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Creating Strong Followership to Maximize Productivity

Leadership, the act of serving a group by influencing followers to advance the core mission, is a key issue in organizational research and management. Make note, that defining leadership as the act of influencing suggests that without people to influence, leadership cannot occur. Meaning, followers are essential for leadership to exist. More recently, the focus of leadership has shifted to explore not only the leader’s influence on a follower, but also the follower’s willingness to be influenced by the leader. How can agencies, especially those with resource constraints and high turnover like nonprofit organizations, establish a culture that creates virtuous followers and why does it matter?

Dysfunctional Followership Influences Productivity

Followership has been examined and defined as allowing oneself to be influenced by a leader.[1] Constructive followership is necessary for effective leadership, and researchers have characterized these followers as individuals who:

  • manage themselves well

  • display commitment to the mission and vision of the organization

  • maximize their effort, and

  • act with integrity, honesty, and credibility.[2]

Followership is necessary for successful leadership as implications of dysfunctional followership can inhibit performance. Follower resistance, a form of dysfunctional followership and incivility in the workplace, has been shown to lead to a lack of task fulfillment and decreased productivity.[3] Dysfunctional resistance is a form of workplace incivility as it can be construed as a violation of workplace norms and co-worker mutual respect.[4] This often leads to negative relational consequences like diminished commitment, creativity and collaboration in an organization, along with lack of fulfillment and productivity.[5]

Building Trust Improves Followership

Overall, people who use captivating qualities to gain followers without hesitation, known as charismatic leaders,[6] can positively influence follower effectiveness and commitment.[7] Keep in mind, followers may be initially attracted to charismatic leaders, but over time they may become suspicious of the leader’s motives. Eventually, they defect from the movement and display resistance behaviors. The amount of trust a follower has in a leader influences the follower’s willingness to be influenced.[8] To be effective, leaders should foster deep levels of follower trust.

Trust, which is hard to earn but easily lost, is a social concept that engages personal feelings. Credibility and trust are among the most important attributes of relationship building. For instance, followers who distrust leaders often feel targeted by negative attacks or manipulation because they don’t trust the leader’s intentions. Individuals with stronger feelings of trust toward top management are more likely to be committed to leadership’s vision for the organization.[9] Because trust in senior leaders has been correlated with affective commitment and positive performance outcomes,[10] establishing trust in the leader is one of the best ways to prevent follower resistance.

Cultivating Trust in Changing Environments

Followers’ trust in the leader is a willingness to be vulnerable and rely upon others – this is rooted in their prior belief that a leader is trustworthy.[11] Trust in leadership is crucial in developing an effective and satisfying workplace. Having a clear strategy and keeping dedicated to the initiatives associated, provides opportunities for senior leadership to cultivate trust in followers. Be cautious as the only constant in life and business is that change will occur. So use effective change management philosophies when your organization undertakes projects or modifies initiatives, which is necessary to retaining trust and driving performance.

ThriVinci Can Help

Members of the ThriVinci team are experienced change management experts that help move projects forward without derailing followers’ trust in senior leadership. After every change implementation there is often a decrease in productivity during the transitional period. With their expertise in change management and stabilizing performance, ThriVinci can ensure a return on investment and realize the benefits of introducing something new to your organization without diminishing followers’ trust.

[1] Uhl-Bien & Pillai, 2007, p. 196

[2] Kelly, 1988; Uhl-Bien, Lowe, Riggio, & Carsten, 2014

[3] Tepper, Duffy, & Shaw, 2001

[4] Andersson & Pearson, 1999; Caza & Cortina, 2007

[5] Pearson, Andersson & Wegner, 2001; Tepper, Duffy, & Shaw, 2001

[6] Levay, 2010

[7] House & Howell, 1992

[8] Conger, Kanungo, & Menon, 2000

[9] Tonkiss & Passey, 2000

[10] Michaelis, Stegmaier, & Sonntag, 2009

[11] Tschannen-Moran & Hoy, 2001; Frost, Stimpson, & Maughan, 1978; Sitkin & Roth, 1993; Mishra, 1996

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