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13 The Leadership Process
Leadership springs from relationships
The Key Point
Although many people think of leadership as the behavior of leaders, it is actually generated in
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interactions and relationships between people. Understanding leadership as a process opens our
eyes to the fact that leadership is co-produced by leaders and followers working together in
organizational contexts.
What’s Inside?
• Bringing OB to LIFE
Building Charisma through Polished Rhetoric
• Worth Considering … or Best Avoided?
Bosses Are to Be Obeyed and My Job Is to Comply. Or Is It?
• Checking Ethics in OB
Workers Share Their Salary Secrets
• Finding the Leader in You
Google’s Triumvirate Gives Way to New Leadership Structure
• OB in Popular Culture
Leader Identity and Forrest Gump
• Research Insight
Participatory Leadership and Peace
Copyright © 2014, 2012, 2010, 2008, 2005, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
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When we think of leadership, we often think of leaders. But leaders are only one element of leadership. Other key
elements are followers, leader-follower relationships, and context. It is only when all these elements come together
effectively that leadership is produced. For this reason, leadership should be thought of as a process.
The leadership process shown in the nearby figure is co-created by leaders and followers acting in context. Leadership is
generated when acts of leading (e.g., influencing) are combined with acts of following (e.g., deferring). It represents an
influence relationship between two or more people who depend on one another for attainment of mutual goals. The
implication of this is that leadership is not only about the actions of leaders. It also involves the actions of followers who
contribute to, or detract from, leaders’ attempts to influence.
Because following is so important to leading, we could almost say that it is in following that leadership is created. If others
do not follow then, even if a person has a leadership position, he or she is not really a leader. The person may be a manager
—but not a leader. For example, when students in a class act up and do not respect the teacher, they are not following and
the teacher is not leading. The teacher may try to use position power to manage the situation, but in this case the teacher is
acting as a manager rather than a leader.
Leadership influence can be located in one person (i.e., a “leader”) or be distributed throughout the group (i.e., collective
leadership). For example, some teams have one project leader who everyone follows. Other groups may be more selfmanaging, where team members share the leadership function and responsibilities. While in the past leadership was largely
the domain of formal managerial leaders, in today’s environments leadership is broadly distributed more throughout
organizations, with everyone expected to play their part.
Formal and Informal Leadership
Leadership processes occur both inside and outside of formal positions and roles. When leadership is exerted by
individuals appointed or elected to positions of formal authority, it is called formal leadership . Managers, teachers,
ministers, politicians, and student organization presidents are all formal leaders. Leadership can also be exerted by
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individuals who do not hold formal roles but become influential due to special skills or their ability to meet the needs of
others. These individuals are informal leaders . Informal leaders can include opinion leaders, change agents, and idea
Whereas formal leadership involves top-down influence flows, informal leadership can flow in any direction: up, down,
across, and even outside the organization. Informal leadership allows us to recognize the importance of upward leadership
(or “leading-up”). Upward leadership occurs when individuals at lower levels act as leaders by influencing those at
higher levels. This concept of leadership flowing upward is often missed in discussions of leadership in organizations, but
it is absolutely critical for organizational change and effectiveness.
Regardless of whether it is formal or informal, a key to effective leadership is “willing followership,” as shown in Figure
13.1. Willing followership means that others follow because they want to, not because they have to. This is closely related
to the concept of power. When leaders operate from a willing followership model, others follow out of intrinsic motivation
and power comes from personal sources. This differs from more compliance-based approaches-common to managers who
aren’t leaders, where others follow out of extrinsic motivation and power is more position based. Managers who are also
effective leaders have both position and personal power. On the other hand, informal leaders who do not have formal
positions can only operate through personal power.
FIGURE 13.1 The role of “willing followership” in leadership.
Research Insight
Participatory Leadership and Peace
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In an unusual cross-cultural organizational behavior study, Gretchen Spreitzer examined the link between
business leadership practices and indicators of peace in nations. She found that earlier research
suggested that peaceful societies had (1) open and egalitarian decision making and (2) social control
processes that limit the use of coercive power. These two characteristics are the hallmarks of participatory
systems that empower people in the collective. Spreitzer reasoned that business firms can provide open
egalitarian decisions by stressing participative leadership and empowerment.
Spreitzer recognized that broad cultural factors could also be important. The degree to which the culture is
future oriented and low in power distance appeared relevant. And she reasoned that she needed specific
measures of peace. She selected two major indicators: (1) the level of corruption and (2) the level of
unrest. The measure of unrest was a combined measure of political instability, armed conflict, social unrest,
and international disputes. While she found a large leadership database that directly measured
participative leadership, she developed the measures of empowerment from another apparently unrelated
survey. Two items appeared relevant: the decision freedom individuals reported (decision freedom), and
the degree to which they felt they had to comply with their boss regardless of whether they agreed with an
order (compliance).
You can schematically think of this research in terms of the following model.
As one might expect with exploratory research, the findings support most of her hypotheses but not all.
Participative leadership was related to less corruption and less unrest, as was the future-oriented aspect of
culture. Regarding empowerment, there were mixed results; decision freedom was linked to less corruption
and unrest, but the compliance measure was only linked to more unrest.
Do the Research
Do you agree that when business used participatory leadership, it legitimated the democratically
based style and increased the opportunity for individuals to express their voice? What other
research could be done to determine the link between leadership and peace?
