Leadership and Followership

All-important social accomplishment requires complex group effort and, therefore, leadership and followership. Leader-follower relationship is two way, leader as well as followers have great capacity to influence the relationship. Just as a leader is accountable for the actions and performance of followers, so followers are accountable for their leaders. Followers support leaders when necessary and help them correct their actions, just as leaders must support followers and help them to correct their actions. This is partnership and both sides must be proactive. Organizations are successful or not partly on the basis of how well their leaders lead, but also in great part on the basis of how well their followers follow. Courageous followers help leaders stay on track and manage their decision-making processes in the right direction. Responsible and effective followers have a critical role in maintaining the desired partnering dynamics. In his book The Courageous Follower, Ira Chaleff points out that the old paradigm of the leader/follower is based on power. The leader has traditionally had the power to reward and promote, this has led to a relationship in which the follower avoids jeopardizing their chances of obtaining these rewards. Hence, the follower tends to do what the leader wants and, just as important, not offend or create a negative impression of them. A relationship based on this kind of power does not serve the organization, it shuts down the open flow of communication and candor a leader needs to order to optimize their effectiveness. Chaleff sees a very different kind of relationship between leader and follower. He suggests a relationship where the leader and follower have equal power but different roles that orbit around support and fulfillment of the organizations’ purpose. When both the leader and follower are focused on the common purpose a new relationship between them arises. This new relationship is candid, respectful, supportive and challenging. It is a relationship that honors open communication, honesty and trust from both parties. According to Chaleff, there are three things we need to understand in order to fully assume responsibility as followers: understand out power, appreciate the value of the leader and work towards minimizing the pitfalls of power.

Leadership and Followership

When we think about leadership, we tend to focus almost entirely on the leader. Yet without followers, there is no leader. Leadership is participatory: leaders and followers exist in a mutually beneficial relationship where each adds to the effectiveness of the other. Key to this process is listening, because leadership is as much about listening as it is about talking, or perhaps more so. From the beginning, a leader must be informed by the followers’ values, beliefs, and aspirations, the followers’ identity. The commitment gap people frequently experience, the difference between what the leader desires and what the followers actually do, can often be traced back to not aligning the elements of leaders’ and followers’ identities—who they think they are—to find common ground on which to function and grow. It is the quality of the relationship of leaders and followers, all the way up and down the organization chart, that makes or breaks organizations.

Leadership is one of the most widely talked about subject and is most elusive and puzzling. Leadership is a complex phenomenon involving the leader, the followers, and the situation. In general there are individuals who exhibits leadership qualities and there are people who do not.  People who are effective in the leader role have the vision to set goals and strategies, the interpersonal skills to achieve consensus, the verbal capacity to communicate enthusiasm to large and diverse groups of individuals, the organization talent to coordinate disparate efforts. Some people posses inbuilt personality traits like self-determinant, honest, strong desire to achieve goal, devotion and sacrifice. However, there are exceptions, some theorist believes each individual has built-in qualities to make difference and hence influence people around them. Their leadership qualities can be seen by their actions, reactions on situations they manage and support from their followers. However, some people do exhibits their leadership qualities under some circumstances. For example, Mahatma Gandhi was an ordinary person, he faced same realities youth of his age faced at that time, but he evolved as a charismatic leader who stood against British rule to give independence to his country. His thinking, initiatives, selfishness, care about people and honest actions made him a leader.

There are personalities, which are of ‘leader type’ (effective leaders), and there is not ‘leader type’ (poor leaders). Effective leaders are good communicators, especially in providing vision and purposes that are consistent with follower goals, values, dreams and myths. Effective leaders are socio-centric, physically strong, humanistic, approachable, visible, patient, decisive, and open-minded. They maintain high standards of dignity and integrity. Good leaders create a sense of trustworthiness as perceived by their followers.  They do this by being consistent, honest, and dependable. They are good role models, coaches, mentors and teachers. Effective leaders establish a strong participative management culture. They are technically competent but possess important interpersonal skills such as assertion, empathy and negotiation ability. Good leaders show “value focused leadership.” They have a set of purposes and ethics that guide their behavior and decision-making. Control theory suggests that effective leadership is goal-directed with synergy created by the alignment of group members on these goals and priorities. “Value focused leadership” requires that leaders help create “value” for both workers and customers.

Non-effective leaders fail to give clear direction, mission and purpose to the followers or organization. They fail to create cohesion and commitment by neglecting to give support and encouragement to followers. They neglect to energize followers and obtain their dedication and loyalty by providing consistent reward and recognition.  They fail to listen to followers and empower them to take a full, participative role in all-important decisions. When followers do offer suggestions these suggestions are ignored.  Poor leaders tend to tolerate incompetence, a fact that de-motivates followers who are trying hard to get work done.  Poor leaders fail to develop and support a “culture of quality.” Poorly led organizations have a scarcity of clear, consistent goals and when they do have goals they do not have benchmarks or outcomes measures with which to evaluate them. In poorly led organizations there is a paucity of effective communication and true consultation in the organization. Leaders usually find someone to take the blame for a negative event. They spend a great deal of time protecting themselves and their positions and neglect the overall welfare of the organization. The poorly led organization shows shoddy ethics. In the poorly led organization there is a great resistance to change, innovation, and new ways to integrate the various parts of the organization.

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