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Leadership as Followership
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Leadership as Followership

The Challenge of a Simple Question

When’s the last time you thought about whether you’re a good follower? That question may pose a significant challenge to many of us. We may struggle to identify the last time (or any time) that we considered our role as followers in our homes, our organizations, or our communities. Upon reflection, we may find that we spend significantly more time focused on our role as leaders. But what if we suggested that being a good follower is part of your leadership—that leadership is followership? That’s heady stuff for a Monday morning email, so grab your caffeine of choice and let’s dive into the idea.

Leadership as Followership

Very few authors tackle the idea of followership—those who do often start with a clear distinction between leaders and followers. They point to the apparent differences in organizational roles and hierarchy and invite individuals to adeptly play their unique roles. We love the point those authors make because it emphasizes the value of being a good follower. Where we would take a slightly different approach is in the idea that leader and follower roles are static and defined by position. Rather, as Allen Hamlin has suggested, we believe that “we can hold follower and leader roles at the same time in some of the very same contexts.”

Maybe an example will help. In Ethos, we have three partners: James, Becky, and David. We all have the word “Chief” in our titles. We make “big picture” decisions together, bringing our unique understanding of vision, operations, and strategy to the discussion. Yet, we have clearly defined roles and decision-making authority in other areas. For instance, we always assign a “client lead” to our projects. That partner serves as the primary liaison to the client, determines the best approach to the work and assigns tasks to the other partners. Sound familiar? If your team is like most, the simple answer is “yes,” which means we are both leaders and followers at the same time.

Core Behaviors of a Good Follower

As leaders, we know how important it is to have good followers, so how do we commit to being a good follower in our context? While there are many behaviors we could focus on, we believe there are three critical behaviors that good followers exhibit: participating, speaking in support of leaders, and taking decisions.

  1. Good followers participate. They look for opportunities to contribute their knowledge, skills, and abilities to discussions and projects regardless of whether those items directly relate to their departments. We recently witnessed a C-suite member play their role as a follower to perfection when the C-suite team discussed how to help a particular employee group understand their contribution to the organization’s mission. While those employees were not part of this individual’s department, they said, “How can I help?” After reflecting on it a few days, this leader-follower shared their unique perspective in a meeting with the employee group and decided to launch a new element to the organization’s onboarding process that would emphasize mission-role connections to all employees. By seeking to participate, this leader-follower helped to address the immediate situation and launched a program that will have a lasting positive impact.
  2. Good followers speak in support of leaders. Becky often says, “leadership is not for wimps,” and that’s borne out in the criticism that leaders often face in their organizations. Sometimes that criticism is founded on unfair assumptions about facts and motives. When followers gently challenge those assumptions and assume leaders’ positive intent, it’s a difference-maker in the organization. A mid-level manager recently demonstrated this principle by speaking up and offering a different perspective of the situation when a group of employees was openly questioning the motive of a C-suite member. By speaking up, this leader-follower clarified the immediate issue and built up the credibility of that officer.
  3. Good followers take decisions. We have undoubtedly encountered situations in which a decision is made, and we say to ourselves, “that’s not what I would have done” or “that’s not the way I would have handled it.” When faced with those moments, good followers distinguish between a decision that comes from a different approach versus one that is wrong. Once they determine their concern is one of approach or style, they still support and execute the decision. At Ethos, we often encounter this situation when in our client lead roles. While we share a mission, vision, and cultural DNA, we have different personalities and thinking patterns that lead us to different conclusions about approaching a situation. When that happens, we embrace our roles as leaders-followers and honor the responsibility of our client lead. By taking decisions, we show respect for each other and our processes.


From Reflection to Action: Consider upcoming opportunities you may have to be a good follower. Will you participate, speak in support of other leaders, and/or take decisions? What will that look like for you?

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Sherri Ferrell

“Whether it’s using a self-assessment process to identify ways to improve board effectiveness, leading the board in strategy development and succession planning, or assisting with CEO performance evaluations, Ethos is skilled at assessing the scope of a board’s needs and devising strategies to help improve their performance and the performance of their organizations.”