Source: Gretchen Spreitzer, “Giving Peace a Chance: Organizational Leadership, Empowerment, and Peace,”
Journal of Organizational Behavior 28 (2007), pp. 1077-1095.
Leadership as Social Construction
Understanding leadership as a process helps us see that leadership is socially constructed. The social construction of
leadership means that leadership is co-created in relational interactions among people acting in context. Because of this,
it cannot be meaningfully separated from context. Each leadership situation is unique, having its own particular dynamics,
variables, and players. There is no one-size-fits-all solution in leadership.
Social construction approaches see leadership as socially defined. They recognize leaders and followers as relational
beings who “constitute” each other in dynamic, unfolding relational contexts. In other words, whether you are a leader or
a follower depends on the nature of the interactions you have with other people. Because of this, communication and the
everyday interactions of people are a key element of constructionist approaches to leadership.
Leadership as Identity Construction
An example of social construction can be seen in DeRue and Ashford’s model of the leadership identity construction
process . This model shows how individuals negotiate identities as leaders and followers. As seen in Figure 13.2, the
identity construction process involves individuals “claiming” an identity (as a leader or follower) and others affirming or
“granting” that identity by going along with the claim. Claiming refers to actions people take to assert their identity as a
leader or follower. Granting refers to actions people take to bestow an identity of a leader or follower onto another
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FIGURE 13.2 DeRue and Ashford Leadership Identity Construction Process.
We can see the identity construction process occurring every time a new group is formed. When there is no designated
leader, group members negotiate who will be leaders and who will be followers. For example, some might say, “I am
willing to take the leader role,” or “Leadership is not really my thing, so I prefer to follow.” It may also be more implicit,
with some people doing more influencing and organizing and others doing more deferring and performing.
This process occurs even when there is a designated leader. In these cases it may be more subtle, however, such as when
individuals choose not to follow the designated leader (i.e., when they do not grant the leader claim). In groups we often
see informal norms emerging around leader and follower grants and claims in the form of people supporting or resisting
each other’s claims.
Leader Identity and Forrest Gump
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In Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks plays a character who has a mental impairment but, despite this, always
seems to find himself in extraordinary events and situations. One of the most memorable is when he
decides to go out for a run, and ends up running for three and a half years. Forrest’s passion for running
began as a young boy when his best friend, Jenny, tells him, “Run, Forrest, run!” to get away from bullies.
Forrest learns that running is a way to get out of his problems as well as to get over them.
As an adult, Forrest is distraught over Jenny leaving him and goes for a run. Once he starts, he just keeps
going. He reaches one coast and decides he isn’t done running, so he runs to the other coast. This coastto-coast run goes on for years, with Forrest only stopping to sleep.
Forrest’s run attracts media attention, and soon he has a large following of people who make attributions
about meaning behind Forrest’s running. Several of these followers are failing entrepreneurs who end up
achieving success as a result of inspiration they take from Forrest. At the end of one scene we see Forrest
on a highway with his followers trailing behind him. We hear Forrest say, “I had run for three years, two
months, fourteen days, and sixteen hours,” and then he stops running and turns around. The followers
behind him also stop and look to Forrest to see what is going on. One says, “Quiet, quiet! He’s gonna say
something!” and after a pause Forrest says, “I’m pretty tired—I think I’ll go home now.”
Forrest’s run raises fascinating questions for leadership. Was Forrest a leader? He had followers, so does
this make him a leader? Others granted him leader identity and claimed their own identity as a follower of
Forrest. But Forrest never claimed a leader identity himself. So was this leadership? How do we know
when something is leadership and when it isn’t?
Get to Know Yourself Better
Take a look at Experiential Exercise 25: Interview a Leader and Experiential Exercise 25: Leadership Skills
Inventory in the OB Skills Workbook. These are designed to help you learn more about what makes a
person a leader and what constitutes leadership processes. Do these help you understand whether Forrest
was a leader in this case or do you need to know more? What would you add to these exercises to help
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you better assess leadership and followership in the case of Forrest Gump?
Forrest Gump. Dir. Robert Zemeckis. Perf. Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, and Gary Sinise. Paramount Pictures, 1994. Film.
Leader identity construction has important implications, particularly for those who are high in motivation to lead .
Although these individuals may want to lead, if others do not grant them a leadership identity their efforts will not
succeed. It also helps us understand why some individuals seem to find themselves in a leader role even if they don’t want
to be. For these “natural leaders,” leadership is thrust upon them by others who grant them leadership identities regardless
of their desire to claim leadership (see the “OB in Popular Culture” feature on Forrest Gump).
The leadership identity construction process brings a new understanding to the importance of followership. Contrary to
views that depict followers as passive bystanders to leaders, identity construction shows that followers play an important
role in leadership by (a) granting claims to leaders and (b) claiming roles as followers. When these grants and claims do
not align—for example, when followers do not grant leaders’ claims or when followers do not accept their own role as
followers—the result is conflict and lack of legitimacy. Unless the problems are worked through, individuals will not be
able to negotiate compatible identities. In these cases conflict will prevail, and the leadership process will break down.
Implicit Leadership Theories
A key element affecting whether leadership claims will be granted lies in the “implicit theories” we hold about leadership.
Implicit leadership theories are beliefs or understanding about the attributes associated with leaders and leadership.
They can vary widely depending on our experiences and understandings of leadership. For example, some people believe
leaders are charismatic, so they look for charismatic traits and behaviors in those vying for leadership status. Others
believe leaders are directive and assertive, so they grant leadership status to those who take charge. Still others believe
leaders are confident and considerate, so they identify leaders as those who have innovative and interesting ideas and
involve others in bringing the idea to fruition.
