The Collaborationship Blog

The Collaborationship Blog

Rethinking Leadership and Followership

CollaborationshipPosted by Christian Monö Fri, March 11, 2016 11:02:50

Our local safari guide looked me in the eye through the rear view mirror. “We have bad leaders. That’s the problem!” he said gloomily.

We were bouncing about on a small dirt road, heading back to Mombasa after a two-day safari in Tsavo, Kenya’s largest natural park.

I used to live in Kenya as a child. Now I was back to show my own children this beautiful country.

Although it felt like most of my organs were hopelessly entangled somewhere below my ankles, I was happy. This is the Kenya I remembered - rough dirt roads, small clay buildings, and a savannah that seems to go on forever.

In every little village we passed, children came running out to greet us. They waved in anticipation, shouting at us to throw them some candy.

Much has changed since I lived here in the 1980’s. As our guide pointed out, children back then would call out for pencils, not candy.

I guess that’s a sign of improvement. It means more children have access to pencils and notebooks than they did when I lived here. Unfortunately, many people in Kenya still suffer from poverty, and it was this fact that led our guide to make his comment about bad leaders.

Focusing on Leaders

When people, like our guide, talk about the state of a country (or a company/organization for that matter), leadership is often concluded to be the key factor explaining either development success or failure. Typically, followers are hardly mentioned at all.

The idea that leaders are omnipotent and the key to success, is so widespread that few ever question it. As a consequence, billions of dollars are spent every year on leadership development.

In the US alone, companies spend somewhere between 13.6 to 170 billion dollars annually on developing their “leaders” (depending on who conducted the research and what is defined as ‘leadership development). Add to that all the revenues from book sales, university courses and membership fees etc. and leadership undoubtedly becomes one of the largest industries in the world.

On the other hand, most people have never heard of “followership” (the art of following a leader) and many couldn´t care less about the people who are supposed to be led.

This attitude strikes me as peculiar. I thought the whole point of leadership development was to get these “non-leaders” to follow. Wouldn’t it therefore make sense to pay them a little more attention?

Asking the Unthinkable Question: Are Leaders Really Important?

The lack of interest in followers and the extreme focus on leaders can only mean one thing – people believe that investing in leaders give far better results than investing in followers. If that’s true, then it makes sense to assume that with all the investments made in leadership development, we should over time see some astonishing results. Particularly in fields such as employer engagement or the public’s trust in their government - areas said to be greatly affected by leadership.

In 2011-2012, the internationally renowned public opinion research company, Gallup, conducted a survey of more than 230,000 employees in 142 countries. This survey concluded that 87 percent of workers around the world are either “disengaged” or “actively disengaged” in their work. In America, the number has been more or less stable at 70 - 74 percent since year 2000.

Looking at the Americans’ trust in their government, surveys show a continuous decrease in trust. In 1958, 73 percent of the Americans trusted their government. In 2013 only 19 percent did.

If leadership is as important as many people believe, and considering the amount of money spent on improving people’s leadership skills, why is there so little evidence of its impact?

The answer can partly be found in an interesting fact that is rarely mentioned by experts and leadership gurus, namely: scholars and researchers haven’t been able to agree on what differentiates a leader from a non-leader.

If we don’t know what a leader is, how do we know that leaders are more important than followers? And what exactly are we spending our money on when investing in leadership development?

These are important questions because they help us reevaluate our obsession with leaders. And it’s about time. Albert Einstein is known to have said that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Focusing on leadership is obviously not giving us the results we want. It’s time to move on.

Focusing on the Right Things

So, what’s your point, you may ask. Should we focus on followers instead of leaders? No, I don’t think so, and here’s why:

Imagine that you want to build a house. What will be your main focus? Will you spend 90 percent of your time focusing on getting the prefect tools? Probably not. Instead I’m sure your main focus will be on the end result – the house. The tools are simply there to help you reach your goal.

The same goes for leadership and followership. They are just tools we use to build something I’ve come to call collaborationship. To explain collaborationship, a good place to start is to identify the origin of true leadership and followership.


Modern Man first appear in Africa about 200,000 years ago. Since then, more than 90% of our history has been spent living as hunters and gatherers in small, so called band societies.