Sherri Ferrell
Chief Executive Officer, West Virginia Primary Care Association
Lisa Jones

“I cannot say enough great things about the strategic planning process with Ethos. The process was not only fun but truly engaging. Becky and David were able to take a multitude of ideas from more than 30 participatory team members and help consolidate them into a workable functional plan. I will definitely use Ethos again for strategic planning and other leadership consulting needs!”

Lisa Jones
Chief Executive Officer, Southern Highlands Community Mental Health Center
Renee Steffen

“Ethos was a true consultative partner in our strategic planning process. They listened to our organization’s feedback and were flexible in incorporating modifications into the process in a way that demonstrated they valued our organization’s culture and history. In addition to walking alongside us every step of the way, Ethos’s facilitation skills are top-notch. They helped move the conversation forward during critical breakthrough moments while ensuring everyone felt heard and valued. Several of our board members commented that it was the best strategic planning process in which they had ever participated. I can tell Ethos has a passion for helping clients move forward in a positive direction and this positive energy was highly evident in our experience working with them. We weren’t just another client but rather, we were a valued partner in the work!”

Renee Steffen
Executive Director, Sisters Health Foundation
Stacy DeCicco

“Our work with the Ethos team has impacted nearly every facet of our organization. Our initial experience engaged our board in a strategic thinking exercise. This half day event was originally scheduled to be an isolated experience; what it became was a launching point for organizational growth, professional development, and intentional, sustainable efforts. Our amazing experience within the strategic planning session brought mission and vision centered decision making to life for our team. The conversations of that day were not simply discussions that were archived and put on a shelf at the end of the meeting. They quickly transformed into digestible, attainable action items. Immediate implementation was possible because of the ongoing support and facilitation we received from the Ethos team. That energy and momentum flowed from the board, through our team, and out to the agencies that we support and engage across the community. We are a stronger organization because we are now able to execute our mission and serve our community better than ever before. The investment Ethos has made with us has created ripples that are felt further than they can ever be measured!”

Stacy DiCicco
Executive Director, United Way Alliance of the Mid‑Ohio Valley
Greg Franks

“Having served in leadership roles for several property management companies, I’ve had the opportunity to work with numerous consulting firms. My experience with Ethos Leadership, which involved an operational analysis of an active adult community with more than 16,000 residents, was one of the best experiences.”

“After spending two weeks embedded with our operational team and reviewing hundreds of documents, Ethos provided a comprehensive analysis and set of recommendations that addressed HR, Infrastructure, Leadership, Finance, Programs & Services, Planning, and Customer Service. Following Ethos’ analysis, we executed a plan to adopt sixteen (16) actionable steps that improved our operations while honoring the culture and values of our company and our client.”

“This entire experience set in motion a plan of execution that the community and its residents have benefited from and will for years to come. I highly recommend Ethos and their entire leadership team.”

Greg Franks
Vice President Southeast Region, AAM
Lisa Leach

“I best describe our organization’s experience of leadership development with Ethos Leadership Group as a journey of discovery that leads to building effective teams who are willing to break the silo mentality that often holds organizations from reaching their true potential. I have watched members of both our Management and C-Suite
levels grow and mature through the process Ethos Leadership Group has developed. Staff actively participates in assisting each other to achieve interdepartmental and strategic goals and share in each other’s successes rather than focus on one another’s missed opportunities. Through the discussion-based approach, our management team has learned to feel more confident in their decisionmaking abilities resulting in more effective and timely decisions. Ethos does a tremendous job of defining characteristics of effective leadership and helping staff to identify how their weaknesses and strengths can work in harmony to achieve organizational goals.”