Implicit theories cause us to naturally classify people as leaders or nonleaders. We are often not aware this process is
occurring. It is based in the cognitive categorization processes associated with perception and attribution. These processes
help us quickly and easily handle the overwhelming amounts of information we receive from our environments every day.
The categorization process is often particularly salient when we are faced with new information. For example, on the first
day of class did you look around the room and find yourself making assessments of the teacher, and even your classmates?
If so, you did this using your cognitive categories and implicit theories.
To understand your own implicit leadership theories, think about the factors you associate with leadership. What traits and
characteristics come to mind? Take a minute and make a list of those attributes. Now look at the sidebar on spotting
implicit leadership prototypes. How does your list compare? Did you identify the same prototypical leader behaviors as
found in research? What is the nature of your implicit theory? Is it more positive, such as sensitivity, dedication,
intelligence, and strength, or is it more negative, involving leaders’ tendencies to dominate, control, or manipulate others?
Why do you think you have the implicit theory you do? What experiences you’ve had make you see leadership in this
How to Spot Common Implicit Leadership Prototypes
People hold various prototypes of attributes they associate with leadership. Researchers find the following
prototypes are most commonly used.
• Sensitivity —Sympathetic, compassionate, understanding
• Dedication —Disciplined, prepared, hard working
• Tyranny —Domineering, power hungry, manipulative
• Charisma —Inspiring, involved, dynamic
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• Attractiveness —Classy, well dressed, tall
• Intelligence —Clever, knowledgeable, wise
• Strength —Forceful, bold, powerful
“Instead of putting charismatic leadership on an unreachable pedestal,
perhaps learning specific charismatic communication techniques is a
pathway to success.”
Building Charisma through Polished Rhetoric
The next time you give a presentation, check to see who’s really listening. Better yet, check to see who’s
showing signs that they are ready to accept and act on what you are saying or proposing. That’s one of the
ways leadership claims get granted—framing and requesting things in ways that cause others to respond
positively. We’re talking about people who turn listeners into followers.
Some would argue this is a special skill associated with a magnetic or charismatic quality that you either
have or don’t have at birth. Recent OB thinking suggests there is a lot more to the story. Think of charisma
as an ability to inspirationally persuade and motivate others. How is this positive impact achieved? In
simple terms it’s done by dropping bland business speech, such as “We need to operationalize this
process,” and practicing more emotive language, such as “once we put this into practice it’ll feel like we all
threw fifty-yard touchdown passes.”
Professor John Antonakis at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, believes that all of us should and can
learn charismatic communication skills. “Some people are naturally more talented, but everyone can
improve with practice,” he says. And he has a training program designed to do just that. After one batch of
corporate executives was trained, their leadership ratings went up 60 percent.
Some charismatic leadership techniques taught by Antonakis are verbal, breaking things down into basic
components: using metaphors and telling stories, asking rhetorical questions, taking a moral stand, and
setting high goals. Others are nonverbal: using voice modulations, gestures, and facial expressions to
accent what you are saying.
OB recognizes that not all managers are good leaders even though they should be. Instead of putting
charismatic leadership on an unreachable pedestal, perhaps learning specific charismatic communication
techniques is a pathway to success. Learning the techniques and putting them to work in everyday
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conversations is a way for more of us to be perceived as “leaderlike” by others.
Information from John Antonakis, Marika Fenley, and Sue Liechti, “Learning Charisma,” Harvard Business Review 90 (June
2012), pp. 127-130; and Alicia Clegg, “The Subtle Secrets of Charisma,” Financial Times, Kindle Edition (January 3, 2013).
Copyright © 2014, 2012, 2010, 2008, 2005, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Until very recently, followership has not been given serious consideration in leadership research. We are infatuated with
leaders, but often disparage followers. Think about how often you are told the importance of being an effective leader.
Now think about the times when you have been told it is important to be an effective follower—has it ever happened? If
you are like most people, you have received recognition and accolades for leadership but rarely have you been encouraged
or rewarded for being a follower.
What Is Followership?
Followership represents the capacity or willingness to follow a leader. It is a process through which individuals choose
how they will engage with leaders to co-produce leadership and its outcomes. These co-productions can take many forms.
For example, it may be heavily leader dominated, with passive followers who comply or go along. Or it may be a
partnership, in which leaders and followers work collaboratively to produce leadership outcomes.
Our infatuation with leaders at the expense of followers is called the romance of leadership : the tendency to attribute
all organizational outcomes—good or bad—to the acts and doings of leaders. The romance of leadership reflects our
needs and biases for strong leaders who we glorify or demonize in myths and stories of great and heroic leaders. We see it
in our religious teachings, our children’s fairy tales, and in news stories about political and business leaders.
The problem with the romance of leadership is that its corollary is the “subordination of followership.” The
subordination of followership means that while we heroize (or demonize) leaders, we almost completely disregard
followers. Leo Tolstoy’s description of the French Revolution provides an excellent example. According to Tolstoy, the
French Revolution was the product of the “spectacle of an extraordinary movement of millions of men” all over Europe
and crossing decades, but “historians … lay before us the sayings and doings of some dozens of men in one of the
buildings in the city of Paris,” and the detailed biography and actions of one man, to whom it is all attributable: Napoleon.
