A leaders with a group of followers

What Are the Characteristics of an Effective Follower?

Now that’s a question you don’t hear every day. A Google search for “How to be an effective follower” turns up 57,8 million results, while the same inquiry for “How to be an effective leader” yields 1, 04 billion results in a fraction of a second. This enormous difference reflects our obsession with leadership, which unfortunately eclipses the role followers play in organizational success.

For an organization to thrive, there must be great leaders and effective followers. An effective follower is proactive, reliable, self-directed, devoted, and committed to their organization’s mission. They are willing to put their organizations’ needs above their personal interests. Ineffective followers, on the other hand, are passive, uncritical, and often cynical about their leaders’ efforts. Passive followers, or sheep, as Robert Kelley calls them, don’t take initiative and have no sense of responsibility. These followers, whether through their passivity, laziness, or cynicism, are detrimental to organizational success.

Everyone may have the potential to become prominent leaders, but not everyone will become a leader. Therefore, it is important we consider those who, either because of a lack of motivation, interest, or choice, decide to be followers. In addition, leaders themselves must play the role of a follower at some point in their leadership journey. To ensure team and organization success, just as we focus on training leaders, we must spend some time, money, and energy investing in followers. Here are four traits that make great followers tick.

Effective Followers Are Proactive

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Effective followers don’t just passively carry out leader’s mission. They are responsible and know when to take the first step. In the uncertain and fast-changing business landscape we live today, proactive behavior is more important than ever. Leaders don’t have all the answers, therefore having followers capable of taking the lead when necessary is of utmost importance.

Effective Followers Are Supportive

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Outstanding followers contribute to a company’s success by supporting their leaders and peers to achieve organizational goals. Leaders must be able to rely on their followers to meet deadlines, accept challenges, and seek new learning opportunities. Unsupportive, cynical, and passive followers can severely impact an effective leader’s performance. Therefore, an influential leader will always favor a supportive follower, because their efforts will be a catalyst for organizational success.

Effective Followers Are Reliable

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Effective followers know the importance of taking ownership and completing their tasks with minimal supervision. A leader’s charisma can never guarantee their followers’ action because our behaviors are both willed and caused. Therefore, it is critical for leaders to cooperate with reliable and self-directed followers.

Effective Followers Are Devoted

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If you have worked in a group setting, you know it’s not the same thing to complete tasks mindlessly as being devoted beyond your call of duty. Studies find that leaders value members who are willing to go the extra mile. Without followers’ devotion, leaders will struggle to drive results for the organization.


No company wants a passive, arrogant, or cynical employee. Organizations thrive when their workforce is composed of independent thinkers, are responsible, and self-directed. Thus, you don’t need to be a leader to cultivate those skills. Whether you are a follower by choice or by necessity, developing effective followership skills is important.

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