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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Resurrecting the Muse: Followership in Organizations

To appear in E. B. Klein et al. (Eds) New Paradigms for Leadership in the Twenty First Century. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Resurrecting the Muse Followership in OrganizationsWhat are the psychological consequences of the current focus on leadership for organizational members? What have we been asking of organizational members and how has it affected their ability to work? When we promote leadership, what exactly are we trying to change about people's relationship to work? Are we being successful? What is the connection between leadership and followership? What are the ways in which these apparent opposites are similar? What have we been denying about each that has left the other impoverished and hollow? Is it desirable from the individual or organizational point of view to change the way we think and feel about followership and leadership? Is it possible? Much is made of leadership these days. In the political arena especially, when the frustrations and failures in the public sector involve a breakdown in hierarchical relationships as much as the insufficiencies of an individual at the top, the call goes out for better leaders. In corporations and schools, the overwhelming emphasis is on developing leadership skills, for it is on these skills that the future of our competitiveness as a nation rests. Followership, on the other hand, is rarely brought up when leadership is being discussed, in spite of its obvious importance in the grand leadership plan (Kelley, 1988). The proliferation of university courses and organizational training sessions that have leadership in the title is not matched by complementary attempts to teach and learn about followership. This is a troubling state of affairs. It raises a number of questions that I would like to explore in this paper. Why have we created an emphasis on leadership, an emphasis which makes it difficult to include an examination of followership? Does this emphasis compensate for something in our culture or our organizations filling us with an exaggerated need to promote leadership and to silence whatever haunts us about the notion of followership? These questions and answers to them have not yet become part of our conversation about influence and authority in organizations. Throughout this paper, in an attempt to address these questions, I will refer to my experience in ten short workshops on the topic of followership and leadership in which I asked participants to explore what these terms mean. I began these workshops a few years ago in my early forties. It occurs to me now that my growing interest in the historically neglected topic of followership may have been an expression of a parallel theme in midlife: a return to aspects of the self neglected or left behind in early adulthood (Levinson, 1978). The participants in these workshops were all managers, mostly, though not exclusively, white and male, from a variety of countries. Many of the participants are also at midlife. My goal in these workshops has not been to convey information about leadership, but instead to give participants the opportunity for serious reflection about followership, an opportunity along with me, to revisit a neglected topic.