Where have all the followers gone?

Schedlitzki, Doris, Kempster, Steve and Edwards, Gareth (2020) Where have all the followers gone? Leadership, 17 (1). pp. 118-128. ISSN 1742-7150


In this short article we explore and problematise the axiomatic assumption of follower in the field of leadership studies – notably the leader-follower axiom as the essential foundation of much leadership theorising. We do so, firstly by drawing on our experiences of exploring followership conceptually and, secondly, by reviewing conversations with Executive MBA students. From these sources we argue that the absence of identifications with followership offers a challenge to leadership assumptions around the socio-materiality of followers and their relations with leaders within organisational contexts. This leads us to questions like: what if follower identifications do not typically exist or are rejected in everyday organisational working contexts – despite discursive labelling of individuals as followers or following practices? Would or should leadership research and its examination of leader-follower dynamics fundamentally change and in what ways? We explore these questions and suggest very different orientations that might appear with regards to notions of the leadership relationship, leading and following dynamics, practice-based attention to leadership, and perhaps very different approaches to leadership development. Such a (re)appraisal of the leadership lexicon may move notions of follower identification out of social constructions of organisational leadership and towards social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) – where the phenomenon of being a follower is ever present, but is redefined as a phenomenon of vicarious fantasy associated with interest, curiosity and entertainment.

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