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Educator Corner: Building skills to follow

Educator Corner is a new feature on the blog that will appear monthly. Each entry will feature 1 of the 9 Leadership and Civic Engagement educators from around the state providing space for their thoughts on what is happening in their work that may be useful for leaders practicing in their communities and organizations.

jody.jpgI recently visited with people in a community as they discussed their future. The conversation moved to this statement - "If we only had more leaders..." This mindset is one that I, too, get caught up in. But over the past two years I started focusing on teaching skills for following as part of leadership training. So what is it all about?

It's as simple as this. Without followers, who would leaders lead? When it comes to leadership, it is important for leaders to understand the concept of followership in order to be more effective as leaders.

Researchers have studied the relationship between leaders and followers for years. Robert E. Kelley, author of the ground-breaking article, "In Praise of Followers" that first appeared in the Harvard Business Review in 1988, identified 4 types of followers:

  • The Passive Follower. These followers are passive and uncritical - often unable or unwilling to think for themselves - and they do just what they are told and no more.

  • The Conformist Follower. These followers are active, but uncritical - they don't question the leader - and they allow others to take advantage of them.

  • The Alienated Follower. These followers are passive, critical thinkers - who have developed a "learned helplessness" - and they are often cynical, but not motivated enough to do anything to make things better.

  • The Effective Follower. These followers are active, critical thinkers - with the ability to solve problems, raise up new ideas, self-manage, take risks - and they fully engage with (and often challenge) leaders.

I share these types of followers to make the point that just as there are both effective and ineffective leaders, there are also effective and ineffective followers. We build skills for following by teaching many of the same concepts we use to teach leadership such as critical thinking, questioning skills, framing issues, communication, positive psychology, and many more. When both leaders and followers understand the value of leading and following, they can be more effective in their work and in their community.

For more information on this topic, click here.

Jody Horntvedt, educator for Northwest Minnesota, works out of Extension's regional office in Roseau.

Any use of this post must include a credit to Jody Horntvedt. For questions, please contact Eriks Dunens, University of Minnesota Extension, at (612) 626-5943 or

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