In a society fascinated by leadership, have we devalued the significance of followership?
As part of a team that put on his organization's largest international conference, Allen Hamlin Jr. was asked, "How many people do you manage?" His answer--"None"--caught people off guard.
Even though he brought significant influence and contribution to the table, he didn't have a single person reporting to him.
Is it okay to simply do well where you are? What if you want to use your gifts, talents, and abilities to perform with excellence--without aspirations of occupying a formal leadership role?
In Embracing Followership, Hamlin walks you through the many facets of being a follower, helping you make your own unique contributions to the various organizations, working groups, communities, or congregations you're part of.
Allen Hamlin Jr has served with an international Christian non-profit organization since 2006. His role has primarily consisted of providing team development training and consultation, along with mentoring and member care, to multiethnic teams serving around the world. He and his wife, Lindsay, have participated in numerous working groups and facilitation committees for various global initiatives, and have lived in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Allen currently provides leadership and support for a number of teams operating in southern England, Wales, and Ireland. They have a deep appreciation for the values and tensions associated with serving in and alongside of cultures outside of one’s country of origin.
Both Allen and Lindsay view themselves as being most effective when they can serve in roles that bring them alongside a leader and vision. They thrive on employing their various skills in teaching, administration, organization, writing, and resourcing to provide the support necessary to free up others so that they can fully engage in making the best use of their own energy and abilities, with the result of seeing the organization’s aims achieved with effectiveness, efficiency, and excellence.
Prior to departing the U.S. for living overseas, Allen worked as an adjunct math instructor at a community college in Dallas, Texas, during which time he completed a master’s degree in theology at Dallas Theological Seminary. He also has a master’s degree in mathematics from the University of West Florida and undergraduate degrees in religion and mathematics from the University of Florida. He holds additional qualifications as an MBTI® certified practitioner and a Clarion Model senior consultant.
I’m a follower by trade. On a regular basis I can be found grinding away at my desk while my boss is in meetings that I would loath being a part of. I thank him regularly for being the boss and allowing me to function within my gift set. I’m also a youth pastor and I am often asked about my plans for the future – there always seems to be an underlying expectation that some day I am going to grow up and be a “real pastor.” For the time being I’ll choose not to jump up on my soapbox and start preaching on the importance of youth ministry, but I will say that I was glad to read on the first page of Embracing Followership that this work is purposeful in “treating followership as its own endeavor, not as a style of leadership or a way to build your career.” I resonate with this view of followership. I follow because following allows me to use my gifts most fully. I follow because I have a boss worth following. I don’t have some grand scheme to be the leader and sometimes (in a culture that elevates leadership) it feels as if I’m off my rocker for being willing to spend my career as a follower.
Hamlin does a good job debunking some of the myths concerning followership and explains that, “if followers were of inherently poor quality, then no excellent leaders would ever have the appropriate human resources available to accomplish the vision, projects, and tasks of the organizational team.” Being a follower is good, acceptable, and honorable. Leaders need followers and, I’ll be honest, while I know this in my heart, it feels really nice to hear someone say it!
Nevertheless, embracing our follower role is not enough. Embracing the role of follower is only the first step in the process – we need to be excellent followers, and Hamlin spends the majority of his time detailing the methodology of good followers. Hamlin offers much practical advice for follower – time management, rest, stewardship, respect, etc. He also is thorough in highlighting the potential obstacles to following well. But at the core of Hamlin’s approach are the areas of communication and relationship with one’s leader. He notes that as we get to know our leaders and understand them as fellow human beings, we tend to be more forgiving, understanding, and helpful instead of always pointing out the flaws.
I do think, however, that Hamlin lets leaders off the hook a bit too much. He has done a good job of elevating the importance of the role of the follower and offering helpful advice for becoming a better one, but the truth is that there are bad leaders out there – lots of them. One issue with being a follower is that it can be very easy to see the flaws of a leader and their decisions. While I agree with Hamlin that it is important to support our leaders, I fear that Hamlin puts too much pressure on followers to support the leader no matter what. Leaders should be held to higher expectations – it is not the job of the follower to coddle a poor leader. He explains that our leaders are not perfect – they have areas of poorness where they need support. However, if the leader does not recognize those areas of weakness, what is the follower to do? Hamlin provides a ton of helpful information, but the truth is that sometimes leaders are simply bad and even the best followers in the world can’t help them if they will not listen and will not help themselves by growing and learning.
Organization: While the table of contents seems to organize the information in this book well, the organization of information in this book is lacking. It doesn’t build from chapter to chapter as smoothly and effectively as one might hope. One could also open to any chapter and read it as a standalone. This is not necessarily bad, but I found a lack of a clear thesis running through the entirety of the book to be distracting.
