The Art of Change Followership

Organizational success is clearly linked to good leadership.  But, what’s often forgotten is the need for good followership.  Simply having followers is not sufficient. One of the things that good leaders and bad leaders have in common is that they both have followers. 


Barbara Kellerman in her book, Bad Leadership, identifies reasons why people follow leaders regardless of their goodness or badness.  These reasons range from having their needs met as individuals, as members of groups, or by satisfaction of their personal interests.  But good followership distinguishes itself by certain traits of the followers and of the leaders.  Furthermore, good leaders nurture those traits and qualities in themselves and in their followers.


In Followership: Leading Is A Skill; So Is Following, by Alden Solovy, several traits and behavior themes of good followers are identified: self-management, communication, teamwork, personal development, commitment, credibility, honesty, and courage.  These behaviors and traits are linked to organizational success.  Interestingly, John C. Maxwell, in The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader, leadership skills associated organizational success are consistent with critical followership skills: self-discipline, communication, servanthood, teachability, commitment, character, generosity, and courage.


Leading in the today’s difficult climate of stress and change demands that leaders pay more attention to this.  One of the key leadership attributes that Woodard and Tager discuss in Leadership in Times of Stress and Change is the need for empathy: the ability to put yourself in the shoes of your followers and to really know and feel what they are going through. 


These soft or people-centered skills may appear to be an inadequate substitute for outcome oriented leadership and followership behaviors – especially in an engineering culture as NASA.  But it can make a real difference to outcomes and productivity during today’s turbulent times.  After all, it was honesty, sincere communication and commitment of a brave little boy that helped the unclothed emperor see the leader that he needed to become.


Linda Cureton, CIO/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

5 thoughts on “The Art of Change Followership”

  1. I must admit that alot of these traits are more strengthening to the overall aspects of both good leaders and good followers. But One trait that seems to be missing or not apparent to making an organization succeed within the boundries of it provisions, Is the the trait of BACKBONE. No organization or angency can withstand any structural change, without the Skeletal Backbone of Leaders who are of true commitment to the change needed in order for success. It is this Backbone that a true leader might use in order to stand up to a superior, when times might seems to be against the nature of the change. But it is also this Backbone that the leader shows, which will convince a follower to perform a job that otherwise, would go undone, or unsatisfactorly, to a job that is done with conviction and in a higher standard. Backbones of a leader, progresses to Backbones of followers, strengthening the structure of the overall organization.

    It is rare to find individuals such as yourself, who have the Backbone that you have, in Governmental Angencies in which we, as ordianary citizens need, to move our Nation forward, and make the changes nessesary for our Government and Angencies to be trusted again.


  2. linda the above writings indicate to me you work for nasa,i will make this quick and brief,any time a write a letter to a gov offical,my computer wont send it ,it rerouts itself back to me,i will be blunt ,i have been contacted by a intelligence not of this world,it has been 1 year now,contacts me by images only,i need a privite email or phone number to send a brief,this intelligence controlls wich emails i can send out,whoever reads this take it very serious,

  3. Great thoughts on leadership. To be a great leader, you must first be a great follower. As you pointed out, the traits that make a great follower are also similar traits that make a great leader.

    Great leaders have the ability to instill leadership qualities in the people who are great followers. In turn, through constant and , a great follower will one day be a great leader.

    I've had bad leaders and great leaders (the bad ones were far more plentiful), and know the powerful positive impact great leaders can have on their followers and vice versa.

  4. Soft skills are a big focus in my company these days, it seems crazy that anyone could make it to adulthood without these basic skills but it happens. But its so important to be able to interact on all levels with clients.


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