DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Wrestling with Followership

Written by: on February 7, 2019

A few years ago, I stumbled upon Derek Silver’s TED Talk on how to start a movement.[1] In this TED talk, he talks about the fact that in order to be a leader, you have to have at least one follower. He says, “The first follower is what transforms a lone nut into a leader.”[2] I couldn’t help but have this playing through my head while I was reading The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective by Dennis Tourish.


Dennis Tourish is a Professor of Leadership and Organizational Studies at the University of Sussex, as well as journal editor and fellow of various foundations.[3] A particular area of interest for Tourish centers around cults, which is displayed prominently in The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership.[4] His expertise in leadership and specific area of interest in cults well position him to understand and deconstruct transformational leadership, and what it means to center a leader at the very middle and heart of any organization or business.


This book is centered in three parts. The first really digs deep into the understanding of leadership as a whole, and pays specific attention to transformational leadership. Tourish alludes to the works of Burns in defining “transformational leadership” and says, “The leader is encouraged to change the goals of followers, subordinates or (in the case of cults) devoted members. Put in its most positive form, the new goals are assumed to be of a higher level in that, once transformed, they represent the ‘collective good or pooled interests of leaders and followers.’”[5] Essentially, the danger of transformational leadership boils down to an excess of agency and power that is granted to leaders.[6] The second portion of the book, Tourish examines a four different case studies and how dangerous adherence to transformational leadership and power dynamics can be. Finally, the third portion of the book offers readers his own theories on how to reimagine the relationships between leaders and followers.[7] Tourish recommends to always take context of leadership into practice[8], share the victory and defeat with followers[9], and give more emphasis on the role of followership, as opposed to an infatuation with leadership.[10]


This brings me back to Derek Silver. This video, if you haven’t seen it, highlights a shirtless man dancing at a concert. Silver starts by highlighting the leader but quickly moves on to the role of the first follower. The dancing man at the concert quickly brings his first follower in to his dance, which helps it become less about him, and more about “them”, the plural of the two together. “It’s important to show not just the leader, but the followers, because you find that new followers follow the followers, not the leader.”[11] He says that the biggest lesson is that leadership is over glorified; The first follower is really the one who transforms the leader into a movement.[12]


As I was reading Tourish, specifically the chapter on “Leadership, group suicide and mass murder: Jonestown and Heaven’s Gate through the looking glass”, I spent a lot of time thinking about the followers. While I understand this is a book on leaders, I found the followers to be fascinating. Tourish said, “Most of this who stumbled into his (Jones) orbit were looking for spiritual answers, hope and a sense of community.”[13] So many of these followers found themselves in controlled situations, consisting of “bounded choice”[14]


It hit me when Tourish said, “The job of the followers is to obey. Whatever difficulties arise in reaching the group’s ever elusive goals are invariable blamed on the limited commitment of the members, rather than on the feebleness of the group’s leaders or the weaknesses of it’s ideology.”[15] It’s so much like Jesus versus the Pharisees. The Pharisees kept drawing boundaries and giving those around them a bounded choice, where Jesus came to throw all that out the door with a table flip. Honestly, I’m not totally sure how to end this, but to highlight the fact that I’m wrestling with all this. How are we pointing people to Jesus, and not to us as the followers? How are we reminding people that God gave us freedom of choice, not a bounded one? How are we remembering the context of Scripture as we examine our own leadership roles? And finally, as followers, are we consistently giving up the power and agency to the One who gave us that power first?



[1] Derek Silvers, “How to Start a Movement,” produced by TED, February 2010, video, 3:03,

[2] Derek Silvers, Ibid.

[3] “Prof Dennis Tourish”, University of Sussex, accessed on February 7, 2019,

[4] Michael Walton, “Review: The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective,” Industrial and Commercial Training 45, no. 6 (2013): 369-370.

[5] Dennis Tourish, The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective (Sussex: Routledge, 2013), 20.

[6] Ibid., 21

[7] Suze Wilson, “Book Review: The dark side of transformational leadership; A critical perspective,” Organization 22, no. 1 (January 2015): 150-152

[8] Dennis Tourish, The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective (Sussex: Routledge, 2013), 213.

[9] Ibid., 214.

[10] Ibid., 214.

[11] Derek Silvers, “How to Start a Movement,” produced by TED, February 2010, video, 3:03,

[12] Derek Silvers, Ibid.

[13] Dennis Tourish, The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective (Sussex: Routledge, 2013), 159.

[14] Ibid., 162.

[15] Ibid., 162.

About the Author


Karen Rouggly

Karen Rouggly is the Director for Mobilization in the Center for Student Action at Azusa Pacific University. She develops transformational experiences for students serving locally, nationally, and internationally. She completed an MA in Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary and is passionate about community development, transformational service and helping students understand vocation and service. Karen is also an active member at the Vineyard Church Glendora where she is a small group leader and serves on the teaching team. She is also a mom to two sweet boys, wife to an amazing guy, and loves being a friend to many.

8 responses to “Wrestling with Followership”

  1. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    First off, I love that video . . . thank you for bringing it up in a blog post!

    Second, you raise a great question. What are the best ways for us to point others/followers/disciples to God/Jesus/the Divine and not to us. This is imperative. Thank you Karen!

  2. mm Mary Mims says:

    Karen, you are right that this book brings up more questions than answers. I too found the need to examine myself as a leader, hoping that I am pointing others to Christ and not to me. I also struggle with how much I should speak up at my government job against the wrongs I see in management. It is not easy to have a dissenting voice. I pray with all our reading God will provide understanding and the wisdom how to use all we are learning.

    • mm Karen Rouggly says:

      Mary, that really is hard! I struggle with that too – sometimes I feel like it’s easier just to let it all go, and know that at some point, someone will figure it out. I can at least take solace in the fact that we’re all figuring it out together!

  3. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Thanks, Karen. I had forgotten about that video and talk and it was really good to emphasize the mentality and motivation of followership. I have been thinking abut how we call people “believers” and maybe that is the issue, they believe but don’t follow closely. Mental assent is not active transformation. You are giving me more to think about in how that relates to human leadership and the responsibility to the followers.

  4. Andrea Lathrop says:

    Thank you, Karen. Can we get a cup of coffee to discuss this book please?? I have been thinking about followers too and how in my large church contexts I (or sr leaders) have viewed them. It’s sobering. I have also been reminded of Jesus and the Pharisees – what an interesting intersection of that with Tourish’s work.

  5. Thank you Karen, you have helped me to see myself as a follower of Jesus who should actively lead others to follow Him. I must say that pointing followers to ourselves when given positions of leadership is a blind spot and trap that we should always be awake to. Thank you for bringing up the video, it’s very helpful.

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