To overcome the problem of the romance of leadership, we need to better understand the role of followership in the
leadership process.
How Do Followers See Their Roles?
Followers have long been considered in leadership research, but mainly from the standpoint of how they see leaders. The
question we need to consider is this: How do followers see their own role? And how do leaders see the follower role?
Research is now beginning to offer new insight into these issues.
The Social Construction of Followership
One of the first studies to examine follower views was a qualitative investigation in which individuals were asked to
describe the characteristics and behaviors they associate with a follower (subordinate) role. The findings support the
socially constructed nature of followership and leadership in that, according to followers, they hold certain beliefs about
how they should act in relation to leaders but whether they can act on these beliefs depends on context.
Some followers hold passive beliefs, viewing their roles in the classic sense of following—that is, passive, deferential, and
obedient to authority. Others hold proactive beliefs, viewing their role as expressing opinions, taking initiative, and
constructively questioning and challenging leaders. Proactive beliefs are particularly strong among “high potentials”—
those identified by their organizations as demonstrating strong potential to be promoted to higher-level leadership positions
in their organization.
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Because social construction is dependent on context, individuals are not always able to act according to their beliefs. For
example, individuals holding proactive beliefs reported not being able to be proactive in authoritarian or bureaucratic work
climates. These environments suppress their ability to take initiative and speak up, often leaving them feeling frustrated
and stifled—not able to work to their potential. In empowering climates, however, they work with leaders to co-produce
positive outcomes. Individuals with passive beliefs are often uncomfortable in empowering climates because their natural
inclination is to follow rather than be empowered. In these environments they report feeling stressed by leaders’ demands,
and uncomfortable with requests to be more proactive. Passive followers are more comfortable in authoritarian climates
where they receive more direction from leaders.
Workers Share Their Salary Secrets
Pay secrecy is a long-held tradition in the workplace. Workers are told they cannot discuss their pay or they
will be fired. Managers say pay secrecy is necessary because it helps avoid potential conflicts and
dissatisfaction among workers. But like many other things, Millennials are questioning this practice—and
shaking up the workplace in the process.
Brian Bader took a tech-support job with Apple and during his orientation was told that he was not allowed
to discuss his pay with co-workers. But this made the 25-year old Bader, curious, and he immediately set
out to survey his new colleagues about their wages. What he learned was that he was twice as productive
as the lowest performer in the group, but paid only 20 percent more. Bader decided to quit his job: “It irked
me. If I’m doing double the work, why am I not seeing double the pay?” asked Mr. Bader.
Keeping salary information private is much harder for companies in today’s environment of social media,
with Web sites like Glassdoor, Facebook, and Twitter. Information is power, and despite company policies
against it many people—especially young workers—are using their power to speak up against such
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policies. In addition to pay secrecy, the seniority system and annual performance reviews are two
workplace institutions that Millennials are questioning. And answers like “because I said so” and “because
we’ve always done it that way” are not enough for this generation. When they are dissatisfied, they take
matters into their own hands, either by acting on information power, or quitting, as demonstrated by Brian
What Do You Think?
Should companies be able to reasonably expect workers to keep their pay secret? And if there is a
company policy against sharing pay information, what is the obligation of the employee to follow this
policy? How far does our obligation go? In 2013 we saw Edward Snowden break his company policy
because he didn’t agree with the NSA policy regarding the government’s Internet and phone-tracking
program. How does his action compare to that of Mr. Bader, who shared his pay information against
company policy?
Lauren Weber and Rachel Emma Silverman, “Workers Share Their Salary Secrets,” Wall Street Journal (April 16, 2013),
(accessed July 21, 2013); Jayne O’Donnell, “Gen Y Can Guide Their Offices with Tech Savvy,” USA Today (June 10, 2013), business/2013/06/10/millennials-boomers-workplace-challenges/2398403 (accessed July
21, 2013); and Edward E Lawler III, “Pay Secrecy: Why Bother?” Forbes (September 12, 2013), (accessed July 21, 2013).
Follower Role Orientation
Follower beliefs are also being studied in research on follower role orientation. Follower role orientation represents the
beliefs followers hold about the way they should engage and interact with leaders to meet the needs of the work unit. It
reflects how followers define their role, how broadly they perceive the tasks associated with it, and how to approach a
follower role to be effective.
FIGURE 13.3 Followership in Context.
Findings show that followers with hierarchical, power distance orientation believe leaders are in a better position than
followers to make decisions and determine direction. These individuals have lower self-efficacy, meaning they have less
confidence in their ability to execute on their own, and they demonstrate higher obedience to leaders. They depend on
leaders for structure and direction, which they follow without question. These followers report working in contexts of
greater hierarchy of authority and lower job autonomy. This may be because these contexts are attractive to them, or it may
be because those with more proactive follower orientations are less likely to remain in these environments.
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Individuals with a proactive follower orientation approach their role from the standpoint of partnering with leaders to
achieve goals. These individuals are higher in proactive personality and self-efficacy. They believe followers are
important contributors to the leadership process and that a strong follower role (e.g., voice) is necessary for accomplishing
the organizational mission. Proactive followers tend to work in environments that support and reinforce their followership
beliefs—that is, lower hierarchy of authority, greater autonomy, and higher supervisor support. These environments are
important because proactive followers need support for their challenging styles. They need to trust leaders and to know
that they will not be seen as overstepping their bounds.
