Why Being a Follower Isn’t as Bad as You Think

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I think it’s safe to say that most of us have the tendency to attach the word follower to a negative connotation, but this is an ill-advised outlook in every arena, especially the business arena. And since healthcare is technically a BUSINESS, it applies here too.

From small, locally owned restaurants to large healthcare conglomerates – all businesses have a hierarchy of followers and leaders. Companies are structured with leader roles (executives, directors, managers, etc.) and follower roles (staff), with the majority of the team members falling under the follower/staff category. This means the majority of the population is, by law of averages, bound to be comprised of followers.

Contrary to popular belief, this is great news! Followers have a special responsibility; to speak truth to leaders and take risks when the leadership practices being used aren’t effective for the organization as a whole. We’d be lost without followers because leaders wouldn’t exist without them!

[easy-tweet tweet=”We’d be lost without followers because leaders wouldn’t exist without them!”]

Now, we’ve all heard that you can and should be a leader independent of an official leadership title, but sometimes it’s okay to just be a follower as long as the follower is contributing and not hindering the work.

Take Judy, for example.

When I was a new nurse, I worked with a nurse named Judy and she was brilliant! I worked on a cardiac step-down unit and didn’t fully exhale until my shift was over. I was such a nervous wreck every day, but not Judy. She was calm, cool, and collected. When a patient went into VT, she ran to the room with the crash cart, took out the paddles (yes. that was back in the day when we actually had paddles!), defibrillated the patient, and then went about her day. She knew everything – every medication, every complication, every treatment. I don’t think I would have survived my first year of nursing without her.

But Judy never got involved in anything else. She never had aspirations of being in charge, getting a leadership role, or being chair of a committee. I thought it was so odd because she was SO good. However, Judy had 4 kids and as a single mom, couldn’t afford to do more than what was absolutely required of her. She always said that she was a great follower (and she was) but that being a leader required more than she was willing to give.

Judy is one of millions of followers and although her reason for abstaining from leadership was personal, that’s not always the case. And honestly, the reasoning doesn’t really matter, because what followers provide us with is irreplaceable.

The authors of Contemporary Issues In Leadership teach us that there are 4 types of followers. They all serve their leaders differently, but each is an invaluable member of their team!

Let’s meet them.


Tonya uses her interpersonal skills and really knows how to network with others, but she doesn’t always get her work done on time; she is a politician. You’d want Tonya on any board/committee you’re a part of because she gets along with everyone and helps people rally together as a team. Her passion for people and commitment to networking far outweighs her tendency to be a little late on deadlines.


Carl embraces the task at hand and wants to do good work, as well as join others in a successful team effort; he is a partner. Partners are your dream follower because they just get it. They’re not always the first to volunteer to give a presentation or do public speaking, but they want what’s best for the team as a whole as well as their individual work.


Maria is passive and unengaged in her group, but she will always do what is asked of her;  she is a subordinate. Maria is great because she doesn’t mind, and might even prefer, doing the tedious tasks that others might not care for such as charting or organizing. She doesn’t have a strong interest in engaging with the team but she’s still a vital part of it.


James doesn’t engage much with other members of the team, but he is diligent about getting his tasks done and meeting his obligations; he is a contributor. Every company needs a James. He’s the head of accounting, a great analyst, and always up for a challenge. His lack of communication isn’t a personal flaw; it’s just not how he does his best work.

All four of these groups are a key element of a well-oiled machine. As you read over the different types of followers it’s likely that a particular co-worker or team member came to mind, which means you already recognize these traits in those around you. The next step is embracing those traits; the good and the “bad”!

Just like Judy, the “Partner”. Although she didn’t get involved or volunteer, she embraced her work and helped her team do their work.

The thing to remember is that each and every one of us brings something to the table that the person next to us doesn’t have. That’s what makes the world (yes, even the business world) thrive!

[easy-tweet tweet=”The thing to remember is that each and every one of us brings something to the table that the person next to us doesn’t have. “]

Do you have any thoughts on this? I’d love to hear from you! Are you a leader or a follower and why? If you’re a follow, which kind of follower are you?

Thanks so much for reading.

Take care. Be kind. Stay connected.

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Dr. Renee Thompson works with healthcare organizations that want to overcome the leadership and clinical challenges their people face every day.

If you’d like to find out more about her programs, please visit her website

Contact Renee today at to bring her to your organization to talk about ending the cycle of nurse bullying.

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