Richard Janes’ thoughts on “Followership”

The essential skill of ‘Followership’…

I have been studying and recently completed a short Open University Course on ‘Leadership and Followership’ I find it fascinating to apply strong concepts from other arenas to paddle sport and I look to share some thoughts. Please excuse brevity, I have included references in support.

It would be very difficult to have dipped a paddle a few times and not come across the notion of ‘leader’ in our sport. However, we don’t often talk about ‘followership ‘ and if we do, it is usually in a very benign way. 

Leadership and followership are two, interdependent skills. Both essential to a happy day out. The purpose of my musings are to explore the role of followership and consider it to be not only an essential skill in group paddles but also the foundation to being a good leader.

What do we mean by ‘Leader’? 

There are almost as many different definitions of leadership as there are persons who have attempted to define the concept. And there are probably as many definitions as Leaders.

In his book Leadership Theory and Practice, Professor Peter Northouse takes the central components from 65 different classifications of leadership, and distils them into the following definition:

‘Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal’  (Northouse, 2016, p. 6)  

That’ll do for me!

We can consider style of leadership. And this is where it becomes very interesting. Consider the variables in sea kayaking. Environment, weather, kit, people… No one size fits all here! Examples could range from an autocratic, military style in extremis to laiser faire bimble on a sunny afternoon. Paddlers themselves will be equally wide in their style and approach. So, our sea kayak leader will need a quiver of leadership skills and the ability to choose which to draw. Quite a challenge and not easily taught on a couple of formal days training. 

What do we mean by ‘Followership’

Again, you don’t have to look far to find multiple definitions! However, in our game this definition makes sense to me:-

‘Followership is the process of attaining one’s individual goals by being influenced by a leader into participating in individual or group efforts toward organisational goals in a given situation’. Followership thereby becomes seen as a function of the follower, the leader and situational variables (Wortman, quoted in Crossman and Crossman, 2011). 

There are of course different types of followers. Robert Kelley (1988) points out that ‘Followership is not a person but a role’ and explains that ‘effective followers and effective leaders are often the same people playing different parts at different hours of the day.’ 

In many respects, being a good follower follows the same characteristics as being a good leader with many of the skills and attributes required of an effective follower also seen in an effective leader. 

Some examples applied to sea kayaking:-

Communication…… ‘Let’s keep the group together’

Independent thinking…….. ‘Where’s Paul, did he go behind those rocks?’

Judgement……… ‘Wait until this set has gone through before we launch’

Initiative…….. ‘ We can use this cable tie to fix the skeg’

Collaboration……. ‘Steve, I’ll kick your boat away to help you empty it’

Diplomacy…….. ‘ Sue could you paddle with Nick, he could do with the company’

Influencing…….. ‘ Hey, Ed try this paddle to get round the headland’

Empathy….. ‘ you ok?, tell me about your holiday’

Self awareness and self management…… ‘I struggle in the heat. Must make sure I drink enough today and keep a hat on’. Or, ‘I might find this hard. Take it steady’

Teaching such skills on a short training course is impossible. Logged journeys indicate we have been on trips and maybe participated as leader. But what has our approach been as a follower?  Kelley (1988) describes five groups:- 

1.      Sheep – passive and uncritical, lacking in initiative and a sense of responsibility. They perform the tasks given to them and stop.

2.      Yes people – a livelier but equally unenterprising group. Dependent on a leader for inspiration, they can be aggressively deferential, even servile. In later work, Kelley refers to them as ‘conformist followers’.

3.      Alienated followers – critical and independent in their thinking but passive in carrying out their role. Often cynical, they tend to sink gradually into disgruntled acquiescence, seldom openly opposing a leader’s efforts.

4.      Survivors – perpetually sample the wind and live by the slogan ‘better safe than sorry’. They are adept at surviving change.

5.      Effective followers – think for themselves and carry out their duties and assignments with energy and assertiveness.

On the assumption that Canoe Clubs represent a cross section of people, I guess we will meet all types. As conscientious group paddlers, leaders and aspirant leaders we should all perhaps be pro-active in our efforts to be more ‘effective followers’

I don’t think a paddler has to be the strongest or most able to be an effective follower and I believe it is important for a novice to be aware of what constitutes good followership and works towards such skills. Training undoubtedly has a place both formal and perhaps less formal, alongside a more experienced paddler on trips. (Thought….Isn’t that how it used to be done?)