The issue that is less clear is what managers want from followers. It seems that managers want voice, as long as that voice
is provided in constructive ways. However, findings with obedience are not significant, indicating that managers may be
mixed on whether obedience is positive or negative. This is true regardless of whether it comes from those with a power
distance or proactive follower orientation. Therefore, we are not quite sure how obedience plays into followership. Do
managers want obedience? Do only some managers want it, or do managers want only certain types of obedience? It turns
out that although we have spent decades learning about what followers want from leaders, we still know very little about
what leaders prefer in terms of follower behaviors and styles. Research is now underway to better investigate the manager
side of the leadership story.
How Do Leaders See Follower Roles?
One area that helps us understand the manager’s view is the study of implicit followership theories . Research on
implicit followership theories takes the approach described in implicit leadership theory research but reverses it—asking
leaders (i.e., managers) to describe characteristics associated with followers (e.g., effective followers, ineffective
followers). It then analyzes the data to identify prototypical and anti-prototypical follower characteristics.
Bosses Are to Be Obeyed and My Job Is to Comply. Or Is It?
Before you answer the question in the headline, read further:
Yale University laboratory, 1963—Psychologist Stanley Milgram runs an experiment with
collaborators posing as “learners” being taught word association tasks by their “teachers” – the real
subjects. When the learners behind a wall missed a word association each of the 40 teachers was
instructed to give them an electric shock. The learners faked their expressions of pain and cries to
stop the process. When the teachers resisted going to higher levels of electric voltage, they were told
by the experimenter: “You must go on. The experiment requires that you go on.” Twenty-six of the
teachers kept administering shocks until the final level was reached, a level they were told would be
of danger to human life.
McDonald’s Restaurant, 2004— A telephone caller tells an assistant store manager that he is a police
officer investigating employee theft. Claiming to have “corporate” on the line he tells the assistant
manager to take a female employee into the back room and interrogate her while he is on the line.
The assistant manager does so for over three hours and follows “Officer Scott’s” instructions to the
point where the 18-year old employee is naked and doing jumping jacks. The hoax was discovered
only when the assistant manager called her boss to check out the story. The caller was later arrested
and was found to have tried similar tricks at over 70 McDonald’s restaurants.
Managers are supposed to make decisions, and the rest of us are supposed to follow. Isn’t that the
conventional wisdom? But these incidents suggest that even though we may have a tendency to obey
apparent authority figures, it isn’t always the right thing to do.
There are times when it’s best to disobey the boss or any other authority figure who is asking us to do
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something that seems odd or incorrect or just plain suspicious. And if what you are being asked to do is
wrong but you still comply, you’ll share the blame. It can’t be excused with the claim “I was just following
Do the Analysis
If obedience isn’t always the right choice, how do we know when it’s time to disobey? Can you
give some examples from personal experience when it was best not to comply with what you
were asked to do? How would your behavior in the situation stack up under scrutiny? What does
the literature have to say about reasons for obedience and how to double-check to make sure
our obedience is justified in certain situations? How about the price of disobedience? Is it
possible to educate and train people to be better followers—people who don’t always follow
orders and sometimes question them?
Information and quotes from Julian Sancton, “Milgram at McDonald’s,” Bloomberg BusinessWeek (August 27-September 2,
2012), pp. 74-75.
Findings shown in the sidebar on the next page indicate that characteristics associated with good followers include being
industrious, having enthusiasm, and being a good organizational citizen. Characteristics associated with ineffective
followers (i.e., anti-prototypical characteristics) include conformity, insubordination, and incompetence. Of these antiprototypical traits, it appears that incompetence is the most impactful. In other words, leaders see incompetence as the
greatest factor associated with ineffective followership.
How to Spot Common Followership Prototypes and Antiprototypes
People hold various prototypes and antiprototypes of attributes they associate with followership.
Researchers find the following are most common.
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• Industry —Hardworking, productive, goes above and beyond
• Enthusiasm —Excited, outgoing, happy
• Good citizen —Loyal, reliable, team player
• Conformity —Easily influenced, follows trends, soft spoken
• Insubordination —Arrogant, rude, bad tempered
• Incompetence —Uneducated, slow, inexperienced
What is interesting about the findings on prototypes and antiprototypes (see the sidebar) is that they may show why we are
uncertain of what managers desire from followers. What managers see as insubordination and incompetence, followers
may see as proactive follower behaviors. There can be a fine line between these behaviors as provided by followers, and
whether leaders are ready and able to effectively receive them. Although it hasn’t been studied yet in research, we can be
pretty sure that a key factor in influencing how managers view and receive proactive follower behaviors is the quality of
the relationship between the manager and the subordinate.
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The Leader-Follower Relationship
Among the strongest findings in leadership research are studies showing that the nature of leader-follower relationships
matter. When relationships are good, outcomes are positive. When relationships are bad, outcomes are negative, and
potentially even destructive.
Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) Theory
The underlying premise of leader-member exchange (LMX) theory is that leaders (i.e., managers) have differentiated
relationships with followers (i.e., subordinates). With some subordinates, managers have high-quality LMX
relationships, characterized by trust, respect, liking, and loyalty. With other subordinates, managers have low-quality LMX
relationships, characterized by lack of trust, respect, liking, and loyalty. Whereas the former (high LMX relationships) are
more like partnerships between managers and subordinates in co-producing leadership, the latter (low LMX relationships)
are more like traditional supervision, with managers supervising and monitoring and subordinates complying (or maybe
Leader-follower relationships are important because they are differentially related to leadership and work outcomes. As
you would expect, when relationship quality is high it has all kinds of benefits: Performance is better, subordinates are
more satisfied and feel more supported, commitment and citizenship are higher, and turnover is reduced. When
relationship quality is low, outcomes are not only negative, they can also be destructive. At the very least, workers in low
LMX relationships are less productive and have more negative job attitudes. At their worst, relationships are hostile,
leading to abuse or even sabotage.
