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Meaning and Impact of Leader-Follower Theory

Dion Meneley
LEAD 500/ Southwestern College
Dr. Ronald Beach
August 1, 2010


The leader-follower theory focuses on the interactions between those who

lead, and those choose to follow. The purpose of this essay is to address the meaning
and impact of leader-follower theory as it pertains to the workplace environment.
Effective leaders must be able to identify the individual and group cultures that exist
in the workplace, and utilize appropriate leadership styles to maximize the production
and satisfaction of their followers. In order for the leader-follower relationship to
function effectively, all parties involved must believe in each other, the organization,
and the vision of the collective group. Those who are willing to focus their attention
on gathering and sharing information with the entire organization, in an effort to
stimulate the exchange of ideas and solutions to problems, tend to be forward thinkers
who embrace the idea of change and thrive in a looser work environment. In order
for there to be an effective leader-follower relationship, all parties involved must be
aware of their role in the relationship, and be willing to fill that role in a manner that
best serves any given situation.
In the workplace environment, leaders and followers will emerge if they feel the freedom
to express their ideas and suggestions without the fear of punishment. Through my experiences
as a college football coach, I have found that leaders are much more effective if they have a
relationship built on trust and open communication with those who follow them. As a result of
truly getting to know all members of an organization, the leader is able to identify the various
cultures and structures in place; and therefore, identify the best leadership styles to utilize. Some
subordinates will respond to a directive leadership style, which clarifies performance
expectations and assigns tasks (Schriesheim, 1978). In my profession, I must be very clear about
what is expected from my coaches and players, and assign specific tasks that need to be
completed in a timely fashion. In contrast; there are times when the intended result is better if I


vaguely describe what needs to be accomplished, and let them develop the process on their own.
Regardless of the method used, it is important that I instill a sense of confidence and belonging if
the entire team is to reach the goals that have been set.
It is very important for leaders to understand their role in the leader-follower
relationship; however, it is just as important for those who choose to follow to understand the
effect they have on the situation. One of the first things a follower will identify is, by what
means did the person in authority gain their power? The followers perception of the leaders
authority is just as important as the leaders perception of their own power. Simply stated, if the
leader thinks they are better than their subordinate, the chances of a highly effective leaderfollower relationship emerging decrease. As a result of this interdependent relationship,
leadership can be seen as a group effort, which assists in directing activity, decision-making,
goal-setting, communicating, adjudicating conflict, and maintaining the enterprise (Hollander &
Webb, 1955; Kouzes & Posner, 1987). As a result of this shared power, the leader and follower
can have an impact on the performance of each other, instead of the leader being the only person
of influence. The only way for this leader-follower relationship to work, is for all members of
the organization to believe in the established vision. An effective strategic vision is clear,
compelling, and communicated in a way that motivates and inspires a broadly shared sense of
organizational direction and purpose (Dess & Picken, 2000).
In order for someone to be a great leader, they must first be a great servant (Dess &
Picken, 2000). This philosophy focuses on the fact that great leaders are never too good for the
smallest job. Many people decide to follow a person because they have shown that they are no
better than anyone else in the organization, and are willing to get their hands as dirty as the
person who is lowest in the hierarchy. As the leader of the defense at Southwestern College, I
believe it is essential for my players and coaches to see my willingness to do whatever it takes


for our team to be successful. This does not diminish my role as the leader. In contrast, it helps
build trust and accountability among the team; and as a result, the players are willing to give
more of themselves for the greater good of the team. In addition to the increase in physical
commitment to the team, players and coaches become more open to the ideas of sharing
information and making suggestions. According to Dess & Picken, 2000, there are five elements
that must be addressed if this type of relationship is to exist. First, the gathering and sharing of
information must become a part of the daily culture. Second, everyone in the organization must
be involved, regardless of their pay grade. Third information gathered must be focused on what
is relevant to the organization. Next, there must be a process implemented that ensures
information is collected, processed, and communicated in an accurate and timely fashion.
Finally, every member of the organization needs to be motivated to participate in the new culture
of information gathering and communication.
The leader-follower theory is a theory that is focused on relationships in a given
organization. It is vital for leaders and followers to know, and be comfortable in their role in the
relationship. Leaders must be very active in getting to know those who follow them so they can
utilize the best possible leadership style for the situation. In addition, those who choose to
follow must recognize the leaders authority, be willing to follow, be put in a situation that allows
them to participate in the process, and be motivated to be a great follower. In order for a leaderfollower relationship to thrive, each member of the organization must believe in the values of the
organization, and respect the various cultures that exist.


Hollander, E.P., & Webb, W.B. (1955). Leadership, followership, and friendship: An analysis of
peer nominations. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 50, 163-167.
Kouzes, J.M., & Posner, B.Z., (1987). The leadership challenge: How to get extraordinary
things done in organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Schriesheim, C.A. (1978). Development, validation and application of the new leader behavior
and expectancy research instruments. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Ohio State
University, Columbus, OH.
Dess, G.G., & Picken, J.C. (2000). Changing Roles: Leadership in the 21st Century.
Organizational Dynamics, 28(3), 18, 16.