Crowdsourcing Followship

This Friday I am speaking at the Youth Engagement Conference sponsored by the Union of Reform Judaism. My topic is Followship. If you haven’t the term before it’s because I just made it up!

Here’s the basic idea. Leadership in a flat, side-to-side environment has to have equal parts followership and leadership. It can’t just be the notion of “leadership” as we’ve traditionally known it as the guy who points to Valhalla and says pack your stuff because we’re going there. Additionally, it can’t be what some folks think networked leadership is – just following where the gang online wants to go, helplessly, hopelessly, without voice or direction.

So, what is it? I think it’s a principled form of facilitative leadership. By principled I mean driven by a core set of principles that include (this is somewhat particular to my audience on Friday of people working to engage teens in Jewish life):

  • Listening, and then listening some more,
  • Developing relationships over controlling content,
  • Talking to people where, when and how they want,
  • Steering rather than rowing by connecting to the social hubs in the teen network and having teens talk to and encourage each other,
  • Sharing joy and fun.

Once the core set of principles are established, and the ultimate goal is crafted, then the only question is how to get from here to there. And that’s what is left up to the participants to decide. That’s the following part. Rather than focus on developing set curricula, Followship focuses on the leader providing a safe, constructive, fun place to explore ideas and issues as driven by the participants. So, in the case of working with Jewish teens, the ultimate goal is supporting and building a generation of young people actively engaged in Jewish life, and the principles are outlined similar to the ones above, and teens are invited to develop, with active guidance, what they want to do over, say, a school year’s time, to explore issues and ideas with a Jewish lens. For instance, maybe they want to talk about living an ethical life by studying professional sports. Is it cheating to take enhancements that haven’t been specifically banned? And what if everyone else is taking them? And is there both a spirit and letter of the law when it comes to sports and ethics?

I know this can feel frightening for teachers who were taught that their positions were based, in part, on their content knowledge. But, frankly, you can get content anywhere online now. What you can’t get is experience, and loving guidance.

Wondering what you think of this idea? Does it work? Are there holes? I’m going to use #followship on Twitter for anyone who wants to discuss.


About the author

Allison Fine


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  • I really like the concept. What i love most is the root – follow – has taken on such a different meaning in our social media-driven world. To follow, in The Twittersphere, doesn’t mean following a leader. It is engaging with another whose ideas/thoughts that resonate with you. That notion is very much aligned, in my mind, with your concept of followship. Would suggest not framing it in the context of leadership, as leadership is such a loaded and, increasingly, hackneyed term…particularly among young people. Interesting to hear how your talk goes. It is absolutely an age group ripe for exploring new terms of engagement and think your principles are a great foundation to build from…thanks for sharing!

    • Spot on, Jim! No one is a sheep, passively following others around and waiting to be told what to do. I will noodle how to take it out of the “leadership” context entirely – maybe I’ll just keep creating new words!

  • Allison-

    Your point at the end of this post about being able to find content anywhere really resonates. As you say, this universal availability of content stresses the importance of the teacher or leader to guide a conversation about content that is readily available, rather than simply providing information as in the past. JCamp 180 Mentor Laurie Herrick (and others!) talks about her role in teaching as a “Guide on the Side, not the Sage on the Stage.” She believes in harnessing the experience and conversation of the participants rather than simply providing her own expertise. It is definitely a challenge and a new set of skills that leaders of all kinds will need to learn.

    In fact, in Daniel Pink’s new book “To Sell is Human,” he looks at the ubiquity of content from another angle: sales. Of course, he isn’t simply talking about selling widgets, but about persuading others to act. Teachers and leaders are constantly trying to persuade others to do something they may not necessarily want to do. From Pink’s perspective, the ubiquity of information means that “salespeople” are no longer tasked with finding solutions to known problems; now we must help find unique problems to solve together. Your concept of #followship is a good complement to these ideas.

    Good luck at the URJ Youth Engagement Conference! Keep us posted on how these ideas spread over time.


    • Kevin, I think Pink’s point is really great context for this discussion. I think it’s always better to be going with, not against the stream, whether you’re trying to sell something or educate someone. But you have to be a good listener to understand where the other person is, and is going, to get on board.

      Thanks for your terrific thoughts!

  • Allison, I love this for many reasons.  First, the dynamics of leader and follower are completely different for today’s teens (and oh, think of tomorrow’s teens!) than they are for many adults who are leading, designing, measuring, funding these programs.  From the start, we have to understand the changing collective/cooperative/collaborative dynamics of groups of this age.

    Second, it seems there is really a new skill set to be a “steering” facilitator with a direction or goal in mind, even if you’re not controlling the specifics.  How to do it, when you exert a force — even a small one — to course correct, etc.  What are these skills, who is doing it well, and how much of it can be taught?

    And finally, I love Jim’s observation of the different use of “follow” today.  There’s still a certain amount of power attributed to one who has a lot of followers, but followers aren’t passive.  They are engaged, active, in dialogue with others.  Follow does not equal passive.  That’s what’s changed.

    Gears turning … I’m sure more will come.  Hopefully not at 3am! Cheers, Lisa

    • I agree on all counts, Lisa! The different DNA of teens accustomed to living and working in such flat environments requires a different skillset to serve as their guides and facilitators. The BIG question for you is how to/whether it can be taught! I’ll let you ponder that – but not at 3 am!
      Thanks, as always!

  • I love this idea! I think that there are many leaders out there who think it’s about them.  Really it’s about those who they’re leading.  This idea really applies to the Jewish community because members of the Jewish community aren’t interested in leaders who pursue their own agendas.  Adapting this idea to congregations and youth groups could be really valuable for steering the direction of the future Jewish organizations and communities. What if our organizations truly represented the ideas of its constituents? 

    • Thanks, Ariel! How bold, orgs that actually listen to and represent their constituents – you’re an idealist! And hopefully a soothsayer as well! Thanks again, miss you!

  • Allison, love it to. First of all, coming from my lens as a marketer/brander, you’ve taken a classic (but seldom used) approach—the 50-50—and used it well. Basically, you’ve married two words to create a new one. Like metrosexual and  freakonomics.

    Followship is powerful, carrying with it listeners’ connections to the root words.

    The word suggests to me a movement and I think that’s just what you’re talking about. Keep me posted.

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