Crises in Followership – The Cause of Many Leadership Failures

Crises in Followership – The Cause of Many Leadership Failures

It may seem inconceivable that any right thinking individual will put the blame on followers for the emergence or continuity of cruelty of bad leaders. I agree with you. Why would you blame the miserable as if their misery isn’t enough for the cruelty of bad leadership? It looks immoral or even insensitive to do so,at least on the surface.

These are two components of a two dimensional problem,the leaders and the led.  So involving one and excluding the other will not just be inappropriate but will also make it  incomplete. Considering how leaders emerge, I can categorize it into two different processes.

  1. Those who were put in positions of power or authority by the people.
  2. Those who got to positions of power or authority  by unpopular force or influence.

When a leader emerges from the first scenario, you wouldn’t be wrong to say that the followers are responsible for bringing this individual onboard, but will it be wrong to say they are responsible for his actions? This will depend on why they brought him onboard. If it is because his values and ideals align with those of the people, then yes you can say so. This is usually the case even though many will disagree.

But consider this, that the leaders are selected from the people. In other words before they became leaders they were once part of the populace. What this implies in Mathematical terms is that if  the populace is the universal set (U), the leaders are the subset {s}. In mathematics, a subset will always retain some of the properties of the universal set.

Let’s for the sake of this analogy assume that the populace is a  homogeneous mixture of people with similar attributes which define their social identity. This does not imply that they are all alike in all aspects, but only emphasizes that every group has an identity which defines them and makes them unique or peculiar or different from any other group. The same way a pack of cards will contain rectangular cards of identical weight and size but with different numbers and drawings on them. If this has been established then we can go further to say that this is purely a population and sample case .

If I took a handful of sand from the beach, will the properties of the soil sample be any different from the properties of the rest of the sand in the sea shore ? If a blood sample was taken from a patient’s vein, would the properties of the blood sample be different from what lies in the individuals blood. Medical science rely on this most of the time for diagnosis, are they ever wrong?  So if an institution or corporate body or government is repeatedly getting after many iterations a particular kind of leader, In this scenario the leader reflects the ideologies and interests of the people. So his failure is purely a failure of followership. 

For the second scenario, where a leader gets to a position of power by force or unpopular influence,  what happens afterwards is very crucial. I can categorize the general behavior or followers in this instance into four:

  1. Survival sycophancy
  2. Constructive Criticism
  3. Outright rebellion or opposition
  4. Silence.

This highlights the fact that followers have a series of options to follow which when they do, can affect either positively or negatively the status quo.

In the first instance, they only say what they think the leader would want to hear even when his actions are against the interest of the group or team. This they do out of either personal selfish interest or fear. Either way it points to the fact that they are bad followers.

In the second instance this can help transform or enlighten the leader on what needs to be done, or on what the real needs of the team or group is. If this is consistent, it either transforms the leader for good or it leads to the third which is;

Outright opposition or rebellion . When this happens it culminates to the leader being forced out by the sheer will power of the people who are led, hopefully ending the leadership crisis.

In the fourth instance, the words of Martin Luther King Jr  in his Testament of hope speech adequately summarizes it, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the vitriolic words and violent actions of the bad people, but the appalling silence and indifference of the good people. Our generation will have to repent not only for the words and acts of children of darkness, but also for the fears and apathy of the children of light.” 

Who takes the praise for the economic success of the Germans after both WW1 and WW2  even after obvious leadership failures? The people or the leaders or both? Who takes the praise for the Japanese success story after two nuclear disasters and a tsunami? The people or the leaders or both?  Whatever your answers to these questions are, the attitude of these people must have played an important role. Sure the government or corporate leaders has got a lot to do when leadership or economy fails, and this article does not try to exonerate them. Rather it tries to hold everyone responsible.

In the end, considering all the factors listed it becomes evident that leadership failure arises, stays, or continues as a result of the actions or inactions of the followers.

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3 thoughts on “Crises in Followership – The Cause of Many Leadership Failures

  1. Great piece. Most often do we forget to hold the tree accountable first before blaming whoever took just a single bite and dropping the fruit on the ground.
    In other words, inspect the tree and its fruits before taking a bite.

    And if you agree with school of thought above, who then holds whoever planted the tree for not looking after it properly.

    Everyone is part of the success or failure of a country.

    I enjoyed reading this.

    Reply
  2. Great piece. Most often do we forget to hold the tree accountable first before blaming whoever took just a single bite and dropping the fruit on the ground.
    In other words, inspect the tree and its fruits before taking a bite.

    And if you agree with school of thought above, who then holds whoever planted the tree for not looking after it properly.

    Everyone is part of the success or failure of a country.

    I enjoyed reading this.

    Reply

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