Dynamics of Followership

A Critical study into the Dynamics of Followership



This essay will discuss various types of Followership and the influences it has on people minds when being inspired by a leader. Leadership cannot be discussed in isolation from Followership. Since Leadership if not static where the Leader sets of guidelines and they never change, whether it is an organisation, a faith, a community or any other group, there is always a need to know more and deal with challenges as they arise with time. Followership is usually defined as “the ability or willingness to follow a leader” [1]. This essay will discuss what are some of the prominent types of leadership and how they impact peoples lives. We will look at how people turn into followers considering that there are still people who think they do not need to follow anyone. As well as what impacts do Followership have on people’s minds and try to assess what kind of Followership is best and productive.



By nature, all human beings have different thoughts, abilities and motivations. Some are better than others and everyone wants to improve. Some want to excel enough to become role models or leaders and inspire others to follow them. When people look towards different types of leader’s various questions arise in their mind for example; What is in them that I desire to follow? Is there a need for me to follow? Will there be a limit to followership? This is where the characteristics of the leader and the way they make themselves known plays an important role. Followers can follow both good and bad leaders, which they may or may not realise. We will investigate all aspects of followership and try to find the factors that lead to a state of mind where you do exactly what the leader says or you pick and choose from what the leader says or you work with them and progress together.


Types and Impacts of Leadership

There are various types of leadership which make people turn into followers. I think the most crucial of them is Religious leadership comprising of leaders of various religions and faiths. They all claim to be the representative of the ultimate being or GOD, whichever one they believe in. Could be a statue, fire, animal or any other living or non-living thing. People either automatically become their followers by being born in a family or community that believe in that religion or they convert to it after studying and satisfying themselves that choosing this religion will connect them to their creator.

Political leadership is related to social justice. Some people are too concerned about the other people around them and intend to bring a change in their lives by promoting and implementing their ideology. They spend all their time getting to a position where they get power to make decisions according to their own plans. People become their followers after signing up to their ideology and then support them in their campaign to get more followers, ultimately aiming to become an influential group to bring about the desired change. Political leadership is usually limited to a city or country as the issues are specific to a geographical region.

Family leadership is more of an Islamic concept in terms of responsibility. As a family usually consists of a father, mother and children the father is responsible for the family. He does it with support of others but in cases where there are multiple options and a decision is to be made, the father steps forward and selects the way forward.

Professional or Business Leadership is about experience, skills and expertise [2]. Within organisations a structural hierarchy exists which defines some people as managers and some people as workers. Within the hierarchy managers are also workers for people who manage them. This is very much task based as the worker is not responsible for the outcome. They work through a process which should lead to a certain result. If it doesn’t then they raise it as an exception to their manager who then decides the alternate steps. Some managers use innovative ways to achieve desired outcomes for which the processes are not the usual standard ones. The job of the worker is to carry out the tasks as instructed with a belief that result would be what the leader has anticipated.

Education leadership is slightly different from others in the sense that scholars or academics are not necessarily termed as ‘leaders’ however due to their ideas and theories they create a unique position for themselves where they start to have students interested in learning from them and some students go a step further to build upon their theories and stem new ideas and concepts out of them. Essentially scholars are great thinkers. They pick up a phenomenon, research on it, create arguments and definitions about them and then reveal it to the world as a solution to a problem. Those people who have been trying for a long time to find answers, get impressed by them and start to study their ideas and often become followers.

All types of leadership mentioned so far are examples of man-made or self-proclaimed leadership. Either people chose someone as their leader, or someone declares himself/herself as a leader and in turn people start following them. However, the purest form of leadership is one appointed by God, the creator of everything. Islam gives us a great concept of divine leadership which is that God created this world and all creation. Out of which human beings are the most rational. To guide humans God sent Prophets from day one of their creation until the last prophet with the final message. However, as the process of creation was still to continue, after the last prophet some leaders were appointed to guard against changes to religion and to explain what God wants from the all human beings. These leaders will continue until the end of the world. Therefore, as it can be seen, divine leadership is sanctioned by God and therefore followers of Islam have this firm belief that their leaders are infallibles and can be followed without doubts.


