Followership and Team Killers

Talent is a critical factor in team effectiveness, and one overlooked aspect of talent is followership.

Teams can be of the right size and structure and members can be in the right roles with the right skills, but bad followership can destroy team morale and performance.

Followership concerns the level of engagement and critical thinking skills demonstrated by team members.

These two dimensions can be divided into four followership types: Self-Starters, Brown-Nosers, Slackers, and Criticizers.

The power of the model becomes obvious when leaders use it to assess the follower types on their team. Leaders need to manage the four types differently, so knowing members’ types provides leaders with insights on how to best manage them.  

Self-Starters: Seeking forgiveness rather than permission. Followers like Bob and Vonda are passionate about working on the team and making it successful. Constantly thinking of ways to improve team performance, when encountering problems they tell their leaders what they how they have resolved issues rather than waiting to be told what to do. This follower type will improve their leaders’ performance by offering opinions before, and providing constructive feedback after, bad decisions. Self-Starters are critical to the performance of teams and are the most effective follower type.
Brown-Nosers: Seeking permission rather than forgiveness. Ken and Sharon have a strong work ethic but lack critical thinking skills. Brown-Nosers are dutiful and conscientious; rarely point out problems, raise objections, or make waves; and do whatever they can to please their boss. Their need for assurance can be time consuming, yet these followers play politics well and often go far in organizations.
Slackers: Working to live rather than living to work. These followers don’t work very hard, think they deserve a paycheck for just showing up, and believe it is the leader’s job to solve problems. Slackers look busy but get little done, have good excuses for not completing projects, and spend more effort finding ways to avoid finishing tasks then they would by just doing them. Slackers are “stealth employees” who are happy to spend their time surfing the Internet, shopping online, gossiping with co-workers, and taking breaks.

Criticizers: Finding fault in everything. As a Criticizer Bruce believes his job is to educate co-workers on the team leader’s shortcomings, how any change effort is doomed to failure, how poorly the organization compares to the competition, and how management ignores their suggestions. Criticizers are the most dangerous of the four types, because their personal mission is to create converts.


Several aspects of the followership model require additional comment. First, leaders can use the model to understand group dynamics and what they need to do to improve team talent within any team or group. Second, these four follower types are dynamic—members who were once Self-Starters can become Criticizers and vice-versa. Because follower types are dynamic, leaders should periodically assess their own behavior and use the followership model to evaluate the impact it is having on the people in their groups. Third, teams and groups with higher percentages of Self-Starters are more likely to be successful than composed of Criticizers and Slackers.