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Cognitive Shifts Within Leader and Follower Teams Essay (Article)

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Updated: Sep 11th, 2021

Issues and Concepts Discussed in the Article

In their paper, Carrigtona, Combe, and Mumford give a clear different definition of organizational crisis. The authors characterize it as a high impact event or an array of events that compromises and threatens the viability and integrity of an organization. According to Carrington and colleagues, in case of an organization crisis, thought should precede action. Namely, a challenging situation requires leaders creating and directing a shared vision that would unite the followers and bring the crisis to a healthy resolution. Evidently, the latter describes the best scenario, while in real life, both leaders and followers are likely to be confronted with certain difficulties preventing them from implementing strategies, no matter how good they may be.

As stated by Carrington and colleagues, the first major hurdle is leaders’ rigid mental models. An experienced leader is likely to be basing his or her thoughts and ideas on past events. While these crisis management tools acquired over time are undeniably valuable, the changing business environment conditions should prompt leaders to alter and adjust their perception. There is a need for cognitive shifts that would help fight cognitive inertia that is unacceptable during an organizational crisis. The second hurdle is the frequent inability of leaders and followers to come to a general consensus and cooperate. Carrington and colleagues define consensus in regard to individual mental models as the agreement on casual beliefs essential for organizational development and success. Moreover, sometimes, leaders cannot reach a compromise within their own group, which makes it strenuous to communicate their decisions and proposals to followers. Lastly, people tend to interpret events and other people’s actions differently, based on their own experience and inner bias. Thus, both leaders and followers need to make excellent sensemaking skills to understand the changing conditions and decide on how an organization should respond to a crisis.

The Main Focus

In their study, Carrington and colleagues mainly focused on comparing and contrasting mental models of leaders and followers within one organization. The authors studied the respondents and their beliefs in the situation of a cumulative financial crisis over an extended period of time (18 months). During phase 1 of the crisis, the researchers observed certain discordance between leaders’ and followers’ teams. Allegedly, both were confused about what caused the problem, and their interpretation of the events varied. Thus, for the company, it was nigh on impossible to take control of the crisis right from the start due to disagreements.

Interestingly enough, by phase 2, leaders and followers had reached a consensus regarding the majority of the organization’s business aspects (service quality, developing staff, promoting service, and others). From the interviews, it became clear that leaders finally came to a full realization of what was happening within and outside the company. Thus, they had to make an effort and prompt a cognitive shift within their mental model, therefore, becoming more flexible and open to new ideas. This led to greater interconnectivity and complicity within the leaders’ group. Only working together and basing their vision on shared causal beliefs could leaders direct followers and help them be more engaged and organized. In summation, Corrington and colleagues confirmed their main hypothesis for the study. It takes leaders some time to react to the incremental changes observable in the business environment. Once they do, they are ready to elaborate a strategy congruent with the causal beliefs of the entire team and translate it into action with the help of the followers.

Recommendations and Implications

The study’s findings imply that cumulative organizational crises can be a catalyst of dynamic exchange between the mental models of leaders and followers. Moreover, the situation of an organizational crisis may be a great equalizer. It gives followers as much power and leverage as leaders since the former have the agency to be compliant or non-compliant with the agenda. Thus, followers cannot and should not be as passive and obedient. Even though formally, they are not in the decision-making positions, they still can have a vast impact on the company’s future development. Further, a good crisis management strategy is less likely to be sabotaged if both leaders and followers share a common vision. Therefore, it is critical to the viability of a company to include staff in non-leading positions in participatory planning.

Carrington and colleagues claim that job roles and responsibilities shape the mental models of both leaders and followers. The work environment and position can be seen as valid antecedents to cognition. Each individual draws on his or her own unique experience and comes up with views and beliefs. The same can be said about stress reactions: their nature may be somewhat predictable based on a person’s work history, especially with the current company. Managers tend to emphasize strategic issues and sensemaking while employees pay more attention to operational issues such as service quality. However, the models that Carrington et al. suggested might as well be far from perfect – at least, when it comes to practical implementation. The authors acknowledge that their solution is not one-size-fits-all and needs to be tailored. The focus of the study was on cumulative crises caused by financial factors as opposed to sudden crises. This latter type needs more attention and possibly, further research.

Utility, Drawbacks and Demerits

The study’s findings may be put to good use by United Arab Emirates companies and organizations. First, as the UAE economy continues to thrive, the country becomes more open and attractive for foreign workers, entrepreneurs, and investments. It is readily imaginable how Western cadres would expect flexibility and democracy in the workplace, which has only recently become a thing in the UAE. The study by Carrington and colleagues put an emphasis on continuous communication within an organization and freedom of opinion. UAE organizations that plan to build international teams could draw on the study’s implications and make sure that leaders and followers exchange their mental models and cooperate. This strategy may fit with the importance of personal relationships normal for UAE business etiquette. Despite the tangible progress that the UAE economy has made in recent decades, there are still some challenges that the country is to face. One of them is the need to diversify the economy, become less dependent on natural resources, and introduce hi-tech solutions. One can see the situation as one of a cumulative crisis: small, incremental changes have been shaping the business environment for years, and now, many companies have to adjust to stay afloat. Thus, they could make good use of the study’s findings to enhance the interconnectivity of the organizational structure.


Carrington, D. J., Combe, I. A., & Mumfordb, M. D. (2019). The Leadership Quaterly, 335–350. Web.

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"Cognitive Shifts Within Leader and Follower Teams." IvyPanda, 11 Sept. 2021, ivypanda.com/essays/cognitive-shifts-within-leader-and-follower-teams/.

1. IvyPanda. "Cognitive Shifts Within Leader and Follower Teams." September 11, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/cognitive-shifts-within-leader-and-follower-teams/.


IvyPanda. "Cognitive Shifts Within Leader and Follower Teams." September 11, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/cognitive-shifts-within-leader-and-follower-teams/.


IvyPanda. 2021. "Cognitive Shifts Within Leader and Follower Teams." September 11, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/cognitive-shifts-within-leader-and-follower-teams/.


IvyPanda. (2021) 'Cognitive Shifts Within Leader and Follower Teams'. 11 September.

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