Interestingly, some of the very best followers I have met, who happened to be very able paddlers themselves have absolutely no intention of ever being leaders. Partly through lack of interest in the role and some have simply been put off by perceived expectations.

In a comprehensive review of the existing followership literature, Uhl-Bien at al. (2014) conclude that in the emerging field of followership research, there are two key approaches:

1.      Followership as a position or role – this approach considers how followers’ identities and behaviours influence leader attitudes, behaviours and outcomes

2.      Followership as a social process – this approach looks at followership and leadership as being co-constructed in social and relational interactions between people.

In both scenarios, followership and leadership relationships are closely linked, each influencing and interacting with the other to create the best possible outcomes.

It surely makes absolute sense that followership skills should be viewed as prerequisites for effective leadership.  I have paddled with many groups of individuals over the years. I have met paddlers from each of the five groups identified by Kelley (1988) and in some cases, in rather disparate paddling groups. The same groups where there has been considerable discussion over leadership and a desire to gain formal leadership awards.

“Miss, Miss can I lead?” Any Teacher will have heard similar shouts from children, hands clawing for the ceiling in hopeful anticipation. What is it about the notion of ‘leading’ that seems so exciting to many of us? Is it a strange anticipation of personal glory or do we actually consider the goals, needs and wants of our group? 

On the basis of the arguments above the role and skills of followership should carry a similar level of debate to leadership, both essential skills for a safe, happy day on the sea and  apprenticeship for aspirant leaders.   Maybe it is simply down to the implied meaning of the terms ‘leader’ and ‘follower’. Whatever the reasons it’s always a good exercise for us all to reflect on our dynamic roles within paddling groups, whatever our skill level, experience and whatever we call ourselves!


Crossman, B. and Crossman, J. (2011) ‘Conceptualising followership- a review of the literature’, Leadership, vol. 7, no. 4

Kelley, R. (1988) ‘In Praise of Followers, Harvard Business Review

Northouse,P.G (2016) ‘Introduction’, Leadership Theory and Practice, 7th edn, California, SAGE Publications Ltd

Uhl-Bien, M., Riggio, R.E., Lowe, K.B. And Carsten, M.K. (2014) ,Followership theory: A review and research agenda’, Leadership Quarterly, vol 25, pp. 83-104

Sea Kayaking Wales’ Open Day!

Sea Kayaking Wales – How it all started…  By Geth Roberts

Eleven years ago I started paddling with Rich and Paul. This was the start of a weekly kayaking get together that would grow and later become known as the Saturday gang. At some point Rich started suggesting that we work on a kayaking business together. This business started forming in 2015 as Sea Kayaking Wales and properly became established in 2018 when I finished secondary school teaching. We were all proud, me especially so, during the first SKW Open Day to be coaching together as a team of three, our first time doing so with SKW. A lot has happened since 2008 and a pipe dream has been realised… We thank all of the Open Day participants for sharing this day with us!

Paul, Geth and Rich on one of our adventures in Ireland

When 13 is a lucky number… By Rich Janes

At SKW we are not usually superstitious but today was the first SKW open day and we truly wanted everyone to have a good time. We met thirteen paddlers in the cafe this morning.Now, the (probably unverifiable) hypothesis holds that 13 is an unlucky number because it reflects the human fear of the unknown, since it is the first number that cannot be enumerated using our available digits.Within minutes of our meeting, everyone was chatting like old friends! Past trips, planned trips, courses and oh, … Today! Thirteen interesting, talented and great people joined us for our first SKW ‘Open Day’ and what an excellent day it was….. 
The purpose of the day was to give folk a ‘flavour’ of what we do and an SKW requisite,  have a fun day.

The plan was for Geth, Paul and Rich to Guide and facilitate our groups to enjoy the fabulous coastline around Rhoscolyn. We split into three groups. A minor mathematical challenge dividing thirteen by three but hey, we’re clever! 

