What do we want – followers or supporters?

Is there a fundamental difference and does it affect how our business leaders and organisations can grow?

By Nick Bashford

Nick Bashford

What is the difference? We are not talking about followers as in the thousands of businesses and individuals who have invested time and money in order to chalk up digital followers. Not followers that simply want a window into someone else’s world, or followers that can be exchanged for hard cash in terms of audience or just simply marketing data.

No, we are talking about the work force. Our countries men and women that contribute to our economic wellbeing. So, in this context why should we be concerned about the difference between a follower and a supporter.

The Boss

Its starts with their boss, their manager, their leader, this is the main difference and in reality, the one we need to focus on. A follower constantly needs to be managed; in its simplest form the follower requires instruction from their leader. If you have ever tried to replace a manager that operates in the leader follower style, you will recognise the challenges to any new leader that inherits that team. Leader follower managers, naturally employ and develop follower types. Unfortunately, giving HR little choice and leading ultimately, to an unhealthy cycle of having to employ leader follower types to look after these over reliant teams.

Football Fans

Just imagine having a football club, with just followers as opposed to supporters. The clue is in the word. The supporters are not only fans of the club, they are intrinsically linked, by giving both financial and physical support to the club. In fact, their support underpins the success of the team. As supporters they have a voice and contribute as individuals to the overall purpose and vision of the club. Whereas followers, who probably call themselves fans, actually never really contribute to the club’s wellbeing, taking purely an interest as opposed to a commitment. A supporter buys the merchandise, tickets for games, pays to watch their side on TV, often becoming full members and join the supporters club.

Business Supporters

In terms of business teams, supporters are a workforce that want to align with a common goal, they understand their contribution and enjoy sharing in the overall success. They can clearly see and are happy to operate within the agreed boundaries and parameters that control and direct the effort of each component – all in the pursuit of arriving at a chosen destination as one unit. They take responsibility for their role and are happy to be held accountable. They need less direction and are individually motivated through the shared communication of a common purpose. They know what action to take and the value that has to the bigger picture. They operate in a manner of supporting the cause, the purpose, not just simply following a leader.

So, is it followers or supporters?

If you were inheriting a business or looking to acquire one. What would you want in terms of the team, the work force…followers or supporters? Therefore, when you look at your own business or organisation, ask yourself that exact same question. And if you are lacking supporters, you may want to consider why.

High Alignment and High Autonomy

The High Alignment and High Autonomy Framework

Leaders positioning

Where we position ourselves as leaders will have the greatest impact on our ability to grow and develop. Organisations that have a desire to scale and leaders that must focus on the bigger picture, need to make a path for the Leader Leader model. Take a moment to visualise yourself within this framework, consider what direction you are travelling in and why. You may well be just leaving or entering a box; so, for now, just consider the advantages and disadvantages of where you are and where you could go next. We recognise that, from time to time as a leader, you may find yourself in any one of these roles. It is a fact of business life that, due to certain project demands, you may have to stray from your preferred approach in order to maintain momentum and temporally support others. However, to develop the team and grow your organisation in the long term, it is important to spend the majority of your time positioned correctly.

When you operate in a world where your team are aligned to a common purpose, only then can you begin to enjoy the benefits of gifting high levels of autonomy. Alignment before autonomy always, otherwise you can look forward to chaos.

Developing highly aligned teams with high levels of autonomy, is the ultimate and only true route to sustainable growth and development. Turning followers into supporters is the art of great leaders. Make it not only your purpose, but your organisations strategy for growth.

Read more on this in the book SHIPSHAPE.



If you live outside the UK and would like a book sent to you, please fill out the form below and we will advise you of postage price and provide BACS details for payment


I would welcome your enquiry and look forward to seeing if I can be of help. Please fill in the form below and I will be in contact very shortly.


The Cabin, 9 Lion Road, Nyetimber, West Sussex, PO21 3JZ