Follower Types

One of the key neglected aspects of leadership is consideration for the different types of followers. Much of leadership literature and commercially available leadership training is focused on improving the skills of the leader as the cure all for productivity, engagement, and retention. While leadership training is often oriented toward skill development for leaders in specific industries, the training neglects the follower role entirely. It’s as though leaders are mythical creatures that can magically get followers to do the organization’s bidding simply by applying taught leadership skills. The reality I have experienced is much different than that supposition.

Having led many different types of teams over more than 30 years, I have experienced different types of knowledge workers as followers.

The most common type is laborer/processor. Do not get that confused with laborers that do primarily manual labor, although labor can be part of the role, A laborer/processor generally performs repetitive tasks with the use of technology to provide a level of service to the end customer. These types of followers usually have some form of skill, that acts as a lens, through which data and information are processed to serve the end customer. Examples of the laborer/processor follower type are installation/repair personnel for services such as Internet/telephone/TV service companies, data center management personnel, etc. 

The second type of knowledge worker, advocates, perform roles that support the end customer’s ongoing use of the company’s products/services. These types of followers have a goal to help the company’s existing customer derive value from the product or service and retain (and sometimes upsell) the customer. While the Advocate follower type is similar in function to Laborer/processor, Advocates generally have more latitude to solve a problem for a customer through adjusting terms of service, creating exceptions to company processes, or developing creative solutions to delight the customer. Examples of Advocate type of followers include call center and help desk staff that ensure customer satisfaction.

The third type of follower is the contributor. Contributors are different from laborer/processors and Advocates in that they are using data/information and technology along with specialized skills to create revenue generating or protecting value for the end customer. Contributors differ from the other types of followers in that they are given directives and deadlines on which they must deliver the value. While the other two types of followers engage the customer or solve problems for them using specific organization processes and protocols, contributors create something that will benefit the end customer. Examples of Contributors are Programmers, Website designers, Sales people, and Product managers.

So why is it important to identify follower types? As you may imagine, each follower type is unique in their needs and wants. While there are other texts that address the care, feeding, and leadership of laborers/processors and advocates, contributors have been largely ignored, or worse yet, grouped in with the other two types.  Why is that important? We will cover that in the next post.

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