How Followership Complements Leadership

Followership should be added to the list of critical non-technical skills all accountants develop as part of their professional (enabling) competencies, and it should be included within overall performance management practices.
How Followership Complements Leadership
From the CPA Ontario Centre for Sustainability Reporting and Performance Management (previously the CPA Ontario Centre for Performance Management Research and Education) at the University of Waterloo
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Key take aways from the paper

Is followership important?

A majority of accountants believe followership is as important as leadership. Consequently, it should be accorded greater recognition and training. It was also noted that you cannot be a leader if you do not have people willing to follow you. In other words, there are no leaders without followers.

How is followership defined?

Five definitions were offered by interviewees:

  1. as part of an interrelated leader-follower pair - in this definition, leadership is defined as creating a framework for success which others work within, and followership is defined as taking informed initiative within a framework
  2. as a set of behaviours such as being a good team player
  3. as a position in a hierarchy – a follower is anyone who reports to a “leader”
  4. as a relationship - as one person said, “I would understand (followership) in terms of how we exist to meet the needs of others”
  5. a leader-centric perspective was also offered - followership is when someone has willing followers, i.e., that person attracts great followership (meaning a lot of people)

What is exemplary followership?

It includes behaviours such as challenging and questioning in a way that is timely, effective, and uses positive voice, embracing the organization and leader in a variety of ways, and taking accountability for their own work.

What does an exemplary follower look like?

The top three characteristics of excellent followers are honesty/integrity, dependability, and competence.

In what ways is followership valuable?

For accountants, followership is important for personal outcomes, team outcomes including team dynamics, leadership capacity and success, and client outcomes. However, with clients, it depends on whether the individual is in an audit capacity (followership is viewed negatively) or most other capacities (positively viewed).

  • In terms of personal outcomes, strong followership is associated with improvements in engagement, personal growth, career success and promotion, recognition, and the confidence to take on new assignments.
  • In terms of team outcomes, followership is associated with stronger team culture, putting the needs of the team first, getting all the work done, improved retention, and better alignment with team and organizational goals.
  • In terms of leadership outcomes, strong followership is associated with improved leader effectiveness, the ability of leaders to be more successful, less procedural overhead dealing with team and individual matters, and better leader-follower relationships.
  • In terms of client outcomes, accountants who could take on an exemplary follower role when needed served their clients better and built stronger client-accountant relationships. However, accountants should not follow when working in an Audit capacity.

What are the responsibilities of leaders to followers and followership?

Leadership responsibilities include:

  • developing their followership, leadership, and technical skills
  • supporting followers and creating an environment for them to flourish
  • finding opportunities to let others lead

Who or what do accountants follow?

There are many different sources of leadership that people follow, including:

  • a formal boss or leader
  • decisions that have been accepted by the follower
  • goals and visions of an individual or organization
  • clients
  • a code of ethics either determined through personal beliefs or professional training
  • professional standards

Does followership matter for ethics?

Part of understanding followership is thinking of it as a role that has personal agency – it is not “followersheep”. People who believe that followers have agency are more likely to ask questions and take independent, ethical action when needed.