The process of becoming a Follower

Now that we have discussed a few different types of leadership, in this section we will look at what goes on in people’s minds when they start to become a follower [3]. Majority of people have a feeling that they need to improve themselves whether it is socially, morally, religiously, professionally, financially, intellectually or in any other areas. The improvement can be as little as being able to make the best decisions for people they automatically have a responsibility for (like a family). To do this there is an ongoing struggle within their mind to review current challenges and find solutions. In addition to this, for things they already know, they want to know how to do them better and more effectively. These thoughts make a person search for someone who is better than them so they can refer to them and when the time comes, they are constantly following them.

There are times when people face several options to choose from in a particular situation. At this point they can either use their own understanding and experience and to help decide or do what their leader has advised as a best course of action.

Consider a situation where you wish to bring about a change in the place you live in but do not have the resources to take any action [4]. In this case you find someone who has a similar aspiration and the resources to do it and become one of their followers. In doing so you promote the same cause as yours but signup to a method your leader has defined.

Some leaders have a natural attraction and very powerful personalities. The work they do gets recognised almost each time and most decisions they make have positive results and global impact. They are in the news all the time and people love to read and know about them. People follow them to the extent that they start copying their actions and look to them as role models.

Some people are very weak in different aspects of life and become dependent on those who have power and authority.  They have no choice but to follow what their leader says. This is still the case in some remote villages where there has always been a working class and the rich influential people. This goes on for generations and the working people always spend their time earning for the rich in return for sometimes only food and shelter.

Followers of religion usually gets inspired by religious text, historical accounts and those who explain them so attractively that they start believing that their religion is the true one. Muslims for example believe Holy Quran is the word of God revealed on Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him. He was the last Messenger and the leader of Muslims around the world. Today Muslims read his sayings and the saying of his Holy Household and understand God from them. They become followers of people who become expert in understanding the Quran and Hadith and other Islamic sciences derived from them.

There are also a small number of people who feel they do not need to seek knowledge or improve, nor do they like to follow anyone else. They just do what comes to their mind and do not worry too much about the consequences. They do not like to submit themselves to anyone. The result is either isolation from others or that they realise, to be part of the society they need to live within some sort of a community or group and that they can’t always make decisions. Sometimes other people may make decisions for them.

Another interesting aspect of becoming a follower is that when a leader becomes a follower the situation is that this person is a role model and has the influence to have a number of followers [5]. However, his personal desire to improve and acquire even more knowledge and wisdom makes him find someone else who is more knowledgeable than him to become his follower.

Good followers also have a great responsibility unless restricted by their capacity to learn and understand [6]. They can’t blindly follow a leader unless they have developed this trust in them that they will never lead them to fail. This means the followers own intellect should not be put aside. Leaders can also make mistakes which can lead to a disaster for a lot of people. Also, leaders have their personal obligations which in some extreme case need to be put forward instead of the cause. The intentions of a leader may also change or decrease in intensity which the follower may or may not be aware of. This applies to all kinds of leadership apart from Divine leadership as they put what God wants them to do over their own desire. Their life is dedicated to piety and the intention and love for God always increases. They are prepared to sacrifice everything personal for the sake of God.


Section 3:            Impact of Followership

Now let’s looks at some qualities of a follower.  Depending on the type of leader you are following there could be varied levels of submission towards the leader. This ranges from critically assessing leader’s direction and implementing only what makes sense to the follower, to the level where the follower has so much faith in the leader that they are prepared to just do as they say without any questioning. Let’s look a short story of Harun al-Makki [7] one of the followers of the 6th Shia Imam, Jafar bin Muhammad.  People came to the Imam and said why don’t you rise against the tyrant ruler since you are the rightly guided leader. Imam asked one of them to jump into a fireplace and he requested safety from Imam. At the same time Harun walked into the house. Imam said the same thing to Harun and without asking anything Harun jumped into the fireplace. All the people in the house were worried but Imam remained calm and after a while they all went to see that Harun was safe inside the fire. Then Imam asked everyone, how many of this kind of followers are there and they all replied, none. So, what made Harun act like that? Firstly, he had full faith in the status of the Imam and his divine appointment. He trusted the Imam to the extent that he didn’t cared for his life which means that he knew if he was saved it would be well and good but if he was burnt and died, because he did this following Imam’s order he would have died a successful death.