Why three stars? While I do not rank books on my blog, I do rank on both the Amazon and Goodreads platforms. I believe that this book would be a 4 star read were it not for the following. The content in this book is very good, but many of the sections that I found myself highlighting were quotes and references from other books that Hamlin referenced. One can easily see from the myriad quotations and full bibliography that followership is not a subject that has been neglected in the business world. Why then another book on followership? My hope was that Hamlin was going to offer insight from a biblical worldview – that we would see what God has to say about followership. Sadly this is not the case. This book is scripturally barren and I am saddened that Hamlin chose to make this book religiously neutral. My frustration led me to contact the author and he confirmed that he omitted Christian content in order to make the book accessible to a wider audience. I’m disappointed that Hamlin chose this route and am even more disheartened by the fact that Kirkdale chose to publish a book that is quite clearly not Christian. There are lots of great books out there that are not inherently Christian, but when I read a book published by a Christian publisher (especially one under the umbrella of Faithlife), I expect it to be Christian in content. Hamlin offers no biblical affirmation of any of his opinions, which leaves his book a series of, well, his opinions and thoughts. Were his main points supported by Scripture (I still believe they are, he just never pointed this out!!), I think this book would have carried much more authority than it does in its current form.
Leadership is something of a cottage industry. There are books, motivational posters, podcasts, TED Talks, and conferences designed to help you grow your leadership and lead well. A smaller amount of literature exists on the idea of followership (mostly published by leadership experts). Allen Hamlin Jr. has worked in the non-profit sector, training, mentoring and consulting for multi-ethnic teams for a Christian non-profit. In Embracing Followership: How to Thrive in a Leader-Centric Culture he critically engages the literature and offers insight and advice on how to follow well (and nurture followership).
Hamlin explores the topic under six headings. In Part 1, he addresses misconceptions regarding followership. These include both misconceptions followers have about following (leadership is the goal of followership, following is for cowards, followers have no influence and lack dignity, and followership is for lemmings) and misconceptions leaders have about followers(i.e. followers are unqualified to lead, following is the polar opposite of leadership, followers just follow to get ahead). He also discusses the misconceptions followers have about their leadership (leaders are superior, that they must be perfect, hierarchy is inhibiting, and that followers don't really need leaders). Against these misconceptions, Hamlin underscores the intrinsic value of following well, and the ways in which leaders and followers form a mutually beneficial relationship.
The concept of followership is sharpened in Part 2. In chapter five he describes the obligations of good followership such as participating, stewarding resources well, and honoring and submitting to leadership. Additionally, followers follow well when they have the right attitude and are committed to their own personal development (62-65). Chapter six outlines the significant contributions followers make by giving credence to an endeavor, providing a network of support, helping provide guidance, and contributing the leader's development. Chapter seven discusses the concept of ownership, where both followers and leaders feel invested in their organization and the task at hand.
Part 3 explores the obstacles to following well. These include internal challenges (i.e. the need to be original, the desire for acknowledgement, and the inherent difficulty in taking risks), relational challenges (the break down of communication, personality differences, misaligned and unspoken expectations), and cultural challenges (organizational structures, labels and vocabulary, and cross-cultural differences). Hamlin suggests several resources for overcoming these difficulties including tools like the Ennegram and MBTI (and other resources for understand personal and group dynamics), mentoring and coaching and training in cross-cultural awareness (Chapter 11). Followers also thrive when their vision and role are clarified (126-132) and there is space for healthy rhythms of work and rest (135). The final three sections of the book explore the relationship with leaders (Part 4), other followers (Part 5) and what leaders can do to nurture good followership (Part 6).
Hamlin illustrates the book with personal stories and plenty of quotes. He provides a comprehensive and critical reading of the literature, mindful of dynamics and opportunities for good followership. One of the insights I came away with was the common charactersitics of booth good leaders and good followers. Good leaders and followers are both concerned about their personal development, are good stewards of resources, enact and support the corporate vision, and exhibit ownership. It is true leaders and followers occupy different roles and functions, but both of them are essential to the success of an organization.
Another overlooked aspect of followership that Hamlin shines a light on is the influence of followers. Followers have tremendous capacity to support and give legitimacy to a leader's vision, and influence their leader and offer input into the over all vision (156-57). Every follower who buys into the corporate vision is also a small "l" leader, influencing their peers towards excellence (181-82).
As a Christian, followership is more fundamental to my identity than leadership. Hamlin shares my Christian worldview, as does his publisher (Kirkdale Press); however this isn't a Christian book in the sense that only Christians will benefit from Hamlin's insights. Hamlin's context is the not-for-profit world, but his message is broadly applicable for non-profits, churches and businesses. Followers will find plenty of food for thought on how to pursue vocational excellence wherever they are (or somewhere with a leader worth following). Leaders will find encouragement and insights for nurturing followers and the the environment of those they lead. I give this book four-and-a-half stars.
Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. Embracing Followership is available via Amazon or direct from the Kirkdale Press.
Take a look around the bookstore next time you’re in it, and look for the section of books on leadership. Whether it’s management, entrepreneurship, or just general leadership growth in daily life, we have hordes of material on leadership thrown at us on a regular basis. Seminars, workshops, blogs, the list is endless. Learning about leadership is its own enterprise these days, and oddly enough, we’re still seeing the need for leadership to be taught. Maybe forcing everyone into a leadership mindset isn’t the right answer after all.
Allen Hamlin Jr. has written a book that is long overdue to hit our bookstore shelves. “Embracing Followership” is built on the premise outlined above: that some people — arguably, most people — should be striving to become good followers:
My intent in this book is to equip those in follower roles to understand, value, and execute those roles with excellence. Whether we work in an office, sit in a classroom, serve on a community, play on a team, or join a congregation, we are followers when other people have titles, authority, and responsibility that include us within their sphere of influence. (1–2)
Immediately in reading this introduction to the book, I knew I was in for a treat, and that this book would really help me in where I’m currently working. As I write this, I’m serving at my church as part of their internship program. The point of the internship is to grow in experience and knowledge in ministry, and that requires a lot of following, watching, listening, and learning. While I hope to one day become a lead pastor of a church, and leadership traits are important to learn, it is also critical for me to learn how to follow well. Further, knowing how to follow well will help me understand how to helps those under me, should God allow me to step into a position of leadership. I would recommend this book to any group in a similar situation, such as internship teams, sales teams, etc.
There are a few key highlights from this book. The biggest one for me was actually Part 1, a focus on the misconceptions surrounding “followership,” which in turn opened up all the other parts of the book. This section of the book was one of the most helpful, because it is in this section the reader begins to realize all the subtle ways we condition ourselves into thinking wrongly about following. Getting these misconceptions back on the right track helps us see that followership is a lifestyle meant to be embraced. Here are some of the misconceptions Hamlin seeks to address, and spends time discussing in the book:
Followers only follow to get ahead. Followers are unqualified to be leaders. Leaders are superior versions of followers. Followers don’t really need leaders.
Another helpful section in the book is when Hamlin discusses the obligations and contributions of followership. As followers, there are behaviors and attributes we should feel obligated to bring to the table in work and life. There are also beneficial contributions we should desire to bring to the table. One key concept Hamlin outlines is the importance of decision-taking instead of the leader’s task of decision-making:
As followers, “we have the responsibility to implement the policies. It takes courage to follow leaders when we are not convinced they are right, courage to truly allow leaders to lead. It is our responsibility to give the policy a chance, to make it work through energetic and intelligent adaptation rather than allow it to fail through literal interpretation or lukewarm execution. We have the right to challenge policies in the policy-making process; we do not have the right to sabotage them in the implementation phase.” This is exemplary decision-taking. (61)
This book was written not merely to inform the follower, but to equip him as well. There are some chapters devoted entirely to equipping the follower with tools and suggestions, such as chapter 11 with a focus on personal development. This book intends to be comprehensive in nature, addressing how the follower views himself, the leader he works under, and his fellow followers, and how the leader should view him. It’s a wide-angled look into the world of followership, and it is a truly empowering resource for those who find themselves in positions of being a follower. No matter our positions at work, we all follow in some scenario — whether it’s our faith, our family, or our friends. Nonetheless, Hamlin has helped us break down the negative cloud that’s surrounded being a follower and helped us realized it is a truly wonderful place to be if it is pursued with the right intentions and attitude.
I’m thankful for a book that’s okay with recognizing that not everyone can be or will be a leader. It’s a book that humbling, yet encouraging; restful, yet exhortative. Thanks to Allen Hamlin Jr. for his hard work on this masterful explanation of the beauty of followership, and thanks to Kirkdale Press for the review copy.
Allen Hamlin Jr, Embracing Followership: How to Thrive in a Leader-Centric Culture. Bellingham: Kirkdale Press, 237 pp. $14.99
True leaders will always have followers. At the heart of leadership is the assumption that a certain group of people is committed to following a given leader. Most books that address leadership focus on role of the leader, exclusively. Allen Hamlin’s new book, Embracing Followership: How to Thrive in a Leader-Centric Culture takes a different approach.
Hamlin tackles the opposite end of the leadership spectrum by focusing on what it means to follow. The goal of the book, then, is to “determine how we can engage in our followership role with excellence.”
Embracing Followership is organized into six parts. Each part examines a different facet of what it means to “follow” with integrity and excellence. The parts are outlined below:
Part One: Misconceptions and Realities of Followership
Part Two: The Opportunities of Followership
Part Three: Obstacles and How to Overcome Them
Part Four: Followership in Relationship with Leaders
Part Five: Followership in Relationship with Other Followers
Part Six: Followership in Relationship as a Leader
Followers from a wide variety of backgrounds will benefit from Hamlin’s work. Pastors serving in associate roles will find this material especially useful. As one who served as an associate pastor for twenty years, I can testify that this role in particular will define the true nature of followership. Associate pastors have a choice: They can tuck under the authority of their superior by supporting, defending, and complementing them. Or they can subtly undercut and marginalize senior leadership. The former option is the only path to success.
