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 about “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, through their passivity, laziness, or cynicism, are detrimental to organizational success.

Everyone may have the potential to become a prominent leader, 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 devote time, money, and energy investing in followers. Here are seven traits that make great followers tick.

Effective Followers Are Proactive

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Effective followers don’t just passively carry out the 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 affect 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’ actions 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 as a leader or a follower, you know it’s not the same thing to complete tasks mindlessly as being devoted beyond your call of duty. Studies by Gallup find that engaged employees are more productive and perform better than their counterparts regardless of the industry, company size, economic situations, or nationality. Those findings explain why leaders value followers who are willing to go the extra mile. Without followers’ devotion, leaders, regardless of how effective and visionary they are, will struggle to drive results for the organization.

Followers Have Excellent Collaborative Skills

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One trait that separates effective followers from ineffective ones is the ability to work harmoniously with others to reach a common goal. Collaborative skills involve active listening, respect for one’s peers, and teamwork. Effective interpersonal skills enable followers to collaborate with their peers to solve pressing business challenges efficiently and effectively.

Effective Followers Have an Open-Minded Attitude

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Tough competitions, constant disruptions, growing uncertainties make innovation and employee creativity critical for companies to succeed. Effective followers, through their open-mindedness, find creative ways to serve customers faster, cut costs, and improve businesses’ bottom line. That’s the rationale behind many companies’ continuous emphasis on creative quotient as a vital tool for success.

Effective Followers Are Diligent

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Diligent followers are detail-oriented, careful, organized, persistent, and thorough. They don’t just quit when faced with challenging situations, but work with determined effort until they succeed. Thus, they consistently exceed their leader’s expectations by producing high-quality work.


No leader wants to lead a team of passive, arrogant, or cynical followers. Check any job description, and you see how much companies value an independent, responsible, and self-directed workforce. 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.