The forecast for the day was light, Northerly wind. Little swell and a generally ebbing Spring tide. Beauty of Spring tides hereabouts is that high water (Local, 0845) is in the morning and not too far to carry boats. Hard work at the end of the day, though.Formalities of ‘briefing’ and not so formalities out of the way, we paddled out of the bay, heading generally North. ‘Generally’ meaning the beautiful conditions allowed us to explore every ‘nook and cranny’, adrenaline fixes satiated between gaps and  …. Er,. On rocks. So much fun, so many laughs! Narrow slots, gullys and the Arches appeared all too soon. We had planned to meet at 1300 for lunch in Porth y Corwgl. We had over spent our time! So, we headed out to sea to enjoy the ebbing tide escalator to take us back to Rhoscolyn Beacon. 

We would have loved to have been able to offer time in the tide races for which these parts are well known. But light winds had created a beautiful mirror sea and the scenery was simply wonderful. The sun now picking out colours in ancient cliffs, snowy mountain backdrop and the Beacon in the foreground.  I think everyone was captured by the very special environment. The tide had now carried us down to the Beacon. No (playable) tide race today and the group tested their skills squeezing through impossibly narrow gaps. 

The continuos chatter and laughing continued over lunch. Even the sun put in an appearance and felt warm! Well, for a bit, then we were cold so we headed South towards Silver Bay with more spirited rock hopping before our turnaround time, carefully calculated using British Canoeing 9 ‘star’ techniques to best balance getting off the water with time for a quick visit to the pub before home time.

More chatting, laughing and making plans.One day with such good people and it feels we have been paddling together for years. 
Very lucky number, thirteen! 

Even the Seagulls were cold…. by Richard Janes

Up to now (17th Jan) it’s been a very mild winter over here in North Wales. The hills have been bare and our crampons are definitely rusting.
Today was different! Time was needed to scrape the windscreen in the dark of 0730 as I left home in Llan Ffestiniog. Snow showers chased the van as I climbed over the hills and I felt grateful for having recently fitted ‘winter’ tyres. The Dawn was glorious! Snow covered hills of Eryri, glowing pink in the first light.

Why, oh why have we planned to go paddling and not heading for the hills today?
Wind Northerly. No messing, straight off the Arctic (F5+) dropping steadily during the day. We headed to Trearddur Bay and a plan to paddle South with the last of the ebb and wind. Play around Rhoscolyn Beacon and return with the flood and well, the Northerly wind should have dropped by then.
We should have known better as we watched a gull going for a wet landing. Toes in, an odd feather and whoosh!! He’d cleared off to a dry rock to squark on a pile of pelvetia, like only seagulls can and to watch other idiots on the sea. Er,.. That’d be us. 

Getting into drysuits was purgatory. Frozen fingers, jamming zips along with serious questions of sanity, eventually saw us launching onto a slate grey sea. A bit of effort and circulation began to return, at least to most parts. …

Conditions were brilliant! Swell, around a metre or so along with wind blown waves generated glorious lively conditions around the rocks and reefs. “Could we land here?” , “how might we manage a rescue there?” .. “Let’s give that a go!”  Great opportunities to challenge, test and consider. 

The ‘Beacon’ soon appeared and whilst very early into the flood tide, it seemed wrong not to pay our respects. Too early for the race.

Landing on ‘lunch’ beach (never learned the name after decades of paddling), I shivered whilst Paul enjoyed his Sushi and egg mayonnaise, our rain hoods drumming to the beat of continuous, heavy hail.  My hummus seriously wanted chips (lots). 

Launching was only possible after sweeping the slush from the cockpit and seats. Seal cold, we paddled hard out to the Beacon race. The sun came out and the waves were big! Sadly, not square enough for our lustful (surfing) desires so we headed North looking for the roughest water and playtime. Beautiful, breaking water around reefs and slots fed our adrenaline need. The wind had listened to the forecast and we paddled back over a flat sea, rolling swell continued to make the rocks and reefs interesting and a playful seal rather took the whatnot as we pondered a ‘rock hop’

Using the excuse of failing light, we headed back to Trearrdur Bay. Landed and sorting kit, we both noticed lack of (any) feeling in toes and somewhat useless fingers. Good job we hadn’t needed to fire a flare.

