‘Leadership’ is just marketing for ‘the result of followership’

Forget Leadership, it is not something you do to people. It is something you have with people.

Ok, just a couple of quotes here to illustrate my point. The first one is from colleague Paolo Terni (ok you’ve seen him mentioned here before). In “Is Leadership as We Know it a Myth?” Paolo questions some hardwired assumptions about leadership (and influence). The whole post is a must-read if you are interested in boosting leadership in your organization. Here is my favorite part:

The “leader” has something called “influence”, a thing; he has that because of his or her character; the leader can transfer that “something” to “followers”. Wrong, wrong, wrong. “Influence” is not a thing. Influence is a dance where all the parties involved co-construct meaning and negotiate agreements. The “follower” has as much of an active role as the “leader”. Influence is mutual*

This brings me to my second quote, one from Mark Earls (yep, the Herdmeister, also a regular here on Superblyhuman.com). This is what Mark wrote in the aftermath of the Obama Presidential Campaign in 2008:

We follow each other all the time: vertically as in authorities and leaders we chose together but always and more importantly, horizontally in terms of the people we see around us. Copying by another name
Followership, though doesn’t sound that cool in business – as if it’s worth $billions in remuneration – so no wonder business schools don’t teach it but prefer “leadership” instead
Followership doesn’t sound as cool as “influence” – what the singular folk are supposed to do to us.
Followership doesn’t sound the thing for addressing the big issues that we face; bring on individual heroics every time.
But remember that dull and uninspiring ‘followership’ is what got us where we are as a species.

Mark Earls, “Lessons from Obama” at herds.typepad.com

Add this talk by marketing professor Jamie Anderson …

… and you probably understand why at Superbly Human and Ilfaro we have rather abandoned the whole leadership-influence thing and instead decided to dedicate our efforts and those of our clients to

“If one is truly to succeed in leading a person to a specific place, one must first and foremost take care to find him where he is and begin there.”
S. Kierkegaard.

Experience the art of followership for yourself through a Destination Change workshop or Destination Change consultancy.

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6 thoughts on “‘Leadership’ is just marketing for ‘the result of followership’

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  2. What a nicely written and inspiring post!

    I totally agree that leadership is a gift from your followers. At the same time, we have to be careful not to loose the distinction between followership & leadership. It’s one of the prototypical distinctions people make when functioning in a group. At the origin of this distinction lies for me a sense of responsibility, an ambition to change things.

    PS: I love your bio & ambition. Do you know Badaracco (Leading quietly)? You’ll love him.

  3. Paolo Terni says:

    Hey Hannes,
    thanks for mentioning me – and for including me in such great company! 🙂

    Brilliantly put: leadership is not something we do to others, but something we have with others.

    Have a good one,

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