These highly egalitarian societies were made up of no more than 20 – 40 individuals. Contrary to popular beliefs, these societies functioned without chiefs or formal headsmen. There was no hierarchy, no one ruled the others. Instead, society was structured around cooperation and any sign of dominance was unacceptable and quickly smothered by the members of the group.

These egalitarian band societies have been called leaderless societies but that’s not actually true. There were leaders and followers, but not in the sense we are used to define them.

Today people think of leaders as one or more persons leading others for a specified period of time. They also tend to equate leaders with decision makers, i.e. individuals who have the power to make decisions on behalf of others. For example, if someone talks about leaders in a company, they usually refer to managers not subordinates. If they talk about political leaders they mean political decision makers not voters.

The problem with these two assumptions is that they don’t take true followership into consideration. They instead assume that followers are just sheep that need to be guided and controlled. But this is not the case.

Our foraging ancestors had an ingenious way of leading and following without involving dominance and hierarchy. For example, when a group of men decided to hunt, they would begin by discussing their different options. During these discussions, successful hunters would take a more prominent role. They would do so, not by telling the others what to do, but simply by presenting their opinions and experiences. Because they were good hunters, the others would be more likely to listen to their advice. In other words, it was the group that decided who they would follow.

By following a successful hunter, the group would maximize its chances of success. It’s this process, in which people who share a common vision or goal unite in order to build synergies, that I call collaborationship.

Leadership is Based on a Role – not a Person

Few things are more powerful than strong collaborationship. It has made human beings able to travel around the world, fight diseases, overthrow dictators, fly into space, and so on. When a group of people are able to build strong collaborationship, few things can stop them.

An important part of building strong collaborationship is through something I call shifting leadership.

Our foraging ancestors fiercely rejected dominance and hierarchy. Why? Because they knew that having just one person rule the others was less effective than opening up for everyone to share the leader role.

Because different people excel in different areas, our ancestors chose to follow different people at different times.

Even today, people use shifting leadership to maximize success. A simple example is if I decide to lose some weight I might go to a gym and get a personal trainer. I don’t hire a taxi driver or a librarian because they wouldn’t be able to help me. Of course, if I want to make a difference in society, then I’ll join a political party or organization. I don’t join a gym.

This may probably seem logical but that’s just because shifting leadership and collaborationship are part of our natural behavior.

Leadership is the means to an end, not the end itself. Along with followership, it’s a tool used to build strong collaborationship. So, people are not born either leaders or followers – we have different roles at different times, depending on our particular usefulness at any given time.

The Next Step

Heading down the dirt road towards Mombasa , passing those small, poor villages, I thought about what our guide had said –that poverty exist because of bad leadership. I don’t think it’s that simple.

Yes, there are many bad decision makers and leaders in the world, but far more serious is our traditional obsession with leadership.

If we want to eradicate poverty, save the environment or improve human rights etc., then the answer isn’t leadership. And although there is much work to be done in improving people’s follower skills, our primary focus shouldn’t be on followers either. It should be on building strong collaborationship.

It’s not uncommon that people who are supposed to collaborate towards a common goal or vision will spend more energy and money on power struggles and leadership training than on the actual vision. I’m sure you can think of a few examples where you’ve seen this occur.

One reason this happens is because of the belief that leadership is about making or manipulating others to obey orders. As a result, if you’re not in a decision-making position, then you’re the one being dominated. Because people generally don’t like to be dominated or controlled, one way out of this dilemma is to become a decision maker yourself.

This, along with all the perks that follow a decision maker role, encourages people to strive for power. As a result, power struggles appear along with an obsession with leadership development. Meanwhile, the very reason a group of people cooperate (or should cooperate) is all but forgotten.

Our ancestors knew that power, hierarchy, dominance and control aren’t part of a successful collaboration. They seem to have instinctively understood that to maximize the potential of a group, one needs to maximize the potential of each individual.

Therefore, they chose who and when to follow, a choice they didn’t just do once or twice in their lives. They did it every day, in all aspects of society. It was their recipe for success.

If we want to move beyond the old leadership myth, I believe this is a good place to start – by understanding that true followers choose their leaders, not the other way around.

As followers we have far more power and responsibility than most of us understand.

