The book:Followership: How Followers Are Creating Change and Changing Leaders; Harvard Business Press; February 2008.
The big idea: Author Barbara Kellerman's message to CEOs is quite simple: Get over yourself. Your company's success isn't predicated solely on your dazzling leadership skills or even on great leadership plus shrewd hiring. Rather, success is increasingly a function of the actions and attitudes of followers--and, PS, you can't control these variables. She goes on to identify five types of followers based on their level of engagement: isolates, bystanders, participants, activists, and die-hards. The last three can have a salutary effect on your business. Unless they oppose you, in which case you are sunk.
Which shelf it belongs on: Kellerman is a leadership expert; followership is that subject's natural corollary. Her book echoes James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds in that it looks at how underlings can produce outcomes not intended by leaders. Corrupt cultures, for example, are not always created top-down; they can bubble up and undercut leaders even if they are not solely, or even chiefly, responsible for the organization's conduct.
Intriguing idea: Followers are loyal not only to leaders but also to other followers, products, projects, and even ideals such as quality or environmental stewardship. This phenomenon can save the day when a company's leadership is bad. But it can also threaten a leader's control.
Pass-along value: You could recommend the book to followers themselves, as Kellerman believes it will become increasingly critical to educate subordinates about their potential influence--individual and collective.
If you read nothing else: Chapter Six, which includes a case study of the Vioxx fiasco, is a must-read for CEOs considering passing the reins--as well as any nontechnician running a technical business. Raymond Gilmartin had little background in pharmaceuticals when he became CEO of Merck, in 1994. Unfortunately, Gilmartin's new subordinates were devoted less to him than they were to Vioxx, a drug they were developing. Vioxx was later blamed for thousands of deaths among patients with heart conditions--and Gilmartin's tenure was marked by the tragic consequences of an endeavor about which he knew very little.
Rigor rating: 8 (1=Who Moved My Cheese?; 10=Good to Great). There's little original research here, but Kellerman provides a thorough synthesis of management theory and historical literature.
Last updated: Mar 1, 2008
LEIGH BUCHANAN is an editor at large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture. @LeighEBuchanan