The Leader-Follower Relationship

The Leader-Follower Relationship

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Leadership is studied and analysed so that the effective practices can be taught and applied in today’s organizations. The concept of leadership has been expanded to discuss the follower’s role in the leader-follower relationship. While leading is often considered an active role, following can have a negative connotation, especially when seen as a passive, subordinate position. However, following can be a choice, and the difference between the leader and follower is the activities, rather than abilities (Wren, p.201). An organization possesses effective followers is just as important for success as having effective leaders. Hersey and Blanchard describe this relationship as dynamic and use Situational Leadership (R) as a model for the leader’s to improve the performance of their followers. Manz and Sims describe a historical view of leader types which has evolved to view the superleader as the most effective type for our current culture. The role of the superleader is to empower followers to become self-leaders themselves. The Situational Leadership model may contain the word “Leadership”, but it is mostly about effective management practices and does not address developing the role of the follower.
There is a difference between managing and leading. In Managerial Roles, H. Mintzberg describes 10 roles, grouped under the categories of interpersonal, informational and decision roles, that a manager should posses. An effective leader should have those skills as well, in addition to having an overall vision, clearly communicating those goals and motivating their followers to work towards it (Wren, p.378). Leadership is also about directing change. Without change, leadership is only management of the status quo (MacNeil, Cavanagh, Silcox, p.6). There is nothing wrong with begin a successful manager, just as there is much value to be an effective follower.
The role of the follower and subordinate is very different in terms of ability and choice. Subordinates are considered passive, lacking in initiative and responsibility. The image of sheep comes to mind, where as followers are more active, and engage in more critical thinking (Wren, p.195). Robert Kelley further describes the effective followers have good self-management skills, abilities and motivation, which are exactly the same qualities apparent in effective leaders. That relationship between leader and follower is defined by the role they play, since an effective follower has the skills to switch positions with the leader.

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Following is a choice and even then it can range of minimally active to very active, and that range can change over time or due to situations. As John Gardner states, “They can be given subordinates, but they cannot be given a following. A following must be earned.” (Wren, p.186)
According to Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership model, the leader’s role is to adapt their behaviour or style in order to maintain their follower’s performance. This means the leader needs to be aware of the readiness level of the followers and adjust their responses accordingly to changes due to personal problems arising, new assigned tasks, or new goals established. There is a Situation Level (on a scale from S1 to S4) that coincides with the follower’s Readiness Level (rated from R1 to R4). Readiness is defined by ability (training and experience) and willingness (commitment and motivation). It should be noted that he updated version has replaced Readiness with the word Development. The Situation Level dictates the Leader Behaviors, which involve task ( giving direction) and relationship (amount of 2-way communication). At the start, the employee (R1) is new and needs lots of direction from the leader (S1). By the time they reach the S4 level, Delegating, the follower has more responsibility and decision making, so the leader can be more focussed on goal-setting and problem identification (Wren, p.210). There is two points of interest here. First, the goal-setting is still in the hands of the leader, and does not involve the followers. Second, there is a continuing managerial tone to the instructions as it focuses on what the person in charge does to “maximize the performance of subordinates”. The follower’s effectiveness will ultimately depend on the manner in which the leader applies the appropriate combinations of directive and supportive behaviour (Wren, p.210). It is assumed that the leader is still the source of knowledge and that the follower does not contribute as much to the organisation. While the followers may become more skilled and independent, they are not viewed as equals in this relationship, which is a contrast to Robert Kelley.
Effective followers do depend on effective leadership, but how has that relationship changed historically and what is a possible description of the ideal leader? Charles Manz and Henry Sims categorize leadership under four types: strong man, transactor, visionary hero and superleader. Successful leadership in organizations has changes over time (Wren, 214). These types are described by the dominant behaviours and methods. Each have strength, since they have been effective in situations and times, however, they do have limitations.
The strong man, transactor and visionary hero all place the leader at the top. They are the authority, have the knowledge, and acquire the compliance of their followers. In this relationship, the titles are synonymous by their actions: the leaders are active by “leading” and the followers are passive by “following”. Each characteristic have some advantages and have worked depending on the situation, but each have a significant weakness based on how they treat their followers. The strong man leads by command and keeps the followers in line through intimidation or punishment for failure. When strength and confidence are valued, this is the ideal type. As women entered the workplace and assume manager positions, the type of dominant behavior is not so favoured. Putting the fear into employees is not a reason for skilled worker to stay, especially if their work is more appreciated elsewhere. To promote effort and loyalty, the transactor motivates using rewards. The power of the transactor is to reward their followers for their efforts and compliance. However, the motivation of the employees may falter should the external incentives aren’t deemed worthwhile. The more effective followers may want more from their career to motivate them, and want to share in an organisations grander vision. The visionary hero may offer that vision. They inspire by charisma and encourages the followers to share the leader’s dream. Relying too much on the vision and not being willing to be flexible can undo this leader’s efforts. In all these cases, the leader-follower relationship is very one directional (Wren, 214-216)
The fourth type described, the superleader, differs from the earlier types because it ‘s main task is to empower the followers with the skills so they can lead themselves. Instead of always being the primary source of wisdom and decision making, the superleader will shift the relationship so that the power will be shared with the follower (Wren, p.217). This is more in line with Roberts Kelley’s view the leader-follower relationship. At the start, the superleader provides the majority of the motivation, encouragement and direction. Through teaching goal-setting, shifting responsibilities and challenging each follower to reach their potential of excellence (Wren, p.218). The superleader title can be a bit misleading because it is not the image of mythical hero possessing incredible powers, instead they are super because they unleash the potential of their followers (Wren, p.214). The Situation Leadership doesn’t appear to train follower in such depth.
As previously stated, Robert Kelley suggests that the leader-follower relationship needs to be redefined to be seen as equals. More focus should be placed into training and cultivating effective followers, not just on the leaders, since their desired qualities are practically the same. He also suggests performance evaluations and feedback. The most significant proposal Kelley makes is for organisations to encourage followership in their structure (Wren, p.203). He recommends variations in leadership structure, such as smaller leaderless group, so that the all members carry equal responsibilities. Understanding the differences in role of the leader and follower are experienced with rotating or temporary leadership. Ideally, followers learn what its like to be in the shoes of the leader, plus followers learn how they can compensate for ineffective leadership (Wren, p.203). There is trial and error in these experiments, however, the experience learned can empower the followers and motivate them, which is consistent with the superleader type. Superleaders must allow room for mistakes or even to encourage risk-taking (Wren, p.219).

Need to develop Effective followers and what....?

Works Cited

Hersey , Blanchard, Johnson (2007) Management of Organisational Behavior. Retrieved from,.
MacNeil, Cavanagh & Silcox (2003) Beyond Instructional Leadership: Towards Pedagogic Leadership. Paper presented at 2003 Annual Australian conference for the Australian association for Research in Education: Aukland
Mintzberg, H. (1973) Managerial Roles. Adapted from The Nature of Managerial Work. Reprinted by permission of Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers 2010.
Wren, J. (1995) The Leader’s Companion: Insights on Leadership through the Ages. New York: The Free Press
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