The implications of leader-member exchange theory are very clear. Bad relationships are counterproductive for individuals
and organizations, whereas good relationships bring tremendous benefits. If you have a bad relationship with your boss,
you can expect it to negatively impact your work and possibly your career. In organizations, bad relationships create
negative environments and poor morale. They drain organizations of the energy needed to perform, adapt, and thrive.
Social Exchange Theory
To avoid these problems, we need to work to develop better-quality relationships throughout the organization. The
question is, how?
Social exchange theory helps explain the social dynamics behind relationship building. According to social exchange
theory, relationships develop through exchanges—actions contingent upon rewarding reactions. We engage in exchanges
every day when we say something or do something for another and those actions are rewarded or not rewarded.
Relationships develop when exchanges are mutually rewarding and reinforcing. When exchanges are one sided or not
satisfactory, relationships will not develop effectively, and will likely deteriorate or extinguish.
At the core of social exchange is the norm of reciprocity , the idea that when one party does something for another an
obligation is generated, and that party is indebted to the other until the obligation is repaid. We see this all the time when
someone does us a favor and then, depending on how close we are to them, we feel indebted to pay them back. If the
relationship is close (e.g., family) we don’t worry about paying back right away because we know it will be repaid in some
way in the future. If the exchange is with someone we don’t know as well (e.g., a classmate we just met), we are more
anxious to repay so that the other knows we are “good” for it.
The norm of reciprocity can be seen as involving three components. Equivalence represents the extent to which the
amount of what is given back is roughly the same as what was received (e.g., the exact same or something different).
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Immediacy refers to the time span of reciprocity—how quickly the repayment is made (e.g., immediately or an
indeterminate length of time). Interest represents the motive the person has in making the exchange. Interest can range
from pure self-interest, to mutual interest, to other interest (pure concern for the other person).
The way in which these components work together varies by the quality of leader-follower relationships. When
relationships are first forming, or if they are low quality, reciprocity involves greater equivalence (we want back what we
give), immediacy is low (we expect payback relatively quickly), and exchanges are based on self-interest (we are watching
out for ourselves). As relationships develop and trust is built, equivalence reduces (we don’t expect exact repayment), the
time span of reciprocity extends (we aren’t concerned about payback—we may bank it for when we need it at some time in
the future), and exchanges become more mutually or other (rather than self) interested.
What makes this process social and not economic is that it is based on trust. Trust is based on the belief regarding the
intention and ability of the other to repay. Economic exchanges are necessarily devoid of trust. The reason we make
economic contracts is to create a legal obligation in case one party breaks the contract. In social exchange, trust is the
foundational element upon which exchanges occur. If one party demonstrates that they are not trustworthy, the other party
will see this and stop exchanging—and the relationship will degenerate.
If we want to build effective relationships, therefore, we need to pay attention to reciprocity and social exchange
processes. We need to make sure that we are engaging in exchanges, that we are doing so based on reciprocity, and that the
exchanges are mutually satisfying and rewarding for all involved.
Hollander’s Idiosyncrasy Credits
Another way to view the nature of exchange in relationships is idiosyncrasy credit theory, developed by social
psychologist Edwin Hollander in the 1950s. Idiosyncrasy credits represent our ability to violate norms with others
based on whether we have enough “credits” to cover the violation. If we have enough credits, we can get away with
idiosyncrasies (i.e., deviations from expected norms) as long as the violation does not exceed the amount of credits. If we
do not have enough credits, the violation will create a deficit. When deficits become large enough, or go on for too long,
our account becomes “bankrupt,” and the deviations will no longer be tolerated, resulting in deterioration of relationships.
Idiosyncrasy credits offer a fun and simple way to think about some key concepts we need to keep in mind in relationship
building. The main point is to manage your balances. If you are expending credits by behaving in idiosyncratic ways
(deviating from expected norms), then you have to stop spending and start building. If you have a rich account and the
relationship is flying high, you can afford to expend some credits by acting in a quirky way or doing things that might not
be seen as positively in the other’s eyes. Others will be willing to stick with you—as long as you don’t go into a deficit.
Copyright © 2014, 2012, 2010, 2008, 2005, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Collective Leadership
Relational interactions are the foundation of leadership, and relational approaches have allowed us to understand that
leadership is more aptly described as a collective rather than an individual process. Collective leadership considers
leadership not as a property of individuals and their behaviors but as a social phenomenon constructed in interaction. It
advocates a shift in focus from traits and characteristics of leaders to a focus on the shared activities and interactive
processes of leadership.
Distributed Leadership
One of the first areas to recognize leadership as a collective process was distributed leadership research, distinguishing
between “focused” and “distributed” forms of leadership. This research draws heavily on systems and process theory, and
locates leadership in the relationships and interactions of multiple actors and the situations in which they are operating.
