Studying and Transforming Extremist Followership
Some of the best thinkers in the field of Followership have at one time or another called for more research into why people follow toxic leaders.
In the The Art of Followership, Robert Kelly asks “Why are we not making a followership inquiry into the issue of suicide bombers?”
In The Allure of Toxic Leaders, Jean Lipman-Blumen observes “Once we fall under a toxic leader’s spell, escape is likely to be painful, sometimes nigh impossible.”
In her book Followership, Barbara Kellerman describes one of five follower types: “Diehards are as their name implies – prepared to die if necessary for their cause … We wonder why ostensibly ordinary men and women are willing to blow themselves up because someone somewhere asked or ordered them to do so.”
These critical observations and questions are being addressed at this moment in a unique conference being sponsored by Google Ideas, a self-described “think/do tank.” Some 120 former members of extremist organizations are being brought together to examine how technology can be used to create alternative paths for those who would otherwise be called to the dark side of followership.
A conference organizer stated the aim of the conference this way: “The hope from the conference is that we will figure out some of the ‘best practices’ of how you can break youth radicalization.”
This is a worthy endeavor that I trust will be followed up with more research and application. Ultimately, it is only by transforming the dark tendencies of followership into courageous and principled followership that we will break the hold that toxic leaders can exert on whole populations.