Followership theory is an area that has seen minimal treatment in the academic literature and is an under-appreciated topic amongst leadership practitioners. Although it has received attention in the past (e.g. Chalef, 2003; Kelley, 1992), the study of followership is emerging once more as a critical notion for consideration with the advent of the information age and dramatic changes in organisational settings (Kellerman, 2008).
The idea that leadership is a relationship based on mutual exchange between leaders and followers is not new. Edwin Hollander (1958) suggested that leadership is a two-way influence and social exchange between leaders and followers. Building on these ideas, Robert Greenleaf (1977) went on to encapsulate the leader’s obligation to any followership with the idea that leaders should strive to be ‘servants’. In return, followers ideally provide leaders with a wide variety of positives including focus and self-direction, gratitude and loyalty, commitment and effort, as well as cooperation and sacrifice.
Reflecting this reciprocal approach, Messick (2005) describes leadership as a mutually beneficial predicated exchange in which leaders ideally strive to provide their followers with an equally varied subset of paybacks, including vision and direction, protection and security, achievement and effectiveness, as well as inclusion and belongingness. In similar fashion, Hollander (2008) also promotes a process of active followership, emphasising follower needs and expectations, with the guiding principle of "doing things with people, not to people”. Of course, it is rare that all of these factors are either met or even required by both leaders and followers. Nevertheless, some particular subset of these ‘rewards’ would usually be apparent in any leader-follower relationship, with the exact combination varying according to some combination of both participant characteristics and the environmental/goal context
As long as there have been leaders, there have been followers, and leaders cannot accomplish what they do without followers (Kelley, 1992). Newell (2002) suggested that a growing trend in leadership is to inspire followership, and to this end, coaching and mentoring outdoor practitioners to transform participants into good followers should be considered an essential skill in today’s environment. Outdoor leaders must actively contribute to the forming of good leader-follower relationships (Vince, 2002) if they are to benefit from the leader-member exchange and promote the sharing of group goals personal beliefs and values consistent with the axioms that exist in the outdoors. Finally, Banutu-Gomez’s (2004) contention that leaders must teach their followers to be good followers requires the development of concepts consistent with leader-follower exchanges that place leadership in the hands of the followers.