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Followership: much more than simply following the leader
  1. Judy McKimm,
  2. Claire L Vogan
  1. Swansea University Medical School, Swansea, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Judy McKimm, Swansea University Medical School, Swansea SA2 8QA, UK; j.mckimm{at}

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…leadership can only occur if there is followership – without followers and following behaviours there would be no leadership.1


Followership describes how individuals respond to and interact with their leader and others. For many years, however, the spotlight was on identifying approaches the leader should use when interacting with and managing followers, and followers were largely seen as passive and subservient to the actions and instructions of the leader.1 More recently, there has been increasing focus on how followers shape, define, and cocreate leadership and leaders’ actions and identity,1 recognising that all individuals, both in senior and more junior positions, move around the leadership ‘triad’ (figure 1), using leadership, management and followership skills according to the situation, environment or position they find themselves in at any one time.2

Figure 1

The ‘leadership triad’.

All health professionals have to learn how to work effectively in multiple teams and, reflecting this, training programmes place much emphasis on the development of teamworking skills. Traditionally, the development of teamworking and leadership skills have been seen as two separate entities, and consideration of the concept of followership in terms of teamworking is relatively recent.3–5 Learning how to be an authentic leader as well as a ‘proactive’ follower can lead to more effective interprofessional teamworking4 6 and ultimately an improvement in health outcomes.7 In clinical situations, the ‘dance of leadership and followership’ involves being able to step up to take leadership when needed (which may be ‘small “l” leadership’,8 such as leading on a task), to recognise how and when to follow a leader and to acknowledge that leadership may be distributed and rotating, not necessarily vested in one individual.

The types and behaviours of followers

Over the years, researchers have suggested ways of followers based on their role or behaviour within a group and towards …

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  • JM and CLV contributed equally.

  • Contributors Both authors (JMcK and CLV) have contributed equally to the article.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.