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The following article was written by Coleman Patterson and appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.

Are you a follower? March 30, 2008, 2D.

Have you even taken a good hard look at the people you work with?  Are some of them able to identify problems and take the necessary steps to solve those problems with little help or direction?  Are some of them eager to help and do whatever they are told to do, but cannot seem to think for themselves?  Do some of them seem to know and have solutions to all of the problems within the organization, but do nothing to help solve them?  Are there others who seem incapable of independent thought and action and need prodding and guidance for everything they do?  And are there others who seem to do and speak up just enough to stay out of the spotlights of attention and responsibility? 

Robert Kelley, in his scheme of follower behaviors, identified two independent dimensions on which followers differ.  One dimension has to do with follower activity and behavior and the other deals with thought and problem identification.  Kelley’s behavior dimension ranges from active to passive.  The thought dimension ranges from independent and critical to dependent and uncritical.  Kelley combined those two dimensions to identify five types of followers.

Followers who are passive in their actions and uncritical in their thinking are called “Sheep.”  Sheep lack the abilities to independently identify problems or the courses of action needed to solve those problems, and they need prodding and pushing to get them to perform.  “Yes People” are dependent in their thinking, but are active and willing to do whatever they are asked to do.  People who see all of the problems within an organization and have solutions for them, but are unwilling to act until prodded are known as “Alienated Followers.”   Alienated Followers are the ones who would rather sit around and complain about the ways things work than actually doing anything about the problems themselves.  “Survivors” are those who exist where the two dimensions intersect; they are active and independent enough in their thinking to stay out of trouble, but also just passive and dependent enough to not be noticed or given extra responsibilities.  Kelley labeled people who are active and independent in their thinking as “Effective Followers.”  Effective Followers are those who can see and figure out solutions to problems and have the energy and activity to solve them.  They are self-active and independent and work for the common good and purpose of their organizations.

Healthy organizations are made up of active and independent-thinking followers.  Training and development techniques and a sincere effort on the part of management to elicit employee involvement might be used to turn Yes People into Effective Followers.  Strong leadership can also create cultures of openness, shared decision-making, and employee involvement to transform Alienated Followers into Effective Followers.  Under effective leadership, Survivors might also be encouraged to step up and take ownership of problems and become more active.  Organizational policies, reward schemes, and high-involvement cultures must be created to promote active behavior and independent and critical thinking in organizational members.

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2006, 2007, 2008  Coleman Patterson, All Rights Reserved