We have left 2011, which was an extraordinary year in terms of follower-leader relationships. “Powerless” followers overturned several mid-east governments, changed the national conversation in the US regarding the cost of government (the Tea Party movement) and the disparity in opportunity between the very well off and the struggling (the Occupy movement), and led Time magazine to name “The Protester” as person of the year.

What will 2012 bring?

In this context, the subject of “Followership” has become more urgent to study, understand and teach. In September the Navy retained me to give a keynote address and facilitate breakout groups for 400 Naval Public Affairs Officers. This month, the Consular Affairs Bureau at the Department of State invited me to talk on the topic “Follow Courageously”. The video of this talk is being made available to every US Embassy and Consulate to use. “Follow Courageously” is one of Consular Affairs’ 10 Leadership Tenets and it is the one on which staff are being asked to focus this year during their Consular Leadership Day activities.

2011 saw the words “follower” and “followership” enter the social media lexicon as a natural role that we assume in relation to others and that they assume in relation to us. The power of social media to help people self-organize into economic and political forces became irrefutable. A 23 year old young woman was able to mobilize hundreds of thousands of customers in days to get the mighty Bank of America to reverse its decision on assessing additional fees on debit cards—another watershed event.

The Occupy movement went a step further and shunned the whole notion of formal leaders. Note though, there is still horizontal leadership and this then requires a whole new way of doing followership. The result is exquisitely greater attention to group process and consensus building.

Whatever else 2012 brings, it will require governents, schools, businesses, non-profits and social movements to create environments in which participants at every level can meaningfully express their views. If those conditions are not created and supported, the conversation will quickly migrate into the public online forum and from there to the streets.

For those of you managing, training, consulting, coaching, researching or organizing in the group dynamics space, it is a time to think deeply about how individuals and organizations create the conditions of respectful candor in service of their collective mission. Whether we think in terms of followership or membership or citizenship, the world has shifted and we, our organizations and our clients need to shift as well.


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