Are You Attempting to Influence “Followers”? What You Need to Know

By Justin Grensing, Esq., MBA

A few weeks ago, we looked at an article in Harvard Business Review written by Gary A. Williams and Robert B. Miller titled “Change the Way You Persuade.” In the article, Williams and Miller discuss what they found after spending two years studying over 1,600 executives. The authors discovered that the executives could be categorized into five different decision-making types: thinkers, charismatics, controllers, followers and skeptics. Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve looked at thinkers, charismatics and skeptics. This week we’re going to look at the followers.


It may be a surprising statistic, but Williams and Miller found that over a third (36 percent) of the business leaders they surveyed fell into the group they labeled “followers,” representing the largest of the five groups. Then again, consistency in decision-making may be one of the reasons this group has made it to the top of their professions in the first place. According to the authors, “Followers make decisions based on how they’ve made similar choices in the past or on how other trusted executives have made them. Because they are afraid of making the wrong choice, followers will seldom be early adopters. Instead, they trust in known brands and in bargains, both of which represent less risk.”

Well known followers include Peter Coors, Douglas Daft, and Carly Fiorina.


“With a follower, don’t try to sell yourself unless you have a strong track record of success,” say Williams and Miller. “Instead, look for past decisions by the follower that support your views or find similar decisions by other executives the follower trusts.”


Followers are cautious by nature. They don’t want to be the first to take a particular approach or to go out on a limb; they have worked hard to get to where they are, and they have much to lose. It’s important to give followers ample examples of how your approach fits with how things have been done before in your organization, or at least how similar organizations have succeeded with your approach in the past.

Final Thoughts

Followers don’t like to think of themselves as followers. They are business leaders, after all. By helping them get a better grasp on what they don’t understand, followers will be more comfortable making tough decisions. There are some key words and phrases that Williams and Miller suggest planting in the minds of the followers you hope to persuade: innovate, expedite, swift, bright, just like before, expertise, similar to, previous, what works, and old way.

(This contributed post is the first in a series from our colleague, Justin Grensing. Over the next several weeks we’ll be publishing his posts on each of these decision-making types and how you can most effectively influence them. If you are interested in contributing a post to our blog, please let us know.)

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