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Leaders and Followers Theories Research Paper

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Updated: Aug 5th, 2020

In the contemporary business world, leadership has become an important component, and the one strongly associated with success. However, up until recently, the leadership theories have focused on leaders while the role of followers was either ignored or restricted to participation. The recent years have introduced several approaches which view the roles and mutual influences of leaders and followers in a more encompassing, holistic way.

A good example of the traditional approach to leadership is the path-goal theory. According to the theory, the tasks of the leader are defining the goal of the organization, outlining the path of reaching the specified goal, and eliminating obstacles on the way (Landrum, Daily, & Vjin 2012). Similarly, the leadership styles are defined as supportive (relationship-oriented), directive (task-oriented), achievement-oriented, and participative (Landrum, Daily, & Vjin 2012). Notably, the roles of followers are restricted to the execution of tasks, which is predictable but creates an image of impartial and passive force incapable of accountability and initiative.

Nowadays, however, the growing number of scholars point to the important role of the followers in the leadership process, with gradually more follower-centric theories and leader-follower relations studies being highlighted in the literature (Dionne et al. 2014). There are several reasons for this. First, the followers are active participants, not subjects. They can engage in cooperation with the leader – in fact, such cooperation often results in better outcomes.

The cultural shift towards individual accountability and responsibility has also created a more empowering environment. It is thus possible to say that the followers’ roles include supporting the leader by participating in the process of reaching the goal and improving it by challenging the strategies and paths chosen by the leader and thus testing their integrity.

A study by Van Vugt, Hogan, and Kaiser (2008) expands the role of followers even further: by tracing the foundation of leadership back to its evolutionary roots, the researchers illustrate the necessity of including the followers’ view in the analysis of the process. Thus we can also add the balancing function to the list. They also expand the list of influences the followers have on leaders by introducing the ancestral factor, which may be viewed as a limitation to successful leadership unless properly addressed (Van Vugt, Hogan, & Kaiser 2008).

On several occasions, I’ve been in a situation where I was both in the role of a leader and a follower. The most prolonged and fruitful of them was my first serious promotion to the Head of the Branch. I had five employees as my subordinates yet continued to follow directives of the Head of the Department. This situation was challenging in several ways. First, I had to confer to the vision of my leadership and at the same time facilitate action among my followers. Second, I was able to “see-through” some of my management’s techniques, which created an involuntary desire to resist (which, again, is not an entirely bad idea).

I was only able to cope with both issues by day-to-day discipline and diligence. On the other hand, this was an important lesson. I came to understand my followers better and was able to introduce improvements to my leadership practices the same day I acquired them from my management. In retrospect, I also can say some of my followers’ feedback and responses to my decisions improved by judgments. Overall, I can say such a dual setting is very useful for understanding leader-follower interactions.

Reference List

Dionne, S D, Gupta, A, Sotak, K L, Shirreffs, K A, Serban, A, Hao, C,… & Yammarino, F J 2014, ‘A 25-year perspective on levels of analysis in leadership research’, The Leadership Quarterly, vol. 25, no. 1, pp. 6-35.

Landrum, N E, Daily, C M, & Vjin, S 2012, ‘Corporate accountability: A path-goal perspective’, International Journal of Business Insights and Transformation, vol. 4, no. 3, pp. 50-62.

Van Vugt, M, Hogan, R, & Kaiser, R B 2008, ‘Leadership, followership, and evolution: some lessons from the past’, American Psychologist, vol. 63, no. 3, pp. 182-196.

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