discussion.

Leadership gets all the glory.

But a leader without followers is simply taking a walk.

Followership is incredibly important for every group and for leaders.  Leaders must also be followers.  And good followers at that.


Types of Followership:

Fear and Survival

Domination – followers will stab you in the back when they can as they are constantly beaten up.

Rank – followers only follow due to rank and nothing else

What Can You Do For Me?

Expertise – followers pursue the knowledge you have and will leave you when you have nothing left to teach

Power – followers will leave the leader when the leader can no longer help them

What Can I Do For You?

Mission – You are driven to help fulfill a high-purposed goal.  Ending apartheid, eliminating polio, etc.

Role Model – think Gandhi or Mother Teresa.  You follow them because of their role and what they model – you believe what they stand for.

What Followers Want:

Gallup Surveyed 10,000 Followers in 2005-2008

In the Gallup research, their goal was to involve people across a broad spectrum of society, from corporate organizations, to social networks, schools, churches and families.  It was a true random sampling of more than 10,000 ‘followers’ and was anchored around “what leader has the most positive influence in your daily life” and three words best describing what this person contributes to your daily life.

They were very deliberate with the design of the survey and the questions asked.  For example they asked each person surveyed to identify a specific ‘leader’ who ‘has the most positive influence’.  This way they were excluding leaders who may have a predominantly negative influence.  As one leadership expert  points out: “The three greatest leaders of the 20th century were Hitler, Stalin and Mao.  If that is leadership, I want no part of it.”

Also, in their survey, instead of listing categories for the respondents to choose from, they were determined to let the followers define how leaders make a difference to them in their own words.  This effectively removed any bias of pre-determined categories or words, such as ‘vision’ or ‘purpose’ that get most of the attention in leadership research.

“Upon completion of our initial surveys, we studied the 25 most commonly mentioned words.  To our surprise, many of the “usual suspects” like purpose, wisdom, humor, and humility were nowhere near the top of the list.”  As their analysis continued, distinct patterns started to emerge.  For example more than 1,000 people had listed the exact same word, without any prompting with categories or word options offeredTheir research showed that ‘followers’ have a very clear picture of what they want and need from the most influential leaders.

The followers’ four basic needs were found to be:  Trust, Compassion, Stability and Hope.


Trust is the fundamental, must-have of leadership.  Without trust there is no foundation to build on.

Trust is often a challenge to explain in words, it is either there or not.  Most theoretical definitions are based on the belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone (or something).  In any position of leadership, trust is the “do or die” foundation for leading others.

As Kofi Annan is quoted, “If you don’t have relationship, you start from zero each time.”


Followers want their leaders to show genuine compassion for them, at least in the same way they would care about a friend or family member.


Followers want a leader who provides a solid foundation, being someone they can always count on in times of need.  Follows need to know that their leaders have core values that are stable to provide an environment where they know what is expected.   Those surveyed also mentioned words such as security, strength, support, and peace.  Our need for stability and security plays into nearly every decision we make.


Hope is a higher level need which provides an interesting challenge for leaders when coupled with the previous requirement of stability.  Followers want stability in the present but want hope for the future.  Words such as direction, faith and guidance were also used in describing this need in their leaders.

“Instilling hope may seem like an obvious requirement for leading other people.  Hope gives followers something to look forward to, and it helps them see a way through chaos and complexity.  Knowing that things can and will be better in the future is a powerful motivator.  When hope is absent, people lose confidence, disengage, and often feel hopeless.”

Read more about this study in Tom Rath’s book titled ‘Strengths Based Leadership.

Great Activities for Followership

Activities  that are good for leadership tend to be good for followership as well.

Activities that have a challenging structure for communication:
Chain of Command
TP Shuffle and
Traffic Jam, for example.

Communication can always be a challenge so there is a need for strong leadership and followership.  And you will see certain kinds of leadership occur naturally in these situations.

Spider Web, Horizontal Web and Electric Fence are all great for leadership as each of them require a unified effort to achieve your goal.  Any activity that requires a unified and concerted effort of the team is a winner.

Trust Walk is another great activity, even though it is a paired activity.  As the blindfolded partner, how easily do you allow yourself to be lead?  Do you help the leader and provide feedback or simply place your welfare in their hands ‘blindly’?

Suggested Questions for Follwership Activities

Do not ask ALL of these questions but pick from a few of them and use the DIGA model in the ‘Lesson Plans’ page.

Describe Questions

  • Describe the kind of following you saw in the activity?
  • What kind of follower were you during the activity?
  • Did you help or hinder the leader?

Interpret Questions

  • Why was it important to have followers?  What might happen with more followers or fewer followers? (Depends upon what hapens during the activity)

Generalize Questions

  • Think about followers outside of this activity.  Why is being a follower important in life, in school, at work?
  • In what areas of your life are you a follower versus a leader?  Should you be following or should you be leading and why?

Apply Questions

  • Where in your life could you be a better follower?  Why there?
  • What have you learned from this activity that you can apply in life?  Go around the room and have each person say one thing.

MOST IMPORTANT – when you ask questions, be sure they are open-ended questions and not close-ended questions. A close-ended question is a Yes/No or other simple answer that requires no explanation.

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