Do you have a mental model of a good follower? Of a bad follower? In my last post I wrote about Implicit Leadership Theories, and in this post, I’m going to talk about Implicit Followership Theories.
Recent research from Thomas Sy shows that we have two mental models of followers – the prototype and the anti-prototype.
The prototype follower demonstrates three categories of behaviour. First, they are industrious, hardworking, productive and go “above and beyond”. They are enthusiastic, excited, outgoing and happy. And finally they are good citizens, loyal reliable, team-players.
The anti-prototype follower also has three aspects to their behaviour. They show conformity, are easily influenced, follow trends and are soft-spoken. They are incompetent, uneducated, slow and inexperienced. Finally, they are insubordinate, arrogant, rude and bad tempered.
We use these mental models to categorize people into “good follower” and “bad follower”. As leaders, this simplifies the effort needed in managing our followers. An interesting aspect of the process of categorization is that we often use one single feature about a person in order to categorize them. This is referred to as the “halo effect“. We allow one single aspect of a person to influence our evaluation of their personality and characteristics. Thus if someone is soft-spoken, they may be categorized as a weaker follower, merely due to soft-spokenness.
Implicit Followership Theories often influence our assessment of those we work with. What you assume is a good follower might be quite different than my assumptions. As a manager/leader, it is important to explicitly share your assumptions and expectations of your followers. And followers need to share their assumptions about what makes a good follower. In this discussion, it is possible to identify possible areas of disagreement, and potential areas of misunderstanding.
Good leaders and good followers examine their own underlying assumptions about good and bad behaviour and traits. When working with others, they share their assumptions in order to be more effective when “playing with others”. What are your assumptions about what makes a good follower? How are they shaped by your experience and culture? How might they be different than your colleagues?
Source: Sy, Thomas. “What do you think of followers? Examining the content, structure, and consequences of implicit followership theories”. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 113 (2010) 73–84 83