A leading follower?

In my previous post, I wrote about my journey into dedicated followership of both Leadership Embodiment (LE) practices and their founder, Wendy Palmer. Nailing my colours to a mast doesn’t come easily to me – yet of all the leadership resources I’ve come across in 25 years of executive coaching, I’ve found LE to be most potent in changing leadership practice.

When we explore our leadership and followership tendencies in the LE approach, we encounter aspects of our embodied practice that our minds might prefer to gloss over. We gain insight into how we stymie ourselves as we hurtle through our ‘to do’ list. As we recognise these patterns (for they are patterns), we learn to develop a gentle acceptance of our humanness and to access a more centred state with greater resources. This gives us options.  

One aspect of this exploration is to experience how we react when a follower leaves or withdraws their support, embodied by the removal their hand from that of a leader. This action can represent a team member taking a new job or losing faith in a project or its leadership. As a follower physically breaks contact, a leader notices the effect. Perhaps the loss stops us in our tracks (oh no!), causes us to accelerate (I’ll show them), or otherwise unsettles or derails us.

The practice is to recognise the impact and to rebalance, adjusting to a reality in which the follower is absent. Even when support is withdrawn, we can connect to, and move towards, our purpose and perhaps inspire others to join us.  

Interestingly, in the standard LE suite of practices we don’t explore a follower’s experience if a leader leaves, loses heart, steps aside or becomes unavailable in some other way. However, I’ve inadvertently experienced this viscerally on an LE retreat.

We were examining what happens when a follower resists a leader, perhaps representing a question, a difference in opinion or some dissatisfaction. When a leader-follower pairing is stalled or stopped by resistance from the follower, the practice is for the leader to take time to realign with the follower, quite literally stepping back to be by their side. The leader does a centring practice, including the follower energetically, and then they reconnect to the shared purpose. This approach models listening, respect and inclusion and, if done sincerely, the leader-follower bond is energetically re-established and the pairing can move forward.

On this occasion, I was in the follower role applying resistance. My partner/leader didn’t come alongside me. Instead, she broke contact, setting off on her purpose without me. This wasn’t part of the brief!!

As my leader walked away from me, I felt forgotten. I was rattled and confused by this unexpected turn of events. I’d imagined we were in a regulated environment and my partner had defied ‘convention’. Their departure had a much greater impact on me than the parallel experience of a follower disengaging from me when I’m leading. Perhaps that’s why we don’t explore this routinely in LE workshops!

Disoriented and without a roadmap or any guidance on what to do, I stopped, tried to centre and waited. However, I felt aggrieved, which affected my ability to regroup – I was stuck in a groove of judging my partner to be in the wrong. I was referencing on the injustice of the situation, rather than on my resources and options.    

In the end, I drew on the activity in which a follower detaches from a leader and mirrored it. I adjusted to my new circumstances and I began to organise my attention and energy around the collective purpose of the original leader-follower unit. I began to move – I could continue the work in the absence of the leader.

In essence, I stepped into a leading role, in followership of a purpose.

This experience is very present as I and others adjust to the loss of the founder of LE, Wendy Palmer. Her daughter and business partner, Tiphani Palmer, is adapting to solo leadership of the LE community, whilst drawing on the support of long-standing teachers. And I’m wondering how to be a leading follower and play my part in ensuring this work continues to flourish.


  • Recall a time when a person in a leadership role left, lost heart, stood aside or became unavailable in some other way – how did this affect you?
  • What resources did you draw on to support you to move forward in their absence? What might you learn from this?