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Dissertation Abstract

Followership: How Followers Understand What It Means to Follow

Michelle Vondey
January 2012

A follower-centered perspective on followership is missing in many discussions on leadership. This gap is unfortunate because only by understanding followers can researchers and practitioners fully address the leader-follower relationship. The purpose of this study is to give a voice to followers; allow them to describe what it means to be a follower; and, from their self-understanding, develop an accurate and clear definition of followership. Framing this research are (a) the self-concept, (b) identity theory, and (c) social identity theory. Because the overarching questions guiding this study represent a search for meaning (i.e., what a follower is and what followership is), a phenomenological approach was taken for collecting and analyzing data. Thirty-four working individuals in various industries were asked to share what it means to be a follower. This study used face-to-face and telephone interviews to explore how individuals experience followership. The results showed that about half the participants hold a follower self-concept. In addition, the follower self-concept was distinguishable at the individual, relational, and collective levels. Participants identified 21 behaviors and characteristics that could be considered prototypical of followers. Finally, this study offers a definition of followership from the follower's perspective.