Followership, Team performance and Organisational Psychology


“Good leadership is the stuff of countless courses, workshops, books, and articles. Everyone wants to understand just what makes leaders tick – the charismatic ones, the retiring ones, and even the crooked ones. Good followership, by contrast, is the stuff of nearly nothing.”

–  Barbara Kellerman in HBR Dec. 2007

In organisational psychology three topics get lot of attention- Motivation, Teams and Leadership. There is huge literature on these topics. Lot of tools like psychometrics tests, role plays, in basket exercises etc. have been designed to measure them.

One concept that is slowly gaining acceptance is concept of followership (here focus is on followers of a leader). Lot of research has been done in this area by Barbara Kellerman, Abraham Zaleznik and Robert Kelly. They felt that organisational psychology was spending too much of time on studying leadership, while neglecting a very critical component of leadership, i.e. study of followers. Dynamics of followership was most critical issue which played role in success or failure of leader.


Each one of them has come up with his/her classification of followers.  Kellerman classified them as isolates, bystanders, participants, activists, and diehards.  Kelly has classified them as exemplary, pragmatist, conformist, alienated and passive.

But my favourite is study on followership by Gordon Curphy and Robert Hogan, which is part of their Rocket Model of Team Building.

Bad followership can destroy team performance. Followership concerns the level of engagement and critical thinking skills demonstrated by team and group members. A group member may have all the right skills and be in the right role, yet sit in the corner and pout rather than perform. Other members may have fewer skills but work hard and offer good ideas for improving processes which, ultimately, improves team functioning.”

–  Gordon Curphy, author of ROCKET Model


By plotting level of engagement and critical thinking skills on two axes they have developed 2×2 matrixes for classification of followers.

  1. Those high on both i.e. critical thinking and level of engagement are called as self-starters. Hogan describes them as…

Self-Starters are individuals who are passionate about working on the team and will try to make it successful. They constantly think of ways to improve team performance by raising issues, developing solutions, and showing enthusiasm.

self starter

  1. Those high on level of engagement but low on critical thinking are called as brown nosers, whom Hogan describes as…

Brown-Nosers are dutiful and conscientious, rarely point out problems, raise objections, or make waves, and do whatever they can to please their boss.

brown noser

  1. Those low on both are called slackers. Hogan describes them as…

Slackers don’t work very hard, think they deserve a paycheck for just showing up, and believe it is the leader’s job to solve problems. Slackers are clever at avoiding work, often disappear for hours, look busy but get little done, have good excuses for not completing projects, and spend more effort finding ways to avoid finishing tasks than they would by just doing them.


  1. The last category is of those who are high on critical thinking but low on engagement, so called Criticizers. Hogan describes them as …

Criticizers are followers with strong thinking skills who are disengaged. Rather than directing their analytical skills to productive outcomes, they find fault in anything their leaders and organizations do.


Ideally most of your followers should be in self-starter category and very little in other three categories.

Membership of each category is not static, it is quite dynamics ex. self-starters can become criticizers and vice versa.

So leadership is not only about vision, strategy, profits and markets, it is also important to understand team dynamics.



Manager, Farmer and Rancher

 “The excitement of learning separates youth from old age. As long as you are learning, you are not old. “

  • Rosalyn Sussman Yalow , American medical physicist, 1977 Nobel Prize.


In most of the organisations that are averse to change, managers are like farmers. They confine themselves to plot of land they own for a long time. Over a period of time law of diminishing returns sets in. To get same yield, he now has to put more fertilizers, spray more insecticide and dig deeper wells. These activities after some time make soil infertile, water level goes down and water gets polluted due to chemicals in fertilizers and pesticides.



Similar phenomenon in an organisation is called as tenure creep. A person keeps doing same task for years, but due to annual increments cycle, his tenure results in rise in salary year after year. After some time you end up with a high cost resource.

Who is to be blamed for this- individual (who did not upgrade his skills) or organisation (who did not upgrade employee’s skills)? It is difficult to answer to this question, but in today’s context, most of the organisational development experts feels that it is individual’s responsibility to keep himself updated.


Manager should be like a rancher, he should allow old cattle to die and replace them with new ones. This keeps the organisation competitive. Humans have advantage over cattle; they can renew themselves and can compete with new ones.


Depression, Deepika Padukone and Virginia Woolf

“Some years ago, a temporary inability to sleep, caused me to walk about the streets all night. I would get up directly after lying down, go out, and come home tired at sunrise. My principal object to get through the night.”