Distributed leadership is based on three main premises. First, leadership is an emergent property of a group or network of
interacting individuals, i.e., it is co-constructed in interactions among people. Second, distributed leadership is not clearly
bounded. It occurs in context, and therefore it is affected by local and historical influences. Third, distributed leadership
draws from the variety of expertise across the many, rather than relying on the limited expertise of one or a few leaders. In
this way it is a more democratic and inclusive form of leadership than hierarchical models.
Leadership from this view is seen in the day-to-day activities and interactions of people working in organizations. Rather
than simply being a hierarchical construct, it occurs in small, incremental, and emergent everyday acts that go on in
organizations. These emergent acts, interacting with large-scale change efforts from the top, can be mutually reinforcing to
produce emergence and adaptability in organizations. Hence, leadership is about learning together and constructing
meaning and knowledge collaboratively and collectively. For this to happen, though, formal leaders must let go of some of
their authority and control and foster consultation and consensus over command and control.
Another form of collective leadership is co-leadership. Co-leadership occurs when top leadership roles are structured in
ways that no single individual is vested with the power to unilaterally lead. Co-leadership can be found in professional
organizations (e.g., law firms that have partnerships), the arts (the artistic side and administrative side), and healthcare
(where power is divided between the community, administration, and medical sectors). Co-leadership has been used in
some very famous and large businesses (e.g., Google, Goldman-Sachs).
Co-leadership helps overcome problems related to the limitations of a single individual and of abuses of power and
authority. It is more common today because challenges facing organizations are often too complex for one individual to
handle. Co-leadership allows organizations to capitalize on the complementary and diverse strengths of multiple
individuals. These forms are sometimes referred to as constellations, or collective leadership in which members play roles
that are specialized (i.e., each operates in a particular area of expertise), differentiated (i.e., avoiding overlap that would
create confusion), and complementary (i.e., jointly cover all required areas of leadership).
Google’s Triumvirate Gives Way to New Leadership Structure
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The news came as a surprise: Eric Schmidt was out and Larry Page was in as head of Google. Schmidt
had been brought in by the board of directors in 2001 to provide “adult supervision” to then twenty-sevenyear-old founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. For ten years Google’s management structure represented
triumvirate leadership, with Page, Brin, and Schmidt sharing the leadership role. To some, it was a threering circus, with co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin running the business behind the scenes and
Schmidt as the public face. Now, the three decided, it was time for Page to take the stage.
“For the last ten years, we have all been equally involved in making decisions. This triumvirate approach
has real benefits in terms of shared wisdom, and we will continue to discuss the big decisions among the
three of us. But we have also agreed to clarify our individual roles so there’s clear responsibility and
accountability at the top of the company,” said Eric Schmidt.
The objective is to simplify the management structure and speed up decision making. “Larry will now lead
product development and technology strategy, his greatest strengths … and he will take charge of our dayto-day operations as Google’s Chief Executive Officer,” according to Schmidt.
That leaves Sergey Brin, with title of co-founder, to focus on strategic projects and new products, and
Schmidt to serve as executive chairman, working externally on deals, partnerships, customers, and
government outreach. As described on the official Google blog, “We are confident that this focus will serve
Google and our users well in the future.”
The question now is, with the leadership triumvirate dead, will the new leadership structure work?
What’s the Lesson Here?
Do you think co-leadership models work? And would they work for you—would you be able to
operate effectively as part of a co-leadership structure? Why or why not?
James Temple, “Google’s Larry Page must prove he has CEO skills,”, Sun. Jan. 23, 2011.“Meet the New Boss:
Google Cofounder Larry Page is ready to show the world he’s all grown up,”, Jan. 23, 2011.
Shared Leadership
According to shared leadership approaches, leadership is a dynamic, interactive influence process among individuals in
groups for which the objective is to lead one another to the achievement of group or organizational goals, or both. This
influence process occurs both laterally—among team members—and vertically, with the team leader. Vertical leadership is
formal leadership; shared leadership is distributed leadership that emerges from within team dynamics. The main objective
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of shared leadership approaches is to understand and find alternate sources of leadership that will impact positively on
organizational performance.
In shared leadership, leadership can come from outside or inside the team. Within a team, leadership can be assigned to
one person, rotate across team members, or be shared simultaneously as different needs arise across time. Outside the
team, leaders can be formally designated. Often these nontraditional leaders are called coordinators or facilitators. A key
part of their job is to provide resources to their unit and serve as a liaison with other units.
According to the theory, the key to successful shared leadership and team performance is to create and maintain conditions
for that performance. This occurs when vertical and shared leadership efforts are complementary. Although a wide variety
of characteristics may be important for the success of a specific effort, five important characteristics have been identified
across projects: (1) efficient, goal-directed effort; (2) adequate resources; (3) competent, motivated performance; (4) a
productive, supportive climate; and (5) a commitment to continuous improvement. The distinctive contribution of shared
leadership approaches is in widening the notion of leadership to consider participation of all team members while
maintaining focus on conditions for team effectiveness.
Copyright © 2014, 2012, 2010, 2008, 2005, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
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13 Study Guide
Key Questions and Answers
What is leadership?
• Leadership occurs in acts of leading and following as individuals work together to attain mutual goals.
• Formal leadership is found in positions of authority in organizations, whereas informal leadership is found
in individuals who become influential due to special skills or abilities.
• Leadership involves an identity construction process in which individuals negotiate identities as leaders
and followers through claiming and granting.
• Implicit leadership theories are beliefs or understanding about the attributes associated with leaders and
What is followership?
• Followership represents a process through which individuals choose how they will engage with leaders to
co-produce leadership and its outcomes.
