Many people, including myself, have an image of the perfect leader in our minds. This consists of charisma, persistence, someone who is oozing self-confidence and has a huge ego. A leader is someone who can motivate and encourage a group of people no matter how uninspired these people are. Now, after studying management these views have changed. Using the Daudelin (1996) model I will reflect upon who really holds power, the leader, or the followers.
When studying leadership, if is usually the leader that is focused on, never the followers. As Kelley (1988) shows, Napolean would be just a man with-out his armies. What has never been emphasized is how a leader has nothing without their followers. However, how great can a follower be without a great leader?
Truthfully, I cannot come up with any specific reason for this doubt. A past experience where this doubt could have grown from would be when I was unable to commit fully to the unrealistic hours my manager wanted me to do and yet I did not voice my concerns because I needed the job. There is said to be 4 main qualities of a follower, to manage themselves, commitment to the organisation, competence and effort and lastly they should be courageous, honest and credible (Kelley, 1988). Yes they are great qualities for someone to possess, but what if certain situations do not allow these qualities to be portrayed? For example, a worker (follower) could disagree with what his leader is doing but if he speaks up he could lose his job or have his hours cut back, which some cannot afford to risk. When Jerome LiCari spoke his opinion on the use of adulterated juice while working for Beech-Nut (Kelley, 1988) it was a great show of what a follower should do. Eventually he resigned because the organisation went against his ethical views. This isn’t something that many people could afford to do.
I wonder if there is a theory to solve this problem. I guess the old saying that there is power with numbers could be a possible solution. If all followers band together to express views against unethical or unsustainable behaviour from an organisation the results are more likely to be positive. It is extremely difficult to control people, they will always be entitled to have their own opinion, values and beliefs. This idea is what drew me to management rather than accounting; numbers can be controlled. To me it is interesting the way people interact and respond to each other. If a follower suggests another way of approaching a situation to the organisation it could be more enticing for the organisation to listening to that perspective. In contrast if a follower almost attacks his or her leader with accusations, telling them that their way is wrong it is more likely that the leader will defend those actions fiercely with no option of compromise.
An effective follower should be assertive (Kelley, 1988) rather than aggressive. In my opinion each individual situation requires different approaches from both the follower and the leader. In history credit and also blame has been given to the leader, this idea must go (Collins, 2005). Power does not solely rest with the followers just as it does not remain with the leader.
Collins, J. C. (2005). Level 5 leadership: the triumph of humility and fierce resolve. Harvard Business Review, 83(7/8), 136--146
Daudelin, M. W. (1996). Learning from experience through reflection. Organizational Dynamics, 24(3), 36–48
Kelley, R. E. (1988). In praise of followers. Harvard Business Review, 66(6), 142--148