They need to have good judgement skills [8]. These skills usually come from experience. Although they need to follow direction, but also need to ensure that ethics are not compromised. Good followers raise their understanding enough to sense check their actions, so they do not lead to undesirable outcomes. This case can be easily seen from the example of Political leadership. In Pakistan the majority of people have strong political views. This means that they are easily associated to a political party. Due to the fact that a lot of social reform is needed in Pakistan in areas such as; Education, Health, Human Rights, Safety of People etc, political leaders claim that they understand all the issues and need people power to solve the issues  by putting pressure on those responsible. Sometimes they pick on people’s identities and make them form a group to get their rights. Sometimes they gather all the poor people together and say they will fight against poverty to get them their basic needs. People in return accept them as a leader. Now the leader always has a better status then his followers and seems to think what ever they do is right. The followers are so brainwashed that they do not see the path to achieve their objectives is right or wrong. They will do protests disturbing other people’s life or get violent and damage property to make themselves known. Sometimes even give their lives in protecting their leaders. Some Leave their work and family to carry out tasks given by the leader, not realising that their leader can make mistakes too and they would have to bear the cost of those mistakes.

It quite interesting to note that philosophers built up schools of thoughts and gathered quite a lot of followers [9]. People who read or listened to their views started to believe that they have answers to widely known challenges and began to take their problems to them.  A look a the western philosophers life history and ideas they gave to the world show that they picked up one of the disciplines of physics, biology, psychology, linguistics, logic, ethics, rhetoric, politics, government, music, theatre, poetry, and metaphysics and developed their own understanding of it. Their followers who were generally students built on top of their philosophical conclusions or a few of them were brave enough to counter their thoughts and present their own views against the theories of their teachers. Islamic philosophers on the other hand have all tried to understand truth and reality but interpreting the Quran and Hadith from their own understandings. The leaders of various Islamic sects have their own ideologies which they very strongly believed it and those who chose to follow them had to strictly adhered to them to be counted as believers or followers of that faith. Prominent examples are Shia, Sunni, Ismaili, Ahmadi, Wahabi sects who all have various leadership and followership systems. I think this is where the quality of wisdom becomes very important for the follower. They could be born in a family following a belief and practicing a certain religion. When the person completes his basic education and becomes mature enough to decide for himself, they need to study, experience, discuss and make logical conclusions to decide how he wants to know his Creator and what he wants from him. Following forefathers’ practices is certainly now a sign of a good follower.

It’s also worth briefly discussing the followership in a family system. In most cases the man (the husband or the father) is the bread earner for the family unless he is incapable due to any reason. The wife and children are meant to follow his decisions that impact the whole family. Due to the responsibility involved, the man should gather all information and discussion options to make the final decision. As an example, if a family is living in London and for better prospects the father decides to move to Australia. This is a significant change. The father, as a leader of the family, would have his interests as well but equally he needs to review the interests of all those dependants on him. Then discuss with the family on how this move will be good for them. Listen to their thoughts and adjusts his plans if needed. The job of the followers, wife and children, in this situation is to either follow him if they are not able to contribute. However, if they can they need to research on their own and give suggestions to the husband and father. The result of a leader’s decision involves him and his followers. Therefore, they all work together, but under one guide, to take them through it. In western societies the concept is slightly different as both husband and wife are adults only who are equally capable to making their own decisions. Hence no one is prepared to ‘follow’ the other. This results in more temporary relationship that permanent marriages or the marriages breaking more often. Like its not possible to have 2 managers of the same group as it will result in chaos for themselves and their group members, having 2 people lead the family would have the same consequences.



