Colleges, universities, and scholarly think-tanks generate countless volumes on leadership and followers in relationship to leaders. Seldom do these well endowed institutions consider leaders in relationship to followers, from a followers perspective. As the study of followership evolves, its import on organizational growth grows exponentially.
Historically, followers were considered workers doing the bidding of supervisors and managers. Hierarchy shared only enough information for a worker to do, generally, his job. The worker had no idea how his piece fit into the whole. This industrial age thinking was agriculture essay appropriate in the mid nineteenth and early twentieth century as masses of generally less educated farmers and farm workers left agriculture for a more secure life style in growing industrial cities.
Not only adults entered the industrial work arena, but also businesses employed children as young as pre-teen in dangerous and potentially deadly jobs. Without lengthy belaboring of child labor and multiple incidents of death and dismemberment that lead to strict child labor laws, it is important that there is a link between the agricultural migration to cities and child labor laws. The puzzle pieces are complex and fitting them into an exact pattern is difficult, yet as part of the final analysis, the pieces lead to the establishment of public school systems and required minimum education standards. Over time, public secondary schools, and public colleges began providing advanced educational opportunities to more masses of people.
Workers receiving more education began questioning supervisors and managers who sensed their authority over workers shrinking. Workers began knowing and understanding their organization and knowing and understanding their place in their organization.
Perhaps an example from the text Atomic: Reforming the business landscape into the new structures of tomorrow1 will provide a meaningful glimpse of change. Most scholars cite Martin Luther as the prime mover of religious reform, the Protestant Reformation. It is true that Martin Luther was highly significant for many reasons including translating the bible into the language of the people. However, another person about 75 years earlier had a different role that was perhaps more formidable.
About 1455, Gutenberg, with his movable type printing press, produced the first print bible. Rather than waiting years for a monk to transcribe a bible, manually, word for word, Gutenberg could set type and reproduce hundreds of pages in days. Suddenly, people who could read, could obtain a print bible. No longer dependent on clergy in the pulpit to interpret scriptural meaning, the power of the clergy was broken. Workers receiving an education broke the power of supervisors and managers similarly.
Martin Luther and Gutenberg did not cause the collapse of religion, they changed the face of it. People of faith did not stop being faithful, how they practiced their faith changed. Workers did not bring down organizations, they changed the face of management. Workers continued to work; however, how they worked changed.
Significant change in religious practice and worker behavior did not occur from a top down pronouncement. Rather, the significant changes occurred from the bottom up, from the follower who became aware that something needed change. In the mid 1800s in England and early 1900s in the U.S., sociologists and psychologists began studying something called leadership. Leadership was radically different from management ideas of command and control.
These early studies began telling managers that Machiavellian practices of power over workers were not satisfactory to gain worker compliance. They began teaching that workers do so because they want to contribute to the success of an organization. Past thinking emphasized that organizations exist for people, so they have a place to work. New thinking began emphasizing that organizations exist because of people who work because they want to.
Leadership was first defined about 1815, and, as already cited, studies of leadership began in the mid 1800s. About 1925, one hundred years after leadership as an idea appeared, the first reference to followership occurred. Defining followership sounds similar to a childhood game called “follow the leader.” Followers are an extension of their leaders.
Although these teachings were early leadership insights, they were still top down, applicable in the industrial age. Contemporary business is not industrial in 2008 as it was in 1908 and through the end of World War II. Moreover, technological advances make information available to huge populations over the internet, organizational intranets, and extranets. The idea of supervisors and managers withholding information seems unimaginable in today’s corporations. The internet today is the Gutenberg printing press of 1455.
The shift to followership studies is seen in recent organizational studies that focus to the meaningful work of followers in organizations. Numbers vary, but researchers generally believe that about 75 to 90 percent of organizational accomplishments occur within follower groups who receive about ten percent of the acknowledgement. The research also assessed leaders work in organizations. Although leaders hold position and title, most spend approximately 70 percent of their work day in follower roles.