Sorting kit and loading boats maybe the worst part of the day. But what a brilliant day! Warmth, hot coffee and the usual erudite conversation of the pub finished a fabulous day. Hope the seagull has warmed up ? 

Sea kayaking in the Winter!

What brought us out this winters day,
From a place so warm and safe?
What brought us out this winters day,
To wind blasted eyes and face.
What takes us from a working life
Banal, we earn our pay,
To soaking clothes and salten lips,
Hands, seal-cold with spray?
What brought us out this winters day,
Wind whipping from the North.
The sea a violent turmoil,
White chargers to the Bay.
What tempts us out on such a day,
To the cold brought from the deep?
In these waters life is found,
And memories long to keep.
Why go out this winters day,
Sea the colour of slate?
To play with friends in waves and tide,
At Natures Loom to be
Soaking wet and freezing cold,
At home with the living sea.

Round Two At The Races! – Richard Janes

Round two at the races! 
Two recovery days from surfing South Stack and a great forecast of light Northerly winds with a Spring tide found our team of Roger, Justine, JF, Mirco, Jan, Garry, Geth, Steve, Barry, Paul and Me having a ‘staggered’ start from Porth Dafarch, heading North to the races of  Penrhyn Mawr and South Stack. Now, The meaning of ‘Porth Dafarch’ may have originated from the contraction of ‘Porth Dau Farch’ (harbour/inlet of two horses/stallions). We didn’t let accuracy get in the way of a good story (!) as the late arrivals (Paul, Steve and me) left Porth Dafarch behind as we paddled North towards Penrhyn Mawr and the first race. Thoughts of beautiful waves most definitely spurring us on; “Wild, wild horses, We’ll ride them someday” (Rolling Stones)
Tide pulling us through ‘mini Mawr’, we could soon see the rolling white of Penrhyn Mawr, along with the odd paddle flash from our friends already in the race. ….. And what a joyous race Penrhyn Mawr was today! Effectively, the last hour of a Spring tide, boils and whirlpools had subsided, water depth increased leaving beautiful rolling waves breaking, then running out onto an oily sea. Our efforts swiftly followed by lunch  in the sun at Porth Ruffyd
With domestic commitments for several team members, our group now split. Paul, Gary, Steve, Jan and me headed North. Beautiful rock hopping towards South Stack and beyond. Looking West, South Stack race looked lively with a light breeze blowing spume from the crests of waves. So that’s where we headed for a stunning surf session. Multiple and extended rides on rolling, near perfect waves. I truly didn’t want to leave; “Wild Horses, Couldn’t drag me away” …. But sadly, failing arms meant it was time to submit to the ebb flow and the paddle back to Porth Dafarch. 
Passing Penrhyn Mawr, now silent. Redolent and waiting for the flood, it was difficult to remember the excitement of the morning.
Our day finished with a beautiful sunset as we packed soggy kit and warmed chilled bodies after another fabulous day.

Diary of a magic day with old and great friends! – By Richard Janes

Diary of a magic day with old and great friends! 
You know you’ve had a good day when later, much later …you’re still ‘buzzing’! Well today was just such a day. 
We had not seen our good friends Justine and JF (Marleau) for a long while. Forecast today was for light (SW) winds, sunny periods and a chunky tide.  ‘The Stacks’ seemed a favourite choice when we met for a coffee first thing (ish) with Paul, Me, Geth, Steve, Lynn, Justine , JF (Marleau), and Mirco. A good sign of any group of friends meeting after a while is how quickly conversation begins and very quickly the months disappear. Today was no different. Paddling plans were made between general catch up and non stop conversation. 
Setting out from Porth Dafarch entailed  the usual discussion  of I’m too hot/cold, where’s the swell… And it goes on. Light on the cliffs was wonderful and early surf rides before the entrance to Abraham’s bosom a great warm up and lots of fun! 
Rock hopping towards South Stack was joyous. And the gap separating Ynys Lawd from the cliffs concentrated minds, as we paddled against a fast tidal stream under the bridge. ( ….Now, what was that noise? Paddles ‘clarting’ against rock or the heavy footsteps of the Ghost of ‘Jack’ Jones as he tried to climb steps after receiving a bang to his head from a rock?) 
A late start meant thoughts now turned towards lunch. Landings hereabouts are few and far between. Choice positions were taken up by young seals, so we paddled on to North Stack for a lunch afloat. Hmm… A ‘stretch’ would have been welcome! Nevertheless, Scotch egg and a final hurrah (!) for the turkey went down well. North Stack race was fast and furious. And the tail down toward South Stack had me regretting the Scotch egg, which I believe was trying to reincarnate as a chicken, feathers and all. 
…..BUT then, a wave appeared. A glorious, green and curling wave at the start of South Stack race. Rarely will you see a bunch of grown-ups (?) enjoying such simple pleasures. Absolutely amazing surf runs with boats hammering forward, enjoying the energy of a big tide. And the race continues to run. And we surf and surf. No escape, no eddies, paddles moving on. And eventually, as the race subsides, we start to feel a little knackered. I tried to pretend but I’m sure the look on my face would have been enough! Decisions made (thank heavens) and a quiet paddle with the setting sun and a brief dolphin sighting, took us back to Porth Dafarch. 
I’d seriously tried the notion of ‘Dry January’. But Geth is a bad man and my will power is (um) weak. How better to end a fabulous day with friends? 

