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Types of followers

This article discusses the different types of followers that can be found and looks at the five followership styles.

In the previous step, you were introduced to theories and studies about the concept of followership. You have examined various theoretical approaches that consider followers according to their level of importance in their relationships with leaders.

This contributed to a better understanding of the relationships between leaders and followers and how leadership works or fails. You were encouraged to think about what you could change in your role as a leader or a follower to co-create better and higher forms of leadership.

Through your experience as a leader or a follower, you may have noticed that, like the existence of multiple styles and types of leadership, there are different types of followers that affect leadership in different ways depending on the characteristics of the follower.

Follower typologies

There are several follower typologies in the literature. One of the first and popular typologies is by Robert Kelley (1992), who classifies followers using these two dimensions:

  • The extent to which followers exercise independent, critical thinking.
  • The degree of active engagement.

By utilizing these dimensions, Kelley’s purpose included helping organisations promote and develop effective followers, who contribute to the organisation’s success.

The resulting matrix identifies five followership styles, i.e. sheep, yes-people, alienated followers, survivors and effective followers:

  • “Sheep” are passive and uncritical, lacking in initiative and sense of responsibility. They perform tasks given them and stop.
  • “Yes People” are livelier, but remain an equally unenterprising group. Dependent on a leader for inspiration, they can be aggressively deferential, even servile. They are also referred to as ‘conformist followers’.
  • “Alienated Followers” are critical and independent in their thinking, but fulfil their roles passively. Somehow, sometime, something “turned them off,” prompting them to distance themselves from the organisation and ownership of its mission. Often cynical, they tend to sink gradually into disgruntled acquiescence but rarely openly opposing the leaders’ efforts.
  • “Survivors” are followers who perpetually sample the wind and live by the slogan
  • “better safe than sorry.” They are adept at surviving change.
  • “Effective followers” think for themselves when carrying out tasks. They bring energy and enthusiasm while exercising initiative and assertiveness. They are also referred to as ‘exemplary followers’ or ‘star followers”.

Reflect & Reply

Please reflect upon the key question below and respond using the comments section below.

What type of follower are you? Identifying your own follower type will make you more aware of how you and other individuals interact with leaders.


Kelley, R. (1992). The Power of Followership. New York, NY: Doubleday

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How to Harness Followership for Leadership Success

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