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.



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