Skomer July 2018 – A Perfect Day by Richard Janes

Sea kayak journey round Ynys Sgomer (Skomer)  and Ynys Sgogwm (Skokholm)

” Oh, what a perfect day”. …

(Line from a Lou Reed song applied to Sea Kayaking)


How to make the most of a sunny, warm July? Scotland seemed a good idea but with only a few days available, hungry Scottish midges breeding for the next Olympics and reluctant to endure the driving haul again, Pembrokeshire was the choice location. Especially before School summer hols and increased traffic. 


Thinking about it, what makes a brilliant paddling day? 

For me it’s great company, beautiful place, weather, wildlife, mermaids, interesting water, playtime and a beer to finish the day. 


Skomer is a National Nature Reserve, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Protection Area. It is surrounded by a Marine Nature Reserve and is managed by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales. It just happens to be an amazingly beautiful place as well!

We launched from Martins haven with a plan to use the South going stream to assist us down the West side of Skomer and down towards Skokholm.  Using transits we checked drift whilst crossing Jack Sound which passed very smoothly. And then we started seeing puffins. And puffins! This Atlantic puffin population colony is the largest in southern Britain and we passed dozens of rafts of these charming little birds and the air buzzed with their fast wing beat. Not to be outdone, we saw some Shearwater and I was amazed to find out that nearly half the world’s population of Manx Shearwaters nest on the island.

The Garland stone soon arrived and marked a change in the water. Swell, sun, birds and dramatic cliff scenery merged to form a memorable experience. We even managed to get some surfing on a notable eddy stream South of the Garland Stone! 

From the Southern end of Skomer, we set off towards Skokholm. 

Skokholm is Norse for “wooded island,” very similar to the Swedish capital name Stockholm, named by the Vikings who visited the Bristol Channel. It doesn’t look very wooded now. The rock and cliffs had a pink/red hue in the afternoon sun and we aimed for the Lighthouse on the South Westerley tip.

The present lighthouse was constructed over several years up to 1915 and was officially opened in 1916. Forming a triangle of lights with South Bishop and the Smalls to protect shipping moving into and out of Milford Haven and the Bristol Channel. The lighthouse shines 20 miles. 

Every corner and headland of Skokholm carried a tide race, some bigger than others. They must have been some Seafarers, them Vikings!  The flood had now begun and very fast water was running North from the North  Easterly end of the island. We headed towards Gateholm Island and then with the flow through Jack Sound. Luckily finding surf waves and play time at the North end of the Sound! It was now a short and relaxing paddle back to Martins Haven to stretch legs cramped from no landing around the islands.

Paul and I have paddled a lot together. So many days and fun times (he really has endured his ageing friend), so it seemed somewhat poignant to finish the day by the van drinking ‘Old Peculiar’ … Or was that the comments  coming from the last of the day’s batch of Skomer visitors as they walked past? … A perfect day? We certainly ticked the boxes and I’m sure that seal looked like a Mermaid? …… But that was after the second bottle of ‘Old Peculiar’!