This paper will discuss various theories, including leader-centric approach as well as follower-centric approach and investigate the relationship and interaction between these two parts of an equation to answer the question of “astute leadership practice requires followership” and to prove these two sides are like the yin and yen of successful leadership practice. Some personal experience regarding to these issues will be included along the essay with the aim of applying theoretical theories into real life.
In 2007, when talking about the definition of followership, Uhl-Bien and Pillai reckoned that if leadership means actively influencing people, then followership means allowing themselves to be affected by people who claim to be leaders. It is common sense that leadership does not exist without the existence of the followership. However, it seems that the importance of leadership tends to overshadow followership as followers receive just little attention from academic researchers comparing to leaders. There are various theories about leadership, including leader-centric and follower-centric approach.
We will begin with the discussion of leader-centric approach. According to Bass (2008), it is expressed in leader-centric views that whenever followers is mentioned, they are understood as the receiving end of order or the moderators of the leader’s impact. This paper will only mention leadership theories in which followers are mentioned to some extent. With regards to charismatic leadership theory, this theory focuses on the affective reactions from followers towards their leader, as well as the act of confidence of these leaders to inspire followers.
Followers associate with leader’s vision, attitudes, personal values, behaviours and beliefs, they see so much more than just a manager in a charismatic leader, and they even develop an emotional attachment to their leader. For me personally, Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg are charismatic leaders. Even though they are technically not my bosses, their leadership practices and personal values truly make me admire and respect them. Among all of the leader-centric theories, transformational leadership puts the most emphasise on the role of followers.
As Bass (1985) reckoned that a transformational leader would motivate subordinates to do more than what they originally expected to do. This theory describes that leaders are a crucial instrument to build and foster follower commitment, challenge, inspire and motivate followers to achieve a better performance with higher efficiency. Transformational leaders emphasise on noticing followers’ individual needs and potentials and helping them grow and develop (Bass, Riggio, 2016). It is also identified with the Leader/Member Exchange Theory and the focal point is the personal development of followers or employees.
Under this theory, followers are motived to reach higher achievements to obtain self-actualisation needs instead of low-level needs as discussed in Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. Working for these leaders, followers have the most precious opportunities to learn, to develop themselves, to be empowered, to be responsible for their own decisions within the firm. I suppose that acting as effective communicators, these leaders build and maintain the most close-knit relationship with their followers by enabling them to address issues and develop their own strategies, which gives them a sense of control.
They build trust from their followers by willing to share internal, crucial information and encouraging them to give feedback in return. In order to complete the equation, follower-centric approach will be analysed. Even though it is challenging to conclude whether leaders or followers are more important within an organisation, academic world have favoured leadership over followership, hence, the followership has been receiving much less attention.
However, in recent years, the growing interest of academic researches towards followership theory has shed light on this other half of leader-follower equation, as a result, there is a growing body of theoretical academic paper discussing this. Follower-centric approach focuses on explaining the significant role of the follower in the process of building successful leaders. In this strand, leadership is viewed as “a social construction”, and leader existence is considered as the result of “the cognitive, attributional, and social identity processes of followers” (Uhl-Bien, M. , Riggio, R. , Lowe, K. nd Carsten, M. (2014).
This approach did not assign an active role to followers, it indicates that followers’ perceptions, characteristics, preferences or attitudes can shape or even restrain leadership processes in a passive manner. Since engaging, inspiring and influencing followers is considered as one of the most crucial roles of leadership practices, it is indispensable for us to obtain a thorough understanding about how leaders affect followers and why followers obey and defer to leaders’ orders. The influential reciprocity is expressed through the mutual impact of leader and followers on each other.
According to social identity leadership theory, the effectiveness of the leader depends on the motivation of followers to collaborate with their leader as well as the leader’s capacity to have an impact on followers (Hogg, 2001). It is my argument that different types of leaders exert different types of impact on their subordinates and followers comply due to various reasons. For instance, transformational leaders like Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg use themselves to inspire people, constantly motivate people to obtain an even higher sense of achievement and work satisfaction.
People work for them not out of fear, but out of respect and admiration. As for leaders like Donald Trump, people work and support them due to different reasons, including fear or personal gain. The achievement of self-conception can be another reason. Theoretically, Van Knippenberg and his co-workers (2004) suggested that followers are motivated and encouraged by the fulfilment of self-conception. If leaders are able to “promote their self-construal, self-efficacy, and self-esteem”, followers will tend to be more willing to defer to them.