This article was first published in Green Horizon 2014

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CollaborationshipPosted by Christian Monö Sat, May 23, 2015 07:06:28
Ever since I first published "Beyond the Leadership Myth", I've been told (repeatedly) - "You should make a trailer for it!" So no I have and more will follow :)

Trailer 1

Trailer 2

Any feedback is welcomed :)

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Leader vs authority

CollaborationshipPosted by Christian Monö Wed, May 20, 2015 17:47:17

All too often, people confuse the difference between a leader and someone of authority. Here's an excerpt from "Beyond the Leadership Myth: Discover the Power of Collaborationship".

"As mentioned earlier, an authority is a person holding an official position with a mandate to steer and control his/her subordinates. There are many words that describe people in such roles: for example managers, supervisors, politicians, decision-makers, rulers, superiors and so on.

An authority’s role is generally pre-determined in the sense that regardless of the challenges that face the group or the interests that drive the subordinates, the authority remains hierarchically dominant and therefore has the power to enforce his/her will on the others.
A leader, on the other hand, is not the same as an authority. A leader holds no formal power over his/her followers and will only lead as long as there are people who are willing to follow him/her. Consequently, the relationship between leaders and followers is not built on dominance but on a common interest to reach a particular vision or goal, i.e., they share an interest to build collaborationship.

Studying followers at a work place is somewhat like studying wild animal behavior in a zoo. Animals tend to lose some of their natural behavior if placed in captivity for an extended period of time. Similarly, it is difficult to understand true followership and leadership by studying employees at a company or organization. Here authority and hierarchy remain strong. People are paid to perform their tasks and obey their managers. And although we may have the freedom to choose which jobs to apply for, most of us are forced to work in order to make a living. Thus, in a company there may be employees who love what they do, and those who hate it. None of this exists when people truly lead and follow one another in order to build collaborationship.”

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Why is Holacracy so hard to accept?

CollaborationshipPosted by Christian Monö Wed, May 13, 2015 14:36:12

Zappos, the online shoe retailer, has decided to go manager-free. This is gaining a great deal of media attention. Some are applauding Zappos attempt to move towards a holacracy, while others are questioning the sanity of it, calling it “an interesting experiment”. Zappos shift towards holacracy, however, is not nearly as interesting as some journalists attempt to question the logic of a manager-free organization.

Take this headline, for example: “Zappos goes manager-free – employees leave in droves” or “Zappos stopped managing its employees. They don’t seem too happy about it”. This suggests that people are leaving the company in protest against the new manager-free structure. In reality, Zappos offered a buy-out of “Three months' severance and 3 months of COBRA benefits, unless they were a Zappos employee for more than four years, in which case they would get one month of severance for every year with the company.

There can be a million reasons why taking a buy-out is a good idea for an employee, and few have to do with holacracy as a system. When journalists point out that 14% of the employees have decided to opt for the buy-out, they fail to add that annually, about 13% quit on voluntary basis (and 7% involuntary). This leaves about 300 people employed yearly. Worth noting is that Zappos have about 30,000 applying each year.

Critics have stated that holacracy might not work in societies where people are used to seeing careers as being interlinked with climbing the hierarchical ladder. In other words – if I can’t be a manager, then what drives me to perform well at work? Of course, one may wonder if such employees are worth having. If I employ people whose primary focus is their own advancement, then that means that their interest in the company they work for, as well as the work they do, comes in second place.

I’ve seen far too many examples of employees and managers taking decisions based on their own gains rather than that of the company they work for. Rather than fostering collaboration between people, hierarchy triggers competition. It’s everyone for himself, and you have to fight your way up.

Although many agree that collaboration between employees are vital for success, few have the courage and the imagination to explore structures that challenge the traditional top-down organizational structure.

Thumbs up for Zappos who dare challenge the traditional, hierarchical perspectives!

Some articles on the subject:

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Offer on e-book (6th -8th Dec)

CollaborationshipPosted by Christian Monö Sat, December 06, 2014 18:39:44

It's Christmans time and From now till December 8th - ridiculously low price for the e-book version of

We’re getting closer to Christmas, my favourite holiday! As always, I’ve kept myself busy. I’m working on my new book and find myself spending every minute I can writing on it. The down side is that I’ve now entered the phase when I find it more or less impossible to enjoy a good book or a movie. Any time not spent working or being with my family, I spend writing. I don’t blame people for finding me boring :)

Marcus, a good friend and colleague of mine, is also working like mad. He’s finalizing the first version of our collaborationship game. I will keep you updated on its progress but let me just tell you, if we can get all the pieces together, this game will offer the participants an opportunity to not only test their collaborative skills, but also to test whether or not a decision maker has a positive or negative effect on collaboration. In other words – I’m excited.

