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Five reasons to follow


Disciplines > Leadership > Followership > Five reasons to follow

Fear of retribution | Blind hope | Faith in leader | Intellectual agreement | Buying the vision | See also


There are many reasons to follow. Here are five levels of rationale that followers can use when deciding to follow a leader. Note how they start off as negative and become more positive. If you are seeking to lead people, it is a jolly good idea to get a good understanding of why will they follow you.

Fear of retribution

"If I do not follow, I may lose my job!"

Following out of fear is not so much following as being tugged along at the end of a rope. The leader in such cases is using coercive push methods that will work only as long as the follower sees no other choice.

Fear is not the tool of effective leaders (and certainly not ethical leaders). At best, fear-based approaches gain weak commitment and need constant attention lest the follower freezes or flees.

Blind hope

"We must do something. I hope this works!"

Here, the follower is desperate for some solution, and what the leader is offering is either the only option they see or the best of a relatively weak set of choices. The follower is thus not so much following out of agreement but from a lack of alternatives.

Leaders should watch out for hopeful followers, who are likely either to be disappointed and disillusioned when less than a perfect outcome ensues, or who will jump ship and follow others if they give them more hope.

Faith in leader

"What a great person. If anyone knows the answer, they do!"

In this situation, the follower is blind to the solution but is following because they have such faith in the leader, they believe that they will, by some magic or genius, provide the answer to the follower's needs.

Again, there is significant hope in this motivation and could lead to disappointment, but at least there is more commitment to the leader, and failure is more likely to lead to the follower accepting situational explanations rather than point the finger at inadequacies in the leader's capabilities.

Intellectual agreement

"What a good idea. That makes real sense."

Here, the follower understands the logic of the argument that the leader is putting forward and hence is following the rationale rather than the leader as a person, who they may respect but are not blindly following.

This level of followership is typical of educated people who need to understand the reasons why things happen. They may also have emotional commitment, but it typically comes on after rational buy-in has occurred.

Buying the vision

"What a brilliant idea. I don't care who thought of it."

When people buy a vision, they are emotionally closing on a view of the future that is appealing to them in some way and pulls them forward. They are not following the leader and the logic of how they will get to the vision is something they are happy to put off to a later date.

Visions are much talked about in the leadership literature, and can be remarkably effective at motivating people, but only if they can be sustained over a period of time. It is one thing to have a vision and it is another to keep going during the difficult days that are typical of the journey there.

See also

Pull and Push principles, Hope, Logic principle


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