Leading the Four Follower Types – Proactives and Die-hard Loyalists – Part 3

In our previous article, Understanding the Four Follower Types, we described the types of followers a leader is likely to encounter in any team. Leaders must adapt their leadership style to derive the best from each type. Leaders need to be more adept in these skills because different situations and follower types require different leadership skills or approaches.

This article is the third in a series of articles based on our research, analysis and findings. The articles in the series are

Additionally, Millennial Leadership Initiative – View Our Preliminary Findings Video contains our presentation at Pennsylvania State University – Abington Campus.

The four follower types we discussed are:

  • Proactive – actively participates in and aligns with the mission of the effort, generates ideas, challenges thoughts, and is interested in overall improvement. The Proactive’s loyalty is to the mission.
  • Die-hard Loyalist – enthusiastically embraces the leader, his/her ideas and goals, and follows the leader simply because of the leader. His/her loyalty is with the leader without regard to the mission.
  • Sheep – primarily interested in the work because it interests him/her and because he/she is getting paid. A sheep’s loyalty is to his/her work and pay, not the mission or leader. If the project fails, he/she simply moves onto the next pasture that pays and provides work.
  • Isolate – a Proactive or Die-hard Loyalist evolves into an Isolate because he/she becomes disenfranchised. The Proactive becomes weary due to the lack of idea acceptance or appreciation. The Die-hard Loyalist becomes disillusioned by the leader and has no place to direct his/her loyalty.

Note: These four follower types do not have hard-n-fast edges. Each follower can be a combination of traits. We present them here as if followers fall into one of the four categories, but that is rarely the case. Followers may exhibit traits from several categories. An astute leader will recognize the dominate category trait and be able to adapt the leadership style(s) accordingly.

In this article, Leading the Four Follower Types – Proactive and Die-hard Loyalists – Part 3, we described leadership conditions and concerns for leading the Proactives and Die-hard Loyalists. In the next article, Leading the Four Follower Types – Sheep and Isolates- Part 4, we’ll finish the discussion for leading the Sheep and Isolates.

Leading the ProactiveProactive Follower Type

One thing we know about the Proactive follower is his/her loyalty to the mission. He/she wants the mission to succeed. As leaders, we need to nurture that desire. The simplest method of nurturing a follower is to listen. Give the Proactive follower the ability to express his/her ideas and thoughts to make the mission successful. In many cases, the simple act of listening to the follower is all that is needed. Knowing he/she has been heard satisfies the follower he/she is contributing, that his/her efforts are appreciated.

As an example, earlier in our career, we lead the effort to introduce a set of products to the USA market. To be successful, we studied the current market and competition, wrote plans to gain exposure in the market and to gain sales growth through the existing customer base and expand through new acquisitions. We spent at least three to six months developing our attack.

Joined by the VP of Marketing, we met with the company’s president. Either he was already aware of our efforts and plans or he decided on a different course. Before we could give our presentation, he said he wanted to change directions. Needless to say, we were a bit deflated. Our work was for naught.

We decided to request he listen to our presentation anyway in the hope maybe some of our work would survive and add to his new direction. To our surprise, he agreed. We presented our work. In the end, he decided he preferred his original direction and we executed on that. We left the meeting feeling like we were heard and our efforts appreciated even though it was not used. The president intelligently decided to listen and gained an enthusiastic Proactive follower as a result.

On the contrary, if the leader only listens and never acts on any of the Proactive follower’s suggestions or idea, the follower may eventually become despondent. The leader must be willing to truly consider the follower’s ideas and act on some. The leader must be willing to risk he/she doesn’t have all the information or ideas and followers, who are closer to the ground, have valid suggestions. The leader should act on those recommendations.

Finally, a leader should be willing to give the Proactive follower autonomy in acting on the behalf of the leader and in the best interest of the project. Certainly, the leader can set boundaries around the level of autonomy given and expand those boundaries as the Proactive follower proves himself/herself capable and trustworthy. In empowering the Proactive follower, the leader grooms them to become the next generation of leaders.

