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Zen and the Art of Followership

Jane Carrigan
School of Education
Claremont Graduate University
March 2002


Everyone wants to be a leader. In our Western culture there seems to be a lot of stress on being a leader. We give our children messages like "Be a leader, don't be a follower." However, there is a very positive side to followership. It may be the "backbone" of effective leadership. Within the scope of my research, I do differentiate between "followership" and "follower." "Follower" refers to the actions of a person. "Followership" focuses on strategic and philosophical Concepts, including knowledge management, intellectual capital, theoretical models, credibility, respect, morality, trust, and integrity.

There are volumes of research on leaders. Based on the focus and timing of most of the studies on leaders- usually the focus is on a leader and a specific event or situation; this would suggest that "history" or "time" gives us leaders. It is with reflection and the perspective of time that leaders are identified. Researchers have interviewed leaders from different domains, and within those domains identified leaders' qualities, analyzed leaders behaviors, compiled successful practices, presented theories and new paradigms, etc. The domains include politics, business, entertainment, sports, religious, etc. There have been studies comparing leadership and management with the consensus that leadership and management are distinct and complementary systems of action-management is about coping with complexity; leadership is about coping with change. There is a similar distinction yet complementary relationship between leadership and followership- leadership is about vision and focus, and followership is about credibility, influence, and action. These are all important systems of action and integral to success.

When compared to the research on leadership, there hasn't been much research done on followership. Robert Kelley has been acclaimed as having "pioneered the concept of "Followership" in 1996. Kelley suggests that we are both leaders and followers. He identified styles of followership and identified how important effective followership is to the success of an organization. Effective followership is important to our communities (whether on a local, national, or international level). We need to understand how important followerhsip is and to guide our constituents to the positive qualities of followership so that when and if the situation should arise where an individual may need to take the lead--- an individual would have the confidence and understanding to guide others-and their understanding of followership may be an integral part of their being successful. What relationship is there between followers and young girls or between followership and adolescence? Particularly, what is the relationship with adolescent girls? As young girls enter into adolescence, there is a strong pull for them to belong, to be part of a group, to follow.. Adolescence is a time where peers are very important. Peer pressure is a strong influence during adolescence. Who can't remember the influence that our peers had on us during our teens. Just as in other domains, there is a relationship between "leaders" and "followers" in teenagers. This is particularly true within the domain of adolescent girls. From a developmental perspective, adolescence is a vulnerable time in a girl's development. Carol Gilligan has conducted a pivotal piece of research on pre-adolescent and adolescent girls. Gilligan and her colleagues reviewed questionnaires, conducted interviews, and collected personal stories of young girls throughout the United States. Some of Gilligan's findings include that as a girl enters adolescence, she becomes introverted, she may lose her voice (lose her ability to speak up for herself, to express what she wants, what her goals are, etc.) and she becomes vulnerable to peer pressure.

What is the connection with "followers" and " girls?" To search for the connection, we need to be aware that "following" has a dark side. Traversing through this dark side is part of the journey to individuation. How does a young girl develop her identity? How can adolescent girls maintain their voices when there is so much pressure to be "seen" and not "heard?" How can a pre-adolescent girl nurture her sense of herself? How can young girls respond to negative peer pressure? How can adolescent girls be prepared to challenge peer pressure's "Darth Vader?"

A focus of my research is to follow the example set by Carol Gilligan and others in the study of a girl's development, and to develop innovative strategies that can be adapted and applied to the educational systems (educational systems include home practices, school curriculum, and social associations) for young women in their intellectual, social, and emotional development.

It is suggested that we need to look at how our educational systems
adapt to the needs of girls as they enter this journey. Do educational systems respond to the psychological needs of pre-adolescent girls? Do educational systems nurture the emotional development of girls? Do educational systems meet the needs of a girl's social development?

My research will include an ethnographic study of pre-adolescent and
adolescent girls to include a questionnaire and follow-up interviews. Studies will include public school, independent schools, and girls clubs or associations.

An outcome of my research is to propose a paradigm shift in leadership
theory and practice to focus on followership. The shift will include a new perspective of leadership as seen through the lens of the constituents, a new perception of the roles with a group to reflect Robert Kelley's idea that we are both leaders and followers and that we are given opportunities to demonstrate these roles in any domain and through many modalities.