– Charles Dickens in Night Walks       

I found interview by Deepika Pandukone very interesting, perhaps for first time an actor is openly talking about suffering from mental problem (depression). She talks about how she got herself treated (which included taking medicines) and how she overcame the problem. I also liked the fact that she will be making efforts to increase awareness of mental problems in India. This will help in removing stigma attached to mental health related problems and encourage people to approach Psychologists/Psychiatrists.


In Clinical Psychology, depression comes under the category of mood disorders. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders describes symptoms of depression as…

  • Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day.
  • Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day.
  • Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day.
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt (which may be delusional) nearly every day.

bdi 2 manual

One way to assess the severity of depression is use of Beck Depression Inventory-II.  It consists of 21 items to assess the intensity of depression in clinical and normal patients. Depending on the score the intensity of depression is assessed. The scale is given below.


Deepika Padukone is not the only celebrity who suffered from depression. Famous personalities like Abraham Lincoln, Charles Dickens and Virginia Woolf also suffered from depression.

virginia woolf

Virginia Woolf suffered from depression throughout her adult life and ended her life by committed suicide. She was suffering from depression while she was writing novel Mrs. Dollaway.

The novel has two storylines, first one is about rich lady Clarissa Dalloway,who is in her fifties and is preparing for a party. The second storyline begins with Septimus Smith, a shell-shocked war veteran, out on the street with his wife, Lucrezia. Septimus struggles with the aftereffects of the war, hearing voices and feeling that life has little meaning. Novel ends with Septimus committing suicide and hearing this news Clarissa does not feel happy with her party.

Virginia could identify herself with depression related problems faced by Septimus esp. negligence by doctors towards those suffering from mental health related problems.

My mind turned by anxiety, or other cause, from its scrutiny of blank paper, is like a lost child–wandering the house, sitting on the bottom step to cry.”

― Virginia Woolf, A Writer’s Diary


the hours

Later a film was made based on this novel called – The Hours. The Hours describes the interwoven stories of three women, all of whom are battling depression: author Virginia Wolfe who is writing the novel Mrs. Dalloway in 1923, a pregnant housewife who is reading this same novel in 1951, and a publisher who, in 2011, seems to strangely be living the life of the main character in Wolfe’s novel.


Abraham Lincoln too suffered from depression. In fact he postponed his marriage to Mary Todd more than once as he suffered from depression before marriage.

“I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth. Whether I shall ever be better I cannot tell.”

  • Abraham Lincoln to John Stuart in 1841.









Ram Charan and Execution



“Thinking is not enough. People have to execute. Look at a Nokia or a Kodak: they had the ideas, they had the technology, they knew what was coming, but they did not execute.”

– Ram Charan, Forbes



Here are excerpts from interview with Ram Charan gave to Forbes India. He talks about his favourite topic – Execution.

Are there a set of traits you think a globalised company ought to have?
Dr. Ram Charan: The fundamentals never change. In addition to energy, character, the ability to inspire people and having a vision, what makes a difference is the ability to understand better than others the external factors, government policies, economic changes, collecting the right people. Thinking is not enough. People have to execute. Look at a Nokia or a Kodak: they had the ideas, they had the technology, they knew what was coming, but they did not execute.

FI: What prevents execution?
Dr. Ram Charan: It takes skill and discipline. People are not trained. It requires coaching people.


FI: Do you think Apple knows how to execute better than anybody else?
Dr. Ram Charan: I’m writing a new book that shows Steve Jobs had that rare combination of being able to connect new ideas and executing tasks. Those are repeatable skills. He was the master integrator—highly focused, and he understood consumers. And that’s the reason Apple succeeds and others don’t.

FI: What does an ‘integrator’ mean exactly?
Dr. Ram Charan: In organisations structures develop where you have silos. Marketing, operations, technology, finance, human resources—and then you have a general manager. But their actions have to be integrated, they have to be synchronised. That skill is missing in many companies. When Steve Jobs came back, he put design first, as the major driver, and then he built a weekly joint practice of various experts to integrate various ideas. He did that every Monday for 14 years. He got people from materials, software, hardware, supplies—everybody together, just like a football team. By integrating, he innovated.

Trade Unions, Datta Samant and Software Programmers

 “This is not fair. My father had taken a loan to get me here. Who will pay it back?”

  • Cabin employee of Jet Airways who lost job during layoff


The Industrial Disputes Act under Section 2(s) defines a “Workman” as-

“Any person (including an apprentice) employed in any industry to do any manual, unskilled, technical, operational, clerical or supervisory work for hire or reward, whether the terms of employment be expressed or implied.”

Only exceptions are those working in armed forces and police force. Since definition is very broad, it includes every person who is doing manual, technical or clerical job. So those working in IT, ITES industry too get covered under this definition. But IT workers thought it was beneath their dignity to get themselves equated with workers, so stayed away from unions.

