The nature of followership: Evolutionary analysis and review

Nicolas Bastardoz*, Mark Van Vugt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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From an evolutionary perspective, followership is puzzling because it is not clear why individuals would relinquish their autonomy and set aside their personal goals to follow those of another individual, the leader. This paper analyzes followership from an evolutionary perspective and advances three main conclusions that are not yet part of the leadership literature. First, followership evolved as a strategy to solve a range of cooperation and coordination problems in groups (e.g., collective movement, peacekeeping). Second, individuals who lack the physical, psychological, or social capital to be leaders themselves are more likely to emerge as followers. Third, followership styles, behaviors, and engagement result from (a) variations in the relative pay-offs that accrue to followers vis-à-vis their leader, (b) the adaptive goals pursued by followers, (c) the adaptive challenges that select for different followership styles, and (d) the prevailing leadership style. Together, these conclusions have several implications for followership theory, research, and practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-95
Number of pages15
JournalThe Leadership Quarterly
Issue number1
Early online date27 Sept 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019


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