Followers in leadership theory: fiction, fantasy and illusion

Nancy Harding, Jackie Ford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Citations (SciVal)


This article introduces a critical approach to follower/ship studies through exploring the unarticulated but highly influential implicit academic theory of follower/ship that informs dominant paradigms of leadership. Research into follower/ship is developing apace but the field lacks a critical account. Such an absence of critical voice renders researchers unaware of the performative effect of their studies, that is, how their studies actively constitute that of which they speak. So, do studies of followers (and leaders, it follows) constitute that very actuality they are studying? Analysis of seminal papers in three major categories of leadership, leader-centric, multiple leadership and leader-centred, shows that leadership theory is underpinned by the desire for power and control over the potentially dangerous masses, now labelled ‘followers’. The etiolated perspective of the people called ‘followers’ undermines leadership theory, and we recommend the wisdom of leaving follower/ship unexplored.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-24
Number of pages21
Issue number1
Early online date18 Dec 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018


  • Leadership
  • Followership
  • power
  • implicit follower theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Followers in leadership theory: fiction, fantasy and illusion'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this