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Leadership Failure Caused by Followers Research Paper

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Updated: Nov 15th, 2020


Successful leadership entails the development of a strategy to align the leader’s interests with those of the followers. Followers have a major influence on the success of a leader because a lack of parallelism in the expectations of the respective parties translates to failure. Leaders should, therefore, look into developing high performance teams, and providing the necessary guidance to show commitment to empowering followers and facilitating the attainment of their expectations. Similarly, followers must ensure that they are committed to applying the relevant effort to deliver the required results. This study reveals that lack of cohesion, presence of differing expectations, and poor skills are the main reasons behind followers-related failure for leaders.


The primary role of leaders in an organization is to look into developing strategies to meet the goals highlighted by stakeholders. This implies that they need to be highly efficient in solving challenges that might face various projects, and they also need to provide guidance to the human assets handling the projects. The style of leadership assumed by a leader has a big influence on their success in leadership.

For instance, if the power distance between the leader and the followers is high, the leader might use the coercive approach to ensure the objectives of the company are attained (Prooijen & Lange, 2014). While leaders must look for solutions to the challenges emanating from their followers, the latter should also be obligated to show commitment to attaining mutual organizational goals (Banerjee & Ceri, 2016).

Literature Review

According to Whistman (2016), one of the most important initiatives that a leader must take to avoid failure is ensuring that followers are in sync, in terms of skills and knowledge. It is imperative to develop a high performance team by first ensuring that every member of the team is acquainted with the desired goals and the timeline for delivering goals. Whistman (2016) suggests that the most effective way of eliminating failure resulting from incompetent followers is ensuring that training and development programs are availed for the entire team prior to the commencement of an important project.

Lahey (2014) also reveals that followers influence failure whenever their skills, beliefs, and motivation are not aligned with the inclinations of their leader. Leaders need to identify followers that have the same level of passion for the delivery of goals, and they have to select the highest performing teams, rather than working with everyone in the human resource base in important projects. Zeuch (2014) provides a comprehensive cover of the factors that have led to more leaders failing, with a close focus on the role of the followers in the failure. According the Zeuch (2014), leaders in the human resource department must be compelled to use a hands-on approach in training their followers to use current strategies in delivering goals.

Bell (2013) conducted a study that looked into the different ways that leaders attain success through their followers. Findings of the study revealed that fostering innovation among the followers is the most feasible way of succeeding in challenging projects. This implies that one of the major factors that results in failure for leaders is having followers with a low level of innovativeness. According to Steffens, Schuh, Haslam, Perez, and Dick (2015), the commitment of followers to attaining the goals highlighted by leaders is contingent on the ability for both parties to identify with each other.

Sinek (2014) reveals that lack of trust and cooperation in a team or organization is one of the factors that influence failure in leadership. If followers lose trust in their leaders, they are likely to portray a lower level of cooperation in the quest for success in various projects. According to Hughes, Ginnett, and Curphy (2015), the core value of successful leadership is ensuring there is a clear communication channel between the leader and the followers. Followers rely on leaders to clarify the requirements of different tasks. If followers misinterpret a directive, they are likely to apply efforts that contribute to failure, rather than success. It is, therefore, important to develop a communication channel that facilitates two-way interaction between the followers and the leaders (Gini & Green, 2013).

Primary Research

The research question for this study was; “How do followers cause leadership failure?” The primary method of research was an interview. The participant in the interview was a lady in the leadership function of the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority. I conducted the interview on a one-on-one basis because I work in the same organization. The participant holds the position of a manager in the internal audit section, which implies that she has a clear perspective of the factors that influence success and failure in the organization, with respect to the leaders and the followers.

Findings and Discussion

The information provided by the interviewee revealed that it is important for the workplace to foster happiness among the employees. Followers require some motivation in the form of a reward system for their efforts. Leaders cannot influence high levels of commitment in their followers without making enticing promises, and delivering them when the desired objectives are delivered. For instance, the interviewee revealed that one of her approaches in leadership is ensuring that she communicates with her followers about the benefits to be received after delivering specific goals.

Leaders are prone to failure if they do not have the right team. According to the manager, the right team is characterized with a high level of cohesion between the members, including the team leader. High cohesion in a team is attained through the development of effective interpersonal relationships among the members. The expectations of the leader and the followers must also attain parallelism for the team to acquire success in a given project.

Leaders are charged with the responsibility of eliminating challenges associated with the presence of different expectations and interests among the followers. The manager proposed that leaders must continually enhance their leadership skills, and focus on motivating their followers. For instance, she revealed that she faces a challenge in being assertive with team members older than her. Working toward eliminating such challenges innovatively would result in success.

Interview Analysis

According to the findings from the interview, it is apparent that leaders have the perception that their followers must align their expectations and interests in a manner that attains parallelism with the desired goals. Some leaders might effectively communicate with the followers, but the lack of commitment and motivation on the part of the followers results in complications in the execution of the relevant tasks. In such cases, the followers are to blame for failure in projects. Identifying with the interests and expectations of the followers is, therefore, an integral part of ensuring that the followers do not foster failure in projects. The interview also revealed that effective communication is an integral part of balancing the relationship between the leader and followers.


The primary limitation for this study was the small sample space. I relied on information from a single participant, which implies that the validity of the findings might have to be tested by using a larger sample space in subsequent studies. Another limitation is that there is a professional relationship between me and the interviewer, which might have led to the provision of biased information from the participant. Future research on the topic should include leaders that are not affiliated with the interviewee.


Findings from the research have clearly provided an answer for the research question. Lack of motivation, having different interests and expectations, and the lack of sufficient skills and knowledge in handling tasks are the main factors attributed to follower-influenced failures. Leaders must provide training and guidance to the followers when handling important projects. Additionally, there should be a balance in the relationship between the two parties. Selecting a high-performance team from a group of followers is also one of the ways that leaders can ascertain that their followers will help in delivering the desired objectives.


Banerjee, B., & Ceri, S. (Eds.). (2016). Creating innovation leaders: A global perspective (Understanding innovation). Cham, Switzerland: Springer.

Bell, C. (2013). How leaders grow innovation. T+D, 67(2), 42-45.

Gini, A., & Green, R. (2013). Ten virtues of outstanding leaders: Leadership and character (Foundations of business ethics). Chichester, U.K.: John Wiley & Sons.

Hughes, R. L., Ginnett, R. C., & Curphy, G. J. (2015). Leadership: Enhancing the lessons of experience. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

Lahey, D. (2014). Predicting success: Evidence-based strategies to hire the right people and build the best team. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Prooijen, J., & Lange, P. (Eds.). (2014). Power, politics, and paranoia: Why people are suspicious of their leaders. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Sinek, S. (2014). Leaders eat last: Why some teams pull together and others don’t. New York, NY: Portfolio/Penguin.

Steffens, N., Schuh, S., Haslam, S., Perez, A., & Dick, R. (2015). ‘Of the group’ and ‘for the group’: How followership is shaped by leaders’ prototypicality and group identification. European Journal of Social Psychology, 45(2), 180-190.

Whistman, J. (2016). The sales boss: The real secret to hiring, training and managing a sales team. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Zeuch, M. (Ed.). (2014). Dos and don’ts in human resources management: A practical guide. Heidelberg, Germany: Springer Gabler.


Interview Questions

  1. What is your perception of the relationship between managers and employees in your organization?
  2. Describe the characteristics of a failed leader and a bad follower.
  3. To what extent you think followers have an important role in leadership success?
  4. How can a leader fail? Tell me about a time when you failed as a leader/manager.
  5. How do you think that failure can be avoided in the future?
  6. What is your greatest weakness?
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