I have no argument with this enthusiasm. Leaders matter greatly. But in searching so zealously for better leaders we tend to lose sight of the people these leaders will lead. Without his armies, after all, Napoleon was just a man with grandiose ambitions. Organizations stand or fall partly on the basis of how well their leaders lead, but partly also on the basis of how well their followers follow.
- In Praise of Followers, Robert E. Kelley, HBR November 1988
Leaders can’t exist without followers. As per ‘Followership’ the article from Kristina G. Ricketts of University of Kentucky, College of Agriculture, there are five diverse rationales that followers tend to use when deciding to follow a leader, some are negative and some are positive.
- Fear of Retribution – “If I do not follow, I may lose my job!” Following out of fear.
- Blind Hope – “We must do something, and I hope this works!” In this situation, the follower is desperate for some solution and is probably only following due to a lack of alternatives.
- Faith in Leader – “What a great person. If anyone knows the answer, they do!” Here, the follower is blind to the solution but follows because they have put faith in the leader.
- Intellectual Agreement – “What a good idea, that certainly makes sense!” Logic guides this rationale, and the follower understands the logic of the argument the leader is putting forward.
- Buying the Vision – What a brilliant idea, I don’t care who thought of it!” When followers buy a vision, they are emotionally identifying with a view of the future that appeals to them in some way.
In a tabular form it will look as follows:
Narendra Modi was being perceived by a wide section of intellectuals and media that there is “outright opposition” to his candidature as Prime Minister. They forgot that he had ‘Powerful Buy-In’ followers. Narendra Modi along with ‘Powerful Buy-In’ followers was able to not only convert the followers from ‘Wait & See’, ‘Blind Hope’ and ‘Blind Faith’ segment but also from “Outright Opposition” to ‘Powerful Buy-In’ followers e.g. Madhu Kishwar, M J Akbar etc.
To do this, Narendra Modi didn’t just stand in front of a group or organization and demanded buy-in. He was able to do so by creating a sense of identity among ‘Powerful Buy-in’ through talking about “Developed and Strong India”. Followers notice what their leaders say and do. If followers value what leader has done / doing then they start promoting the leader and acting themselves as spokesperson for the leader. This happened with Narendra Modi. He had a developed Gujarat to showcase.
No matter who is memorialized as founder, no nation or organisation is built without the collective effort of a group of able, energetic, unsung followers. The nature and functions of a great follower are little understood and almost never articulated. But this is not the case with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He always acknowledged the role of followers, he always mentioned about representing 5 Crore Gujarati’s as Chief Minister of Gujarat and now as Prime Minister he talks of 125 Crore Indians.
No leader however brilliant, however charismatic can clean river Ganga on his own. Addressing a large gathering on the banks of Ganga at Dashashwamedh Ghat, during his first visit to the Varanasi town after winning the Varanasi seat by a huge margin of 3.7 lakh votes, Narendra Modi said, “I have one dream that I want to begin from Kashi, but that work cannot be done by the government alone, it also needs the help of the people of Kashi,”.
Followers need leaders to help them follow what leaders themselves are following. This relationship takes the form of a shared response-ability to a shared calling. Both find each other in a true fellowship to create the world responsibly. (James Maroosis, Leadership: A Partnership in Reciprocal Following)
Narendra Modi is a successful leader because he understands (i dare say, he alone understands among the current leaders worldwide) followership so well. He understands “Followership is a discipline of supporting leaders and helping them to lead well. It is not submission, but the wise and good care of leaders, done out of a sense of gratitude for their willingness to take on the responsibilities of leadership, and a sense of hope and faith in their abilities and potential.” (Paul Beedle)
In Developing Great Leaders – One Follower at a Time, Rodger Adair says: Followership is not a part of leadership – leadership is a part of followership. All people begin with the foundation as a follower and build up from there.
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