The Seven Types of Followers


As a leader, have you ever had team members who showed little enthusiasm for your ideas? Subordinates who complied with your decisions more out of duty than eagerness?

Why do Leaders need true followers?


Followers are an essential part of the leadership equation. Without good followers, becoming a good leader is difficult as the proverb says: “He who thinks he leads, but has no followers, is only taking a walk”. Everyone aspires to be a leader but what is the chief ingredient that makes a leader effective; the followers. A good leader will not underestimate the power of followers. A good leader knows the importance of followers and is aware of the type of followers he has.

Followers impact leaders and the leadership process. Followers provide the “horsepower” to organizational performance as they are the primary contributors to the success of any organizational outcomes. Therefore, improving followership influence will have a beneficial impact on business performance.

Focusing on leadership alone is like trying to understand clapping by studying only the left hand. Jonathan Haidt


The Leadership Theories:

The Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) theory of leadership focuses on the interactions between leaders and followers and understands that it is these interactions that are the centre of the leadership process.

Contingency or Situational models state the effectiveness of a leader's behaviour will be contingent upon the organizational situation. Different situations call for different styles of leadership, and the effectiveness of a leader's approach depends upon the needs of the specific situation.

The days of leaders saying “Jump!” and subordinates asking “How high?” are over. Either people are on board with your leadership or not. Not so simple.


The influencing process is made complex because followers are not a monolithic group. Leaders wanting to build high performing teams need to be aware of the important role followership plays in group dynamics and team performance.

Over the years, only a handful of researches have attempted to study, segment and speak about followers in some depth.

  • In 1962, Robert Presthus created a theory of organizational life that defined three unique types of workers: Upwardly mobiles, Ambivalents, and Indifferents.
  • In 1988 Robert E. Kelley developed a theory of followers describing five types: Conformist, Passive, Alienated, Exemplary and Pragmatic.
  • Ira Chaleff’s Styles of Followership (2003) proposes four distinct follower types: Resource, Individualist, Implementer and Partner.
  • Barbara Kellerman in 2007 described a typology of followership based on the level of engagement; Isolates, Bystanders, Activists, Participants, and Diehards.
  • In 2008 Roger Adair proposed the 4-D Followership four distinct types of workers: Disgruntled, Disengaged, Doer and Disciple.
  • The Curphy-Roellig Followership 2010 Model builds on some of the earlier followership research of Robert Kelley, Ed Hollander, and Barbara Kellerman and consists of two independent dimensions and four followership types: Self-Starters, Slackers, Brown-Nosers and Criticizers.

My ongoing research of leadership has led me to propose 7 types of followers:


1) Sycophants - The flatterers, “yes people”. They cannot be relied upon to give critical feedback if the leader is heading in a direction that conflicts with the purpose or values of the organization. They never point out problems or raise objections; they will avoid any resistance and will defer to the leader.

2) Critics - The opposition. The detractor’s goal is to challenge and question the leader’s every behaviour and policy. They can be classified as disgruntled, perhaps for some reason they were not recognized, awarded a promotion they felt they deserved. They are frequently the first to greet new employees and tell them "how things really work around here.”

3) Realists provide constructive critical thinking and interact with the group and the leader. If they agree with the current course of action, they will back the leader 100%. Alternatively, if they disagree, they will challenge the leader, offering constructive alternatives to help the leader and organization achieve their aims.

4) Loyalists - The genuine supporters. They are highly engaged and work hard to support the leader. They are reliable and dependable. They are highly satisfied and productive and are passionate about the team and will exert considerable effort to make it successful by always giving suggestions.

5) Traitors - The silent haters and conspirators. They are very good actors. They are hard to spot (until it’s too late) as they have gained the leader's trust. They have strong negative emotional feelings about the leader and secretly work to undermine him/ her. The Judases. “Et tu, Brute?”.

6) Spectators - The observers. They are neither here nor there and just stand on the side lines. They just work for their salary and don’t get involved. They are disengaged with the organization or task and hold a position of neutrality about the leader.

7) Opportunists -The freebooters. They have a price and can easily be bought. They like to be close to the powerful and their allegiance is to whoever is on top at the moment. You can see them in full swing at political campaigns. In the blink of an eye this welcoming committee can become a lynch mob.


Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought." U. S. President, John F. Kennedy

It is important for a leader to conduct a periodic swot analysis and be honest about his /her skill set and abilities.

Followership type is not a fixated state, an individual might move from one ‘type’ to another depending on the external conditions, changing perceptions as well as leaders conduct. For example, an opportunist could easily become a critic if he sees things are certainly not going in his favour.


Good leadership begins with knowing yourself and understanding the people who are following you.  Understanding the types of followers (What are their motives and underlying psychological drivers) and who is in each camp is critical to knowing how to influence.


 Full article is contained in my new book. The Edge of Leadership: A Leader's Handbook for Success.

Online - Available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble in both Paper book and E book format.