Follower-shift - A Leader’s Perspective

Follower-shift - A Leader’s Perspective

Followers are the ones who make leaders, and yet, their significance from this perspective is under-appreciated. In light of the remarkable emphasis on leadership and the leaders in business, coaching, workshops, and books, it is observed that the importance of similar calibre is not attributed to the followers. But, this trend is undergoing great transformations in recent times due to the follower-shift that is happening in three key areas, namely people, process, and ecosystem.

The People Follower-shift

These are India's Millennials, Midnight’s grandchildren as Mark Hannant [1] calls them, and are the largest millennial population in the world. The sheer number of India's 18 to 35 year-olds doubtlessly will hold significant sway over the country's immediate economic future. By the year 2026, 64.8% of India’s population would be in the working-age of 15-64 years. Rising start-up culture and the fading craze for professional degrees have opened up newer opportunities and hope for the millennials in India. Indian workplaces are experiencing a period of transition.

Shift towards Connection

The current generation has stumbled on an incredibly powerful and important model for changing the world and the workplace: the network. Millennials galvanize people. That’s just the way they’re oriented to the world. These are people who, every time you ask a question, flip open their mobile, saying, “Whom do I know who knows this? Who do I know who has done this before? Who do I know that I need to connect you with?”

Shift towards Inclusion

The Millennials believe strongly in inclusion and this forms their second important trait. As the millennials flood leadership ranks, their perspectives will demand a shift in traditional diversity and inclusion models. For them, walking into an office lobby and seeing all types of people is a given. They are much more concerned with cognitive diversity, or diversity of thoughts, ideas, and philosophies, and in solving business problems through a culture of collaboration. For millennials, inclusion isn’t just about getting people of different creeds in a room. It’s about connecting these individuals, forming teams on which everyone has a say, and capitalizing on a variety of perspectives in order to make a stronger business impact. This approach is natural for millennials, who are generational by-products of the digital, social, and mobile age.

Shift towards Whole Life Balance

And growing in the world of social media, they have better entrepreneurial abilities. Raghav began reviewing his toys on YouTube when he was 12. By 16, he was reviewing video games and had 2 lakh subscribers bringing in a huge load of money and learnings every month. What do you think will be Raghav’s expectation when he joins the traditional workforce in 6 years’ time? In the millennial and especially gen Z generations, there are many with so-called “side hustles,” some type of profit-making venture outside of their full-time job. Self-advocacy is rooted in understanding and pursuing one’s full potential, passion, and purpose. And that is what’s driving youth today—potential, passion, and purpose over a pay check.

The Process Follower-shift

Millennials view flexibility in when and where one works as a sign that they are respected in the workplace. The trait of being comfortable in a seemingly chaotic environment and looking for opportunities in the disruptive landscape is a millennial leader trait.

Shift towards Learning Agility

Leadership for millennials in the current business landscape exists in the areas of accelerated possibility. They have a wider spectrum of information and not necessarily deep. This makes them a more curious lot. Their thinking is - If there isn’t enough formal training available to learn what I need, no problem! I can ask my peers, online or off, and crowdsource the best answer to meet my immediate need. In the Forbes article “Agility: The Ingredient That Will Define Next Generation Leadership,” [2] agility is discussed as “the ability to proficiently move, change and evolve the organization. Digital natives, who grew up in a world of global relationships, have become masters at assessing a broad variety of resources and filtering through to the right information—in essence, navigating a VUCA world.

Shift towards Wirearchy

One thing that’s hard to dispute about the millennial generation is that they’re a collaborative bunch. The common features that posed as challenges in the workplace were the non-collaborative nature, old and rigid process-based leadership and hierarchy. Therefore, the millennials instead prefer collaboration, an equal flat structure for sharing ideas, adaptable processes, and a working culture that is relational. The most important strategy to keep in mind here is to loosen the control without losing control. Wirearchy is an (emerging) primary organizing principle. As such, it can be used to better understand, instantiate, and act towards effectiveness in an interconnected networked world. It works in direct contrast to the much-challenged concept of hierarchy. Coined by Jon Husband, the working definition of Wirearchy is “a dynamic two-way flow of power and authority, based on knowledge, trust, credibility and a focus on results, enabled by interconnected people and technology” [3]. Though a new term and is yet to find a place in the dictionary, wirearchy seems to be the best word to describe all the collaborative needs of the millennials in a single word.

The Ecosystem Follower-shift

The current business landscape is a great leveller. It is unpredictable, volatile, ambiguous, and is filled with novel situations in unforeseen circumstances. The speed with which a leader is able to learn newer ways, adapt, and use technology determines his leadership potential. The very definition of an Organisation has changed today. Organizations, particularly large ones used to mean thousands of people working together for a particular company. They were employees of the company, they worked only for that one company and in return, the company took care of them. Today Organisations have become ecosystems of freely collaborating third parties.

Leadership in these ecosystems, the free-floating collaboration of independent and creative people needs to convey the capability to grow the mutual interests of the group. Look at Apple, a pioneer in such leadership. In the past, while a company’s supply chain, the people who contribute to their product, were always in the background, Apple puts its App developers out front along with its customers. Amazon has its employees, but it has a larger network of sellers who in essence work on the Amazon supply chain. Forbes has around 1000 content contributors on incentives rather than salaried employees. These new ecosystems are a revolution and calls for a radically different approach in leadership.

Seth Godin believes that now is our time. In his book, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us [4], he argues that the barriers to leadership have fallen. There are tribes everywhere, many in search of a leader.

What leadership requires today is to acknowledge its complementary – followership. Followers are not mere yes men or the transition leaders in the making. They are complete on their own and deserve their place in the leadership continuum. As we are on the verge of entering the third decade of the 21st century, we need to understand the changing dynamic of the followers and their place in the leadership continuum to engage, inspire, and lead better together.


  1. Mark Hannant, Midnight’s Grandchildren: How Young Indians are Disrupting the World's Largest Democracy. Routledge
  2. Karl Moore, Agility: The Ingredient That Will Define Next Generation Leadership, Forbes June 2012.
  3. Jon Husband, Wirearchy.
  4. Seth Godin, Tribes: We need you to lead us. Piatkus

About the Author

Dr Latha Vijaybaskar is a Leadership Coach and Author. She coaches individuals and teams to be game changers by rewriting their leadership journey. Her work focusses on the emerging generation and leading in uncertain times. Author could be reached it

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