But recent news of TCS sacking thousands of employees has resulted in some employees joining trade unions like CITU . For first time unions had been able to gain foothold in sector which till now had avoided them.

“The TCS shock has opened the eyes of the IT professionals who have traditionally been reluctant to join the trade union movement… faced with retrenchment, IT professionals are now discovering the virtues of unionising.”

– A D Jayan, General Secretary of CITU-linked Association of IT Employees (AITE)

Before trade union leaders get euphoric, they also need face hard facts. IT programmers joining unions will be a temporary phenomenon, once TCS denies such rumours (which it had done) and assures them about them jobs, most of them will leave union.



This has happened earlier also, when Naresh Goyel of Jet airways announced layoff of 1900 junior level employees, air- hostesses, cabin crew etc. joined unions, but left unions when Naresh Goyel assured them that their jobs were safe.

“I have not been able to sleep all night. I apologise for what has happened…I request all of you to start work from tomorrow morning.”

  • Naresh Goyel, on reconsidering his decision to sack 1900 Jet Airways employees.



Kind of bonding that is needed between unions and workers to make trade unionism a success is totally lacking in case of IT employees.

In case of manufacturing sector, the workers are stable i.e. they stay with same employer in same location for a long period of time, and secondly, the level of networking between them is very high. This helps in building a bond among themselves.

The workers expect union leader to take key decisions on their behalf i.e. those related to salary, productivity and working conditions. For this they need lot of faith in union leaders.

These factors are lacking in case of IT employees, in IT industry attrition level is high, they themselves negotiate their salary and level of networking is low.

In case of textile industry, Datta Samant used to negotiate wages, productivity and working conditions on behalf of workers. The workers had total faith in him.

When he successfully negotiated agreement on behalf of workers of Permier Motors, where the minimum wage was raised to Rs.1,000 a month from Rs.650 earlier, in gratitude, the workers donated Rs.10 each to buy him an air-conditioned Premier Padmini Deluxe, complete with a stereo to listen to the nostalgic film songs that he loved.

“The Premier settlement resulted in a production rate of 74 cars a day compared with the pre-strike level of 62, and truck output doubled to 10 a day, with the company posting profits for the first time in years.”

  • Dutta Samant, in interview to India Today in 1982.


Tactics used by Dutta Samant like making unreasonable demands, declaring strike, tearing off balance sheets and declaring them as fake etc. may have worked in manufacturing sector, but are not likely to work in IT sector.

This may result in companies shutting down their development centres in India and shift to some other country.

dutta samant

Even in 80s, some organisations like Indian Express, refused to negotiate with Dutta Samant, they preferred to close their office in Mumbai, than accept demands of Dutta Samant.

“Samant was ignorant of the fact that the Express group had implemented the Palekar wage  award. Kicking off with the irrelevant demand to implement the award, Samant then asked the management to award each worker a Rs.400 monthly wage hike only to cut it abruptly to Rs.200 after five minutes. Moments later he tried to settle for a minimum wage of Rs.1,000.”

  • Arun Shourie, Editor of Indian Express to India Today in 1982.


But Dutta Samant thought differently, he felt that his demands were reasonable and negotiations also resulted in higher productivity, which helped employers.

“Firstly, strikes and violent agitations are not the norm. It is not in more than 1 per cent of my units that the matter escalates into a strike. Secondly, at factories where we have reached a settlement my workers give at least 5 to 10 per cent extra productivity… I tell them that now that you have got your money you have to do your share.”

-Dutta Samant, in an interview to India Today in 1982.

Discrimination Learning, Probability and Organisational Culture

In Psychology ,discrimination learning talks about whether one can discriminate between two or more stimulus. We should and we do learn this skill very early, even before we learn language. This skill gives us necessary labels which become part of language ex. a child learns to discriminate between real puppy and toy puppy. This learning continues throughout our life, later in life we learn to discriminate between which activities give us reward and which activities don’t or whether to take credit for an event or blame someone else for same event.

2 (2)

One feature of discrimination learning is probability matching, where probability of response matches probability of event ex. if an employee is given two situations, situation A and situation B, probability of occurrence of A is 25% while probability of occurrence of B is 75%, now assuming that he is not aware of probabilities, and asked to predict probability, he will start with 50:50, but over a period of time, as he learns, he is able to predict actual probabilities i.e. 25:75.


This is applicable to organisational culture, a new employee is told about organisational culture in induction program. But soon employee using his skills in discrimination learning is able to understand which activities have more probability of getting rewarded and which have less probability of getting rewarded and starts practicing or learning those activities which have higher probability of getting rewarded.