Followership impacts leadership

Gerard Seijts interviewed Bruce Avolio, professor of management and executive director of the Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking at the Foster School, about his research on leadership. Professor Seijts is executive director of the Institute for Leadership at the Ivey School of Business. In the interview he asked Prof. Avolio what are the big leadership questions that will advance the field.

According to Prof. Avolio, one major question is, “Is the source of leadership followership? If so, in what way?” He goes on to say this isn’t a topic we have delved into because we assume the source of leadership is the leader. But a key discovery in Prof. Avolio’s research is that followers who have a sense of ownership in their work, don’t let their leaders go off the cliff or in other words, make poor decisions.

He also said he can tell a lot about an organization’s leaders without ever meeting its leaders. This is because followers are a reflection of what they see in their leaders. “If followers are independent, willing to challenge, feel safe to do so, own what they are charged with, and feel a deep sense of making it right, they change the leadership lens of the organization.”

Another takeaway from this interview is Prof. Avolio’s finding that financial analysts consider a firm’s leadership when valuing a firm. They can discount a firm anywhere from 5% to 20% based on their perceptions of its leadership.

Watch the full interview.

  • Jef Williams

    I found your interview with Dr. Avolio very thought provoking in regards to the topic of followership. Looking at leadership from the followership perspective is essential if the goal is to develop or enhance leadership capabilities. In addition, it is important for mainstream society to recognize that leadership alone does not lead to organizational success; its the dynamic interaction between leaders and independent and courageous followers that impact organizational effectiveness. A conceptual understanding of followership is what I noticed to be missing in many leadership discussions. It is my goal to be one of the few voices to bring to the forefront the importance of effective followership. My dissertation topic will focus on followership and the information you provided in this interview has been very helpful.


    Jef Williams

  • Derek Roach

    Being a good Leader comes down to being able to be a good motivator and motivating your followers to push towards the higher goal. Most followers are motivated strictly off of self ambition. If we can take our selfish desires and put them aside we will be able to look at our duties in a whole different realm. “Followership may be defined as the ability to effectively follow the directives and support the efforts of a leader to maximize a structured organization. However, the term followership is often linked to negative and demeaning words like passive, weak, and conforming”(Bjugstad). Yes these all may be unfavorable images and stereotypes to own but everybody needs to set their egos aside in order to be a success and remember their role in the team. That is why the key to being a good leader is making everybody believe that they are needed in order to function properly.