Followership in higher education: Academic teachers and their formal leaders
Keywords:fellowship, academic leadership, narratives, relational spaces
The concept of followership in higher education has been given limited attention despite the fact that followers are key players in the follower/leader equation and that leadership is increasingly seen as vital to improving the student learning experience. This paper explores this concept, reporting on the findings of a qualitative study underpinned by a socio-constructivist framework. Thirty-eight narratives describing the experience of being a follower and interacting with a formal leader were collected from academic teachers in seven institutions worldwide and analysed using inductive content analysis. The richness of the narratives collected illustrates the intricate relationship formed by the followership/leadership interaction. The results affirm the premise that, just as teachers are defined by their students’ learning, leaders are defined by their followers’ engagement. However, some teachers also display a strong reluctance towards the very idea of being a follower in academia where critical and independent thinking form the backbone of all practices. Negotiation, responsibility, and mutual respect appear essential aspects of any form of followership/leadership interaction as it directly or indirectly influences student learning and personal development. The research presented suggests that, in challenging times, academic leaders must attend to the characteristics and needs of their followers.
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