Followers: They’re not just sheep below the glass ceiling

Forbes published an article by Kathryn Dill today that reported statistics that should not be all that shocking. According to a survey conducted by CareerBuilder “the vast majority of American workers do not, in fact, have their eyes on the top job in their field or organization”, and only 34% are aiming to obtain a leadership position while just 7% are looking to achieve the highest spot (Dill, 2014). We are raised to believe that all Americans are shooting for an ideal–some American Dream that is beyond the idea of owning land and being self-sustaining. There is this idea that America is full of fast-paced, go-getters, who measure life one achievement at a time and whose satisfaction sits in the top seat.

Realistically, though, many people are not seeking opportunities to advance to higher positions in their careers. That does not necessarily mean that they are content where they are. There are, though, many components that drive a person to seek leadership, and there are many components that cause a person to settle into the position they currently hold. The issue seems to be that there is a stigma for not seeking leadership positions. This made me think of Kelly’s Rethinking Followership as we tend to think of followers — those not seeking leadership — as though they can only be the sheep who blindly follow, the yes-people who cater to the whims of their leader, the alienated who drag their feet in the face of change, and the pragmatics who refuse to act without a clear sense that the risk will pay off. When we think about followers, we forget about the stars who challenge the leader to grow and change, who positively affect their organization, and who are an energetic force in the direction of progress. Dill’s article reminded me that followers can choose to follow rather than lead, that they can be satisfied and fulfilled by the contributions they make in their current position; 52% of the survey takers who reported they were not interested in pursuing leadership positions claimed they felt exactly that way (Dill, 2014).

Dill’s reported statistics also left me thinking about societal issues that are affecting leadership in the world in general, but specifically in the working world. According to the article, “African Americans and LGBT workers are more likely to be eyeing top roles, beating the national average by five and 10%, respectively” (Dill, 2007). These statistics sparked my attention because there is a situation to be considered, something ingrained in our culture that may motivate these individuals to leadership. Society has historically placed minority groups in the peripheral, but discrimination against these two minority groups reached a point where they were disenfranchised in the working world. There were leaders and followers who sought change, and the Equal Opportunity Employment Act provides some protection. But there are still issues of discrimination, particularly for the LGBT community, as “there are no state laws in 29 states that explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation” (Employment Non-Discrimination Act, 2014).

Leaders tend to be thought of as the center or core of an organization while followers tend to be more marginalized. It is interesting to see that marginalized minority groups who are actively fighting for civil rights in our nation are among those seeking leadership positions. As we’ve discussed in class, having hope and vision can affect behaviors. The push to eliminate discrimination based on race and sexual orientation is not only a vision held by African-American leaders and LGBT leaders; followers passionately embrace this mission as well. Could the passion for this mission be driving its followers to pursue leadership? Truly, the situation must be considered. It seems only logical that the needs of our society will be met by those who are passionate about solving the problem. It seems now we’re coming to terms with the fact that those people may be leaders, but they could be followers as well.


Dill, K. (2014, September 11). It turns out most Americans don’t want the top job. Retrieved from

Employment Non-Discrimination Act. (2014, June 2). Retrieved from

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