We looked at when people rise to become leaders and sources of their inspiration. Among the various types leaders a few prominent ones are Religious, Political, Family, Community, Professional, Educational, Organisational and Divine. They all feel very strongly towards a cause or goal and make themselves known by working hard to achieve their objectives and talking to people convincing them about what they feel is right. Their enthusiasm, determination, sacrifice, very strong focus earns them a place where people want to know more about them and see them as mirroring their thoughts and expectations. Most leaders are self-made, elected, recruited or chosen by a set of people, who have a responsibility of a community or an organisation. Sometimes leaders follow a hierarchy where leadership stays within a family due to its influence and power over the rest of the people around them. Then there is the concept of Divine leadership. Those who believe in God as their Creator know that God will not leave them without? guidance in this world and always made sure there is a leader amongst them who they can follow. Since they are appointed by God, they are infallibles or very pious people who even after having the will to make mistakes, refrain from them and only act on how God wants them to.

We reviewed how people become followers. Majority of people in this world don’t have the capacity or capability to lead, become well known and influence people with their ideas and actions. They do have feelings to grow themselves and those they are concerned about but, not the means to make change happen. This naturally make them look for people who they can support and follow, in the limited capacity they have, to fulfil their desires as much as possible. When a number of like-minded people get together, they form a group with a common leader. This group is always looking out for their leader’s actions and expectations from their followers getting them closer to the cause. Some leaders interact more than other to gain feedback from their followers and keep ensuring their needs are being met or at least worked upon. Others setup a path for their followers who may not have enough knowledge to know how to get to their cause. Lastly, in case of Divine leadership which can co-exist with other leadership if it doesn’t contradict to it. Religious people always want to know more about God and what God wants from them. Those leaders who can explain this, leave no doubts and can talk about every subject get the place in their followers’ hearts which makes them feel the ability to ask for clarifications but not question what they are told.

In the Holy Quran, Followership is mentioned in the following verses. “O you who have believed, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. And if you disagree over anything, refer it to Allah and the Messenger, if you should believe in Allah and the Last Day. That is the best [way] and best in result”. (4:59)

My understanding of these verses is that Allah clearly wants everyone to be a follower. In the first instance everyone needs to follow Allah, the Creator. Then they need to follow the Messenger whom Allah has chosen to send guidance to people. Since Allah wanted the series of Messengers to end with the Holy Prophet and all the principles of religion where defined by that time, Allah created another set of people ‘who have authority’. Surely these people will be the most knowledgeable after Allah and the Messengers. However, Allah also points out very clearly that the source of guidance is always Allah (via the Holy scriptures) and the Prophet (explaining the word of God). This lays out the formula of Followership. For believers, A leader can lead people towards any cause or goal, however it should not? go against any teachings of Islam.

Within Shia Islam, the authority after Allah and Holy Prophet are the Imams from whom the first one was appointed by Allah and declared by the Holy Prophet during his famous last sermon on returning from Haj in the presence of thousands of Muslims [10]. The Prophet famously said, whoever I am the leader, Ali my cousin in the leader. This was a transfer of followership in an official way by the Prophet. Then the series of Imams continue until the 11th Imam Hasan ibn Ali. Upon his death his son Muhammad Al-Mahdi was appointed as the 12th and final Imam. However, Allah’s will was to keep him in occultation until he has enough followers to support him in this world and he can create a worldwide government based on Justice. In Imam Mahdi apparent absence, Muslim have been instructed to follow those who are the most learned in this world. This explains the duties of Muslim in the current times. Unless they can find a better system of guidance than explained in this paragraph which leads them to God and is defined by God, they can have other leaders however due to their limited knowledge and capability, they won’t be able to satisfy their religious and social needs.


Ali Jaffri

November 2019 – London




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