A lot has been said about leadership and how to thrive as a leader, but there is one topic that hides great insights and usually is neglected when we talk about team-building: followership.


Some days ago, while enjoying my morning-austrian-black-coffee and reading 97 Things Every Engineering Manager Should Know, by Camille Fournier, I was exposed to the term followership and got intrigued by it. The model cited in the diagram above was created by Ira Challef, one of the best minds on leadership. This gentleman is a known author and speaker that has some great ideas regarding followers, which I will present to you.

Looking at the diagram, x means how much support an individual provides to her leader, while y represents how much the person challenges the ideas of her manager.

Individualist (low support, high challenge): team members who usually have their principles and don’t care about the opinions of the leader or the rest of the team; they prefer to do as they want and are continually challenging ideas, for good and the bad.

Resource (low support, low challenge): people that usually do what is required but not more than that, they often never challenge the ideas of their leaders or coworkers and don’t go the extra mile.

Implementers (high support, low challenge): individuals who are fully committed to the team’s goals and to the direction set by the leaders, without challenging peers or managers too much. They are usually very dedicated but need someone to guide them.

Partners (high support, high challenge): with this type of follower, you have highly engaged team members, which challenge the ideas of their leaders when needed but at the same time deliver a lot of value to the team, being always a real partner to the manager and usually they have the same or higher impact than the leader. This type of follower is often a good candidate to become a leader in the future.

After acknowledging this model, I started to use it as another tool to classify myself and the people I work with to understand what needs to be developed. Should I challenge my manager a bit more? Should I be a bit more supportive inside of my team? The beauty of it is that there is no right or wrong type of followership, there is space for everybody, and people have different needs. I’m sure there are leaders out there who prefer a team full of resources, while others prefer the right mix of partners and implementers. The same with team members, not everybody wants to be a partner, or maybe you like to see yourself as an individualist?

In any case, it’s a useful framework to add to your game.