Followers are in a strategic position where they can enhance a given leader’s ability to succeed. Hamlin observes, “When I am behind and alongside my leader, I have the opportunity to contribute where my leader is lacking.”
The theme of embracing followership is an empowering concept that every person needs to build into the fabric of their lives. It is a an important theme that is underemphasized in leadership circles. Hamlin’s work is a needed corrective to a misunderstood and neglected subject.
One critique may be in order. While Hamlin is clear about his Christian commitment, the book appears to target a broader audience, which is understandable. However, whenever Christian presuppositions are minimized, the force of the content lacks the authoritative punch that readers need. This criticism aside, I recommend Embracing Followership and hope this work receives a wide reading.
I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.
Wow. I really wasn't looking for a book on followership when Allen published this. Yet Allen's Introduction got my attention, striking chords of truth that I had not consciously noted beforehand. Allen reminded me how important good followership is, how essential the followership role is to any activity, and how noble and difficult it is to follow well. Allen's reminder that followership is essential and undervalued in our culture is right on the mark, and my experience supports his observation that our culture is overly and unduly focused on leadership. This excessive focus on leadership results in a number of misconceptions about followers, and about all who do not hold a title of recognized leadership. This leaves the bulk of the essential folks in an organization feeling unimportant and undervalued. Allen presents this truth beautifully, and his book offers hope and encouragement to all who serve in an organization, and to those who prefer to flourish there.
This book is a must-read for leaders at all levels of an organization, for followers who love being great at what they do, and for those who have become disallusioned with their role, and who are ready for encouragement and release.
I rated this book 5 stars on Amazon, and 4 stars here. The primary reason I gave it 4 stars here is because it is a little long, and I felt my attention begin to wane about midway through. However, as I continued I found additional insight, and really enjoyed the book.
This book was an excellent read. Different from most books because it doesn't focus on the rat-race to the top, but rather in improving yourself, your team, and your group. A must read for anyone who is "coming through the ranks" or a new college graduate. Well done!
Embracing Followership is a book all pastors and church board members should read. It is loaded with concise and relevant quotes from other authors and church leaders. Followership is a vital component of church leadership. Understanding how followership fits into the life of the church, both for members and leaders, can lead to a stronger church. It's important to learn that all leaders, even pastors, are at times followers. Hamlin was written a strong and important book. It deserves to be read.
The concepts in this book are countercultural in that they focus on how to follow well. There are many books on leadership (and the nobility of it) but fewer on the nobility of followership. I like that the book does not present the value of good followership as promotion into leadership but rather the value of good followership is satisfaction with a job well done and with knowing that you stewarded your resources (gifts, abilities, attitude, etc.) well. Before diving into the behaviors that mark excellent followership, the author addresses a number of misconceptions about followers and followership held by followers and by leaders. It's important to note that this book is looking at leadership from a title and authority perspective and not from an influence perspective. In that regard, the book notes that not everyone can be in a titled leadership role. Companies do not need multiple CEOs and the size of the C-Suite is rightly limited. However, a company does need titled leaders who are supported by excellent followers. The author also notes that most (if not all) titled leaders are also followers (e.g., CEO to Board, COO to CEO, etc.) and can benefit in their dual role by embracing followership.
A Guide that Pieces Together Your Past and Propels You into Fresh Pathways of Service
Allen Hamlin's work is nothing if it isn't thorough, thoughtful and inspiring. He researched this topic well and pulled in hundreds of meaningful references. I appreciate how he integrates his own life and work experiences resulting in a guide on the leader-follower dynamic from which each of us can benefit. Take time with this book and I promise you that it will propel you into fresh pathways of service while enabling you to put together the pieces of your past. I think this may be Hamlin's debut work but either way he is sure to make significant contributions in the coming years on leading well, following better and maximizing the stewardship and benefits of personal and professional growth, team, community and organizational development.
Like the author I've often found myself in positions of influence but not title or authority, and felt vaguely uneasy about my "career" trajectory - shouldn't I have a title by now? This book helped me re-embrace the importance of being a fully engaged team member. Even against the backdrop of a culture that keeps insisting everyone is a leader, even if they are only leading "themselves."
I've been interested in followership even before I knew that it existed so broadly in literature and research. This was the first book I was able to read that was completely dedicated to how to live as a follower. It provides insights from/by the author citing other works. While the book draws parallels for work, I would have like to see more references to other areas in life such as politics, interpersonal relations and so on.