During interactions with Proactive followers, leaders may feel challenged or even threatened by the ideas and suggestions made. Personal attacks are never acceptable, but if a follower challenges the leader’s ideas or methods, in a respectful manner, the leader should not give into a negative emotional response. Instead, the leader should willing hear the person, consider the idea and then respond accordingly and professionally. A follower may be able to see a roadblock, a blind spot or a pothole the leader cannot. If the leader responds negatively, the follower will be unwilling to share future important information resulting in “damage” to the project’s effort.

Die-hard Loyalist Follower Type, #millennialleadership, millennial leadershipLeading the Die-hard Loyalist

A Die-hard Loyalist is loyal to the leader. Whatever the leader sets his/her hand to, the Loyalist aligns with him/her and is willing to shoulder the load. He/she feels valued when the leader assigns them specific tasks, especially if the activity provides a semblance of authority. Empowered with the leader’s affinity, the Loyalist will complete the task. If the leader recognizes the Loyalist upon the task completion, the leader engenders more loyalty from the Loyalist.

In many cases, the Loyalist is not concerned with the project’s mission or the task at hand. He/she is motivated by the fact the leader asks him/her to accomplish it. The leader must consider the Loyalist’s abilities and talents. The leader should assign work the Loyalist can perform and some task with a bit of a skillset stretch to help the Loyalist continue to grow. Of course, assigning work beyond the reach of the Loyalist becomes a source of embarrassment and demoralization.

Since Loyalists align with the leader, he/she may be hesitant to question or challenge a leader’s ideas. As a result, obstacles or gaps in the leader’s plans may either go unnoticed or not mentioned. While a leader can see many issues, he/she will not be able to see all. If issues are not brought to light, major problems can occur.

A leader guides the energies and efforts of the Loyalist. When the leader assigns tasks the Loyalist can accomplish and when he/she does so, the leader needs to acknowledge that effort. In the case the Loyalist doesn’t perform as the leader would like, the leader should acknowledge the positive aspects of the work and instruct the Loyalist how to correct the other parts which need fixing. While this can become tiring or tedious for the leader, he/she needs to recognize what motivates the Loyalist – the recognition of the leader. The leader must keep a balanced approach so the recognition doesn’t become gratuitous.

Loyalists can be disillusioned by the leader though a myriad of circumstances. In some cases, the leader moves to another project, department or company and leaves the Loyalist behind. The Loyalist feels betrayed. It happens enough times and the Loyalist could become bitter and cynical, essentially evolving into an Isolate. In other cases, if the Loyalist feels embarrassed or shamed by the leader, he/she can become disheartened. If the leader is overly critical, the Loyalist will feel resentment.

The leader could break the Loyalist’s trust in a number of ways: divulging confidential information, speaking ill of the Loyalist, or simply ignoring him/her. The Loyalist become disillusioned because he/she doesn’t understand why the leader is acting this way. The leader needs to be profession, not break a person’s trust and apologetic if the leader inadvertently makes a mistake.


In our next article, we will discuss the other two follower types: Sheep and Isolates.

In this article, we described the leadership methods for managing Proactives and Die-hard Loyalists. Because the two groups are motivated differently, they respond to the leader differently. Proactives are motivated by the mission while the Die-hard Loyalists align with the leader. Proactive followers may be challenging to the leader due to questions asked, ideas offered or working autonomously. Die-hard Loyalists require more direction and guidance from the leader since their desire to be in lock-step with the leader.

Leaders must recognize the different motivational forces and skillfully use methods best suited to the follower type and situation. Because a team is comprised of the different follower types, a leader cannot not motivate the team using one method. He/she must consider the individuals in the team and lead them accordingly.

Leadership is no longer about one-size-fits-all. Leaders of today must be nimble and responsive.

I welcome your comments and thoughts. Please enter them below.

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