We have long been fans of the work of the Institute for Global Ethics and its founder, Rush Kidder. He has authored several books, teaches seminars on ethics and has done important research on the common ethical values that exist in almost every society and culture. As subscribers to his newsletter, we enjoy his weekly, topical commentaries and find they often have relevance to our work.

His January 31 commentary talks about talks about followership, an oft-overlooked corollary of leadership. People such as politicians, corporate CEOs, academics, and religious figures may be seen as “leaders” but they won’t be effective unless they attract followers who respect them enough to engage a vision. As Rush points out, the $50 billion leadership industry is thriving, but how is the return on that investment manifesting? Judging from people’s cynicism about many of the world’s foremost leaders (and for that matter, the leaders we work with every day), the dividends aren’t always visible.
One of Rush’s questions in particular got our attention: “Have we so undernourished our sense of followership that [people] equate “we-ness” with weakness?” We have a related question: Are the skills for effective collaboration required to create a preferred shared future being lost in the obsession to look out for No. 1? Kidder argues that ethical leadership must take good followership into account because “if we teach leaders to respect followership only so that they can become even better at controlling others, we’ve missed the point. Followership isn’t a means to somebody else’s end. It’s the essence of community-building.”

This is a concept that is baked into our notion of authentic conversations, which calls for setting aside self-interest in favor of working toward the success of the whole. It means shifting the perspective of “if you win, I lose” (and vice versa) to an understanding that cooperation and collaboration help us maximize the success and well-being of all.

The notion of effective leadership shifts from getting others to do things your way to encouraging people to coalesce around a greater, defined purpose. It means that people share values and a vision for a preferred future and work together to develop the roadmap and necessary tools for getting there. In that sense, we are all leaders and followers.

Authenticity demands forgoing to the manipulation of others to serve our selfish interests and instead engaging each other transparently and with goodwill. As our friend Ira Chaleff writes in his wonderful book The Courageous Follower, followers don’t orbit around a leader — leaders and followers both orbit around purpose.


Written by Maren and Jamie Showkeir

Owners of henning-showkeir & associates, inc., and co-authors of Authentic Conversations: Moving from Manipulation to Truth and Commitment.