To lead or to follow?

On Friday, I traveled to Middleburg, VA to attend the Head of School installation in honor of my former administrator and mentor. It was a fantastic day for this a lovely event, and seeing my mentor take on this new role was inspiring. It is a role for which she has prepared herself over many years. But my inspiration was surprisingly not motivated by a desire to become a head of school myself. Atttending this event made me think, again, about Robert Kelley’s work on followership. Like most people, when I approached the Kelley reading I did so with a bit of a sneer. Who want’s to be known as a follower? But the role of the “star follower” as presented by Kelley has some appeal to a person who yearns for active engagement in implementing a vision, but not necessarily in developing the vision independently. And if I think of myself as a “star follower” under my mentor’s leadership (and if I’m being honest, I do) then under what conditions would I take on that role again? The kind of inspiration I felt on Friday wasn’t about being the leader myself, but about finding (or rediscovering) a leader whose leadership and vision made me want to take on the “star follower” role again.

The Kelley reading included a question he’d asked executives about their ideal mix of followers – how many “yes-people,” “sheep,” “star followers,” etc. (Kelley, 2008, p. 13). What was interesting to me is that even Kelley’s focus on followership, in this reading there was little discussion of what kind of leader draws specific types of followers. The role of the “star follower” in particular intrigues me – under what conditions are those individuals followers and when are they compelled to lead? How does the environment shape the role that those individuals take on for themselves?

Kelley, R. E. (2008). The art of followership (R. E. Riggio, I. Chaleff, & J. Lipman-Blumen,      Eds.). San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass.

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