Lisa Leach
Chief Executive Officer, Southern West Virginia Health System
Wendy Gall

“My time participating in the Ethos Executive Coaching program was a pivotal point
for me both professionally, as a new leader, and personally. Based off of a deep understanding of me as an individual, my coach was able to provide invaluable
insights and practices that helped guide me at a time in my career that was, I have to admit, a bit overwhelming. Our insightful discussions, along with the relationship that grew throughout our time working together, challenged me to grow in my areas of weakness and build on my strength, helped me formulate my thoughts around my leadership style, and provided me the tools and support I needed to gain confidence in becoming the authentic leader I am today.”

Wendy Gall
Director, Customer Care Strategic Initiatives and Innovation, First National Bank of Omaha
Enderson Miranda

“Ethos Leadership has been a trusted partner of OnSomble for several years. All members of our executive team trust and rely on Ethos’ expertise and advice. I have personally benefited tremendously by having Ethos available as a sounding board for strategic decisions over my years as COO and CEO at OnSomble. I can confidently say that Ethos consistently plays an important role in the continued growth and success of our company. I would unequivocally recommend the Ethos Leadership Group to any organization that wants to excel.”

Enderson Miranda
Chief Executive Officer, OnSomble, Inc.
Craig Glover

“The team at Ethos Leadership Group are great partners. They listened to my goals and developed a plan specific to my needs. Often, leadership groups have one approach they try to use for every situation. Ethos is different. Their various tools and approaches allows them to develop a custom plan for your organization.”

“The onsite work with the Ethos team was excellent. They are interactive, engaging, and fun. The session felt like a group of friends having a candid discussion as opposed to a work session. I highly recommend working with Ethos Leadership Group.”

Craig Glover
President and CEO, FamilyCare Health Centers
David Ray - Ethos Leadership Group

Ethos Team:

David Ray

Chief Strategy Officer

In 2017, David joined Ethos as the Chief Strategy Officer after leading and advising in the non-profit sector. An organizational troubleshooter and natural synergist, David leverages his analytical and relational skills to help clients take their business and team to their desired next level. With a passion to see others live and lead well, David enjoys connecting leaders to evidence-based practices to boost leadership capacity, build human capital, and improve organizational performance. David particularly enjoys working with clients through strategic planning, executive coaching, and team development.

Fast Facts:

  1. Started his own property investment company at the age of 24
  2. Certified Human Behavior Consultant
  3. David enjoys spending time with his family, traveling to islands, and pretty much anything that has to do with personal development
Rebekah D. Mathis-Stump, J.D. - Ethos Leadership Group

Ethos Team:

Rebekah D. Mathis-Stump, J.D.

Chief Operating Officer

Becky joined Ethos in 2009 after leading the daily operations of five distinct work teams over a ten-year period. An analyst and solution-generator by nature, she works with clients to identify their needs and develops a plan of action to reach their desired results. Having worked in numerous disciplines in her career, Becky is a generalist who brings a broad range of knowledge and experience to our clients. Becky particularly enjoys working with clients on organizational audits, strategic planning, employee training, and governance.

Fast Facts:

  1. Lived in numerous states growing up, finally claiming West Virginia as home after marrying a native son, Jeff Stump
  2. Received life membership in The Order of the Barristers — a national honor society
  3. Becky enjoys reading, golfing, and cheering on the West Virginia University Mountaineers
Dr. James A. Johnson - Ethos Leadership Group

Ethos Team:

Dr. James A. Johnson

Chief Executive Officer

In 1988, James launched our enterprise with a vision for enhancing the image, credibility, and ethics of companies and nonprofit organizations through training and coaching. As Ethos’ founder, he is our chief transformation officer – encouraging us to dream bigger dreams and mentoring us to achieve them. James brings this same passion to our clients, skillfully blending inspiration with practical application in his work. James’ primary areas of expertise include leadership and communication.

Fast Facts:

  1. Great Plains Development Officer at Pheasants Forever.
  2. Received President’s Volunteer Service Award (presented by President George W. Bush)
  3. James enjoys spending time with his wife (Lesa), hunting, golfing, and riding motorcycles