From now till December 8th there is a ridiculously low price on the e-book version of Beyond the Leadership Myth!

I’ve also started working on some minor updates on this book, mainly to clarify a few points I make. I promise I’ll let you know when it’s done.

For now, take care!

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Four reasons why the leadership industry has become so successful

CollaborationshipPosted by Christian Monö Sun, October 12, 2014 14:53:00

All around the world, a great deal of money is spent on leadership development (more on this can be found below). What surprises me is that most people don’t even think about leadership in terms of an industry. Unlike other industries, such as the health or pharmaceutical industry for example, many people seem unaware of the fact that there are economic interests that influence the way leadership is portrayed.

Let’s take a look at why leadership has become such a successful industry:

1) It targets the right people

The leadership industry is targeting people with power, i.e. authorities and the decision makers. These are generally the same people who ultimately decides whether or not to invest in leadership.

2) It feeds their ego

Secondly, it tells the targeted group that they’re leaders and therefore important. They’re said to be the key to their companies, organizations or states success.

3) It encourages them to invest in themselves

Thirdly, it tells the targeted group that they must focus on themselves. They need to invest money in their own, personal development in order to improve their skills so that they can become even more influential and important.

4) It offers the power to rule people.

Finally, the leadership industry claims to offer a tool to rule people. The word “rule” is avoided of course. Instead the industry uses words like “motivate” or “inspire” people. The basic idea is still the same, however. A good leader is said to be able to motivate people so that they do what the leader wants them to do.

These above factors have made leadership into an extraordinary industry that despite its magnitude manages remains more or less unchallenged.

Read more in “Beyond the Leadership Myth

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The Leadership Industry

CollaborationshipPosted by Christian Monö Sat, September 27, 2014 21:42:39

For decades, companies and organizations have invested vast sums of money on what they call leadership development. In the US alone, it’s estimated that companies spend somewhere between 14 to 170 billion dollars on it annually. Add to that the global market, including revenues from books, membership fees, leadership fairs and university studies etc., and it becomes apparent that “leadership” has become a massive industry.

Despite the magnitude of this industry, few people ever question its impact on companies and societies. For many, leadership is unquestionably the main key to success. To them it almost seems absurd to think otherwise. Perhaps this is why only 10-20% of all companies investing in leadership will actually evaluate the outcome of their investments. Now, how many other investments are companies willing to do without evaluating the result of their investments?

The idea that leaders are important may seem logical - but there are many reasons why we should critically examine the leadership industry.

First of all, what many don’t know is that very little scientific research has been done on the actual importance of leaders. In fact, scientists can’t even agree on what differentiates a leader from a non-leader. In other words, there is no objective "truth" as to what a leader is.

Secondly, it’s highly questionable what the results have been from the massive investments made in leadership. For example, in a survey of 230,000 employees in 142 countries, the public opinion research company – Gallup – found that only 13% of all employees feel engaged at work. And Edelman, one of the world's largest public relations firms, concluded in a survey of 33,000 people in 27 countries, that global trust in government and political leaders “leaders” is as low as 15-25 %. In the US, the Americans trust in their government have actually dropped steadily from about 70% in the mid 1970’s to about 20% in 2010.

Considering the vast investments in leadership, shouldn’t we have been able to see a much more convincing result?

A third reason why we should question the leadership industry is the effect it has on collaboration. While leaders are seen as omnipotent, those who follow leaders - the “followers”, are more or less seen as unimportant. Just as regards the views on leadership, but at the opposite end, this view is held without any substantial evidence. For many a follower is the same as a servant, someone who obeys a leader's wishes or demands. As a consequence, few want to see themselves as followers.

This negative view of followers appear to increases the risk of conflict between individuals in a team. Why? Because people hate to be dominated and therefore do their best to avoid it.