• Romance of leadership is the tendency to attribute organizational outcomes (both good and bad) to the
acts and doings of leaders; its corollary is the “subordination of followership.”
• The social construction of followership shows that followers hold beliefs about how they should act in
relation to leaders, but whether they can act on these beliefs depends on context.
• Those with power distance orientation accept that power in institutions and organizations is distributed
unequally, whereas those with proactive follower orientations believe followers should act in ways that are
helpful and productive to leadership outcomes.
• Implicit followership theories show managers’ views of characteristics associated with effective and
ineffective followership.
What do we know about leader-follower relationships?
• Leader-member exchange theory shows that managers have differentiated relationships with
subordinates depending on the amount of trust, respect, and loyalty in the relationship.
• These relationships are important because they are differentially related to leadership and work
outcomes. When relationship quality is high, performance is better, subordinates are more satisfied and
supported, commitment and citizenship are higher, and turnover is reduced.
• Relationships develop through processes of social exchange based on the norm of reciprocity (i.e., when
one party does something for another, an obligation is generated until it is repaid).
• Reciprocity is determined based on three components: equivalence (whether the amount given back is
same as what was received), immediacy (how quickly the repayment is made), and interest (the motive
behind the exchange).
• Idiosyncrasy credits mean that when we have enough credits built up in relationships with others, we can
get away with idiosyncrasies (i.e., deviations from expected norms) as long as the violation does not
exceed the amount of credits.
What do we mean by leadership as a collective process?
• Collective leadership advocates a shift in focus from traits and characteristics of leaders to a focus on the
shared activities and interactive processes of leadership.
• Distributed leadership sees leadership as drawing from the variety of expertise across the many, rather
than relying on the limited expertise of one or a few leaders.
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• Co-leadership is when top leadership roles are structured in ways that no single individual is vested with
the power to unilaterally lead.
• Shared leadership defines leadership as a dynamic, interactive influence process among individuals in
groups for which the objective is to lead one another to the achievement of group or organizational goals,
or both.
• Shared leadership occurs both laterally, among team members, and vertically, with the team leader. The
main objective is to understand and find alternate sources of leadership that will impact positively on
organizational performance.
Copyright © 2014, 2012, 2010, 2008, 2005, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Multiple Choice
1. Leadership is a process of ________.
(a) leading and following
(b) deferring and obeying
(c) managing and supervising
(d)influencing and resisting
(a)leading and following
2. We could almost say that it is in ________ that leadership is created.
(a) positions
(b) authority
(c) following
(d) hierarchy
3. A type of leadership that is often missed in discussions of leadership is ________ leadership.
(a) face-to-face
(b) downward
(c) hierarchical
(d) upward
(d) upward
4. ________ occurs through processes of claiming and granting.
(a) Followership
(b)Leadership identity construction
(c) Implicit theory
(d) Status
(b)Leadership identity construction
5. People use ________ in deciding whether to grant a leadership claim.
(a) implicit theories
(b)social constructions
(c) collective leadership
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(d)social exchange
(a)implicit theories
6. ________ involves the choice of how to engage with leaders in producing leadership.
(a) Implicit theories
(b) Followership
(c) Informal leadership
(b) Followership
7. Power distance is an example of ________.
(a) an implicit followership theory
(b) upward leadership
(c) the leadership process
(d) a follower role orientation
(d) a follower role orientation
8. Individuals who engage in voice likely have a ________.
(a) weak feedback orientation
(b) prototypical leadership theory
(c) proactive follower orientation
(d) power distance orientation
(c) proactive follower orientation
9. When someone returns a favor to relieve an obligation very quickly it is an example of ________.
(a) economic exchange
(c) equivalence
10. The obligation created when someone does you a favor is ________.
(a) feedback orientation
(b)the norm of reciprocity
(c) implicit followership theories
(d) distributed leadership
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(b)the norm of reciprocity
11. A rule of thumb for whether you can violate norms in a relationship is to not overexpend your ________.
(a) idiosyncrasy credits
(b)relational disclosures
(c) low LMX
(a)idiosyncrasy credits
12. ________ says that leadership is an emergent property of a group or network of interacting individuals.
(a) Leadership identity construction
(b)Distributed leadership
(c) Leader-member exchange theory
(d) Social exchange theory
(b)Distributed leadership
13. If a manager and subordinate have a lot of trust and support for one another, we can say they have a ________.
(a) weak norm of reciprocity
(b)idiosyncratic relationship
(c) low LMX relationship
(d) high LMX relationship
(d) high LMX relationship
14. When the leadership role at the top is divided among multiple people, it is called ________.
(a) collective leadership
(b) distributed leadership
(c) co-leadership
(d)shared leadership
(c) co-leadership
15. Conformity is an example of ________.
(a) power distance orientation
(b) prototypical followership
(c) anti-prototypical followership
(d) constructive orientation
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(c) anti-prototypical followership
Short Response
16. What does it mean when we say leadership is socially constructed?
17. How do followers see their role in leadership?
18. How does the norm of reciprocity work in relationship development?
19. Why are scholars talking about collective leadership?
Applications Essay
20. Your roommate is student government president and has been having trouble getting others to listen to him. Each
night it is a different complaint about how terrible the other people in student government are, and how they are lazy
and not willing to do anything. You really want to help him figure out this problem. How do you go about it?
Copyright © 2014, 2012, 2010, 2008, 2005, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.

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