Chapter 1. Rethinking Followership

Robert E. Kelley

When I began my work on followership twenty-five years ago, I was not particularly aware of what I was doing in the bigger scheme of things. My only goal was to bring attention to the study of followers. I was simply thinking about followers and followership roles, and I wanted to explore the subject.

At the time, leadership was the primary focus for just about all scholars in the field. Very little research or theorizing considered followers, and if it did, its purpose was to better understand leadership.[10] I felt like the odd person out. Executives, academics, and even people sitting next to me on airplanes questioned why I would bother with followership when leadership spurred the media attention, research funding, and high-paying corporate training gigs. Most people held a very negative view of followership and discounted anything positive that could come from the role. No one talked about followership; it was never part of the conversation, unless it was tagged on as an afterthought. At some point, I finally decided to put a stake in the ground and say to the world, "We need to pay attention to followers. Followership is worthy of its own discrete research and training. Plus, conversations about leadership need to include followership because leaders neither exist nor act in a vacuum without followers."

The road I went down was not easy at first. I made a major step with my 1988 Harvard Business Review article, "In Praise of ...

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