This dislike of being dominated is deeply rooted in us as human beings. Modern Man originated in Africa about 200,000 years ago. During the first 180,000 years, our ancestors lived in small band societies with no more than 20 to 40 individuals. These were egalitarian societies without any rulers or authorities. Dominance was just not accepted here. Instead, cooperation was seen as the key to success.

Our unwillingness to let ourselves be dominated by others sharply contrasts with today's leadership philosophy. Despite the billions of dollars that companies spend on leadership development, the amazing results promised by the leadership industry is still to be seen. Thus, the leadership industry is based on the assumption that leaders are important, not facts.

With all this uncertainty surrounding leadership, why is it so controversial to question the importance of leaders? Why are companies investing billions of dollars in leadership programs without asking whether it produces any results? And why do we continue to belittle followers when we know so little about them?

There is so much potential out there that is lost because we’re too focused on leaders. It’s time to question the old leadership myth and the industry that surround it. It’s time to move on!

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What a surprise

CollaborationshipPosted by Christian Monö Thu, March 20, 2014 10:25:06

As you know, I published the e-book on Kindle last week and posted the information here on the blog as well as on Facebook, LinkedIn and twitter. My wife and I also informed our family and friends. This was on Saturday morning and an hour later, the first download had been made.

The book was offered for free during the first 4 days and I was hoping that at least a few people would be curious enough to download it.

During our lunch, my wife Cindy and I discussed what would be a reasonable target when counting the number of downloads. We reasoned back and forth until Cindy said “let’s have 30 downloads per day as a goal”. I agreed and kept my fingers crossed.

By 3:30 pm, I had already reached my target. What a relief! Cindy was also impressed and suggested that we would raise our target to 50 downloads a day. While 30 downloads had felt reasonable, 50 didn’t. Maybe the first day but not for 4 days straight. However, I agreed. Goals aren’t meant to be easy.

I wondered how I would get another 50 downloads the following day. So in order to spread the word beyond our friends, I spent about 30 dollars on “boosting” my Facebook post. By the time I went to bed a total of 135 downloads had been made. So, a new goal was set – 100 downloads per day.

During the following days, the downloads just kept going. By evening on the third day, I had nearly 700 downloads and by the last day 822 people around the world had downloaded it. It may be far from a record but it definitely made my day. What a great surprise. To all of you who downloaded the book - thank you so much!

So what’s next? Well, now Cindy and I are discussing how many reviews might come of this. I have no idea what to expect. If I’m lucky, I’ll get about 10 reviews so that will be my goal. Of course, people need to read the book first. Therefore, I have set a goal of 10 reviews within the next 4 weeks. I’m not sure that’s reasonable but it’s what I’ll go for. I’ll keep you posted

Have a great week!

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Download e-book for free

CollaborationshipPosted by Christian Monö Sat, March 15, 2014 10:37:17

So it’s finally out – the Kindle version of “Beyond the Leadership Myth, why we follow leaders and lead followers”. The book will be available for FREE DOWNLOAD between Saturday 15 March and Tuesday 18 March at:

If you don’t have Kindle on your computer, i-pad or phone, you can get the reading app here:

Naturally it feels wonderful to have the book out in e-format. Now I can focus on all the other projects that are ongoing. Of course, I’m a little nervous about the response I’ll get – both in terms of the number of people downloading the book but also in terms of reviews.

Like any author, I hope to get some reviews. Reviews will not only help me judge people’s reaction to the book but it will also help potential readers evaluate the contents of the book. Having said that, I obviously hope the reviews are positivesmiley

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Designing a board game

CollaborationshipPosted by Christian Monö Sun, March 09, 2014 18:48:30


Here’s a short update on things.

This week I’ve started working with a colleague who designs board games. Our objective is to design a game that allows the players to practice and test both hierarchy and collaborationship in various forms. We’ve just started but the basic idea has been defined and we’re now beginning to design the first crude version. I love this kind of creative work. I also believe that games can be a good way of complementing theory, which makes this project particularly interesting. I will keep you updated on the progress.

The giveaway on Goodreads has now ended and there are ten lucky winners. I’ve been in touch with most of them and have sent them the book. I look forward to their feedback.

I’m still struggling with getting the e-book version in place. I’ve completed most of the formatting but still need to get the book readable on Kindle I-pad. I truly hope to be done by next week.

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