Leading as a Courageous Follower

In The Courageous Follower, author Ira Chaleff proclaims that the days of all-powerful leaders and subservient followers are long gone, if they ever existed at all. He makes the case that neither leaders nor followers can reach optimum effectiveness without the other, especially in an environment where technology and information are constantly changing. The following is my interpretation of how Chaleff’s Dimensions of Courageous Followership can be embodied in the workplace by exhibiting the courage to:

  • Assume Responsibility – Exercise self-accountability to “create opportunities to fulfill your potential and maximize your value to the organization.”
  • Serve – Work hard to support the leader while remaining as passionate as the leader in pursuing the organization’s mission.
  • Challenge – Be willing to respectfully voice your concerns in uncomfortable situations, such as when they contradict leaders.
  • Participate – Create transformations by being adaptable and embracing change.
  • Take Moral Action – Challenge a leader’s position by doing something different because it is the right thing to do.
  • Speak to the Hierarchy – Be comfortable openly communicating with leaders at all levels of the organization.

These are the same behaviors you need to be an effective leader! Let’s take a few moments to reflect on how we have exhibited these characteristics ourselves as leaders and followers.

Time for Reflection

When you think about the jobs you’ve have had throughout your career, can you see these dimensions in yourself as a follower? As a leader? Or both?

  • Have you been able to Assume Responsibility by contributing to the mission and adding value while you were not the official leader?
  • Did you roll up your sleeves and Serve the organization regardless of whether or not tasks were assigned to you?
  • Were you able to speak up and respectfully Challenge your leader?
  • Did you actively Participate in making a change?
  • Were you willing to Take Moral Action because it was the right thing to do?
  • Were you confident to Speak to Hierarchy within your organization?

Even when you are in a follower role, you have opportunities to showcase your leadership potential. It’s no surprise that the most extraordinary leaders began as courageous followers.

Courageous Followership in Action

Let’s look at the example of Donna, who is a courageous follower. As you read, consider how Chaleff’s Dimensions of Courageous Followership apply:

Donna attended a meeting where the deputy administrator presented his plan for a new initiative and asked for input from the group. When she heard the plan, Donna remembered the hard lessons she had learned working on a similar initiative at her last job. She knew that this plan would not work.

Although her recommendation conflicted with her superior’s plan, Donna remained confident in front of other leaders while sharing her experience. Afterward, she asked the deputy administrator for a meeting to discuss the possibility of her team assisting with the new program’s implementation to ensure a successful outcome.

Although Donna was a leader, she was also a follower. Her ability to be a courageous follower provided an opportunity for her and her team to do amazing work, build credibility, and become the ‘go-to’ team for future initiatives.

How did Donna demonstrate Chaleff’s Dimensions of Courageous Followership?

  • Donna knew that her experience could help the deputy administrator achieve the desired results. She showed courage to Assume Responsibility for the initiative’s success.
  • When Donna asked her team to roll up their sleeves and offer assistance, she demonstrated her courage to Serve.
  • By sharing her experience and challenging the deputy administrator’s plan, Donna showed that she had the courage to Challenge.
  • In the meetings that followed the deputy administrator’s presentation, Donna and her team showed their courage to Participate by contributing to a new plan.
  • Instead of standing back and watching the deputy administrator experience the difficulty she had faced, Donna showed courage to Take Moral Action by speaking up.
  • It was probably uncomfortable to contradict the plans of a superior but, because she was respectful and had the courage to Speak to Hierarchy, Donna was able to improve the results of the program implementation.

Becoming a Courageous Follower

We all can be effective followers and leaders. As you think about your career path, think about how you can apply Chaleff’s Dimensions of Courageous Followership to increase your effectiveness, and inspire others to embrace them as well.

Written by:
Deadra Welcome
Human Capital & Human Resources



Media Type:

Data-Driven Decision Making at Federal Agencies
Paying for Federal IT Modernization