Studies: A Case of Leader-follower Trade Approach

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Followership in Leadership Studies: A
Case of Leader-follower Trade
Petros G Malakyan
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View this article online at • DOI:10.1002/jls.21306
leadership effectiveness than followership. Even the
general public seems to continue advocating for leadership and neglecting followership, although nearly 80%
of people function as followers who have been growing
stronger whereas leaders have weakened in the last 2
decades (Kelley, 1992). According to Kelley (1992),
such “single-minded conformism” in our modern society has caused a serious defi ciency and problem in leadership studies, in both theory and practice. Society as
a whole has been aff ected by the “cult of leadership”
Followership has never been a part of educational
curricula in the West until the turn of this century.
Leadership conversely seems almost a monopolized discipline that teaches how to infl uence people and make
the leader successful in order to reach personal and
organizational goals through success, effectiveness,
and productivity. ” e emphasis in these programs is
on how to be a leader and/or a manager rather than
a follower (International Leadership Association,
” ere seems to be more concern nowadays for
A Case of Leader–Follower Trade Approach
The current article acknowledges the absence of followership from the leadership literature for many
years. Major theories of leadership are reviewed to assert that (1) modern leadership studies have
been developed strictly from the leader’s perspective with little or no attention on followership,
(2) leadership studies have primarily been based on the static understanding of leadership (leaders
always remain leaders),1
and (3) there seems to be a need for a new paradigm for leader–follower
relationships, which may result in organic relationships between leaders and followers through
exchange of leadership and followership functions and roles. Thus, it is argued that the mutuality
of relationships and infl uence between the follower and the leader exists. To address the need for a
new paradigm for leadership, the leader–follower trade (LFT) approach is introduced, which may result
in the nonstatic and organic approach to leadership–followership as two valuable human behavioral
functions. In this case, leadership and followership functions and roles may be traded or exchanged
by the positional leaders and followers in different situations or organizational settings toward mutual
respect, empowerment, and effectiveness.
JOURNAL OF LEADERSHIP STUDIES • Volume 7 • Number 4 • DOI:10.1002/jls 7
it has become more evident that leaders cannot exist
without followers, because both are defi ned in relationships, and without that relationship, leaders and
followers cease to exist (Kellerman, 2007; Rost, 1993,
Leadership studies in the past have been primarily
leader-focused (Hollander, 1992), whereas the study
of followership was either neglected or separated from
leadership studies. James MacGregor Burns stated:
Thirty years ago, I wrote that “one of the most serious failures in the study of leadership has been the
bifurcation between the literature on leadership and
the literature on followership.” Surely, I added, it was
“time that the two literatures be brought together.”3
Today, a new literature is emerging and seems to
be gaining momentum: research and writing on followership. The literature seeks ways to educate, or
better train, exemplary, courageous, and great followers, who are not only willing to stand up for change
and for leaders and organizations but also are able to
create great leaders and organizations (Chaleff , 2009;
Kellerman, 2008; Kelley, 1992; Riggio, Chaleff, &
Lipman-Blumen, 2008). ” e latter seems to have taken
the same one-sided approach this time by primarily
focusing on followers or follower-centered research
(Shamir, 2007). However, Van Vugt et al. (2008) argue
First, leadership cannot be studied apart from followership and that an adequate account of the leadership
process must consider the psychology of followers.
Second, the goals of leaders and followers do not
always converge, a fact that creates a fundamental
ambivalence in the relationship between leaders and
followers. (p. 193).
Furthermore, no further steps are taken to minimize
the power gap between leaders and followers within
organizations and communities. How can a follower be
courageous, eff ective, and do all of the above when he
or she is powerless? ” e power of making decisions and
leading organizations is, for the most part, still in the
hands of leaders whom we select or appoint. Moreover,
the leadership research has not taken the two sides of
(Kelley, 1992, pp. 9, 14) that has been sweeping across
education, business, and other spheres of public life
beginning from the times of the Industrial Revolution
(Van Vugt, Hogan, & Kaiser, 2008, p. 188).
During the 1700s in France and England, employees
or subordinates were categorized as commodities for
those whose primary goal was making profi t at any
cost. Employees became human resources, much like
natural resources or material possessions. By using the
words of Buber (1958), followers were treated by leaders as “I–It,” which assumes object–subject, distant, no
relationship between the two, pastness, as opposed to
“I–” ou,” which presupposes presence, relationships,
mutuality, openness, humanness, and in the case of
leadership, being there for genuine relationships and
dialogue between leaders and followers (Friedman,
2002, pp. 197, 354).
By the end of the 18th century, the leader–follower
relationship became based on social and economic
exploitations and psychological manipulations toward
the production of material goods and consumption
by the followers themselves. ” us, the task of modern
social and behavioral scientists had been to learn how
to make business leaders or managers—not necessarily
followers—more eff ective and successful in the industrialized world (Baker, 2007; Van Vugt et al., 2008;
Wielkiewicz & Stelzner, 2005). Such a perspective laid
a foundation for the modern school of management
and later, theories of leadership.
Today, we live in a postindustrial era. The time
has come for the “sheep” mentality of the follower to
be lifted (Kelley, 1992, p. 37). Followers have more
rights and freedoms than ever before in the history
of humankind. ” ey can refuse to follow leaders who
are selfi sh and greedy. Only in the last half century
researchers began to realize that the study of followership was a necessity (Kelley, 1988, 1992, 2008) for
two reasons. First, the centuries-long confl ict-dilemma
between leaders and followers has not been resolved in
either theoretical or practical levels primarily because
followership has not been studied along with leadership in organizational contexts. Followers could not
be ignored or overlooked anymore, because they began
fully engaged in organizational and social transformation and some even took moral actions against the toxic
leaders regardless of the cost (Chaleff , 2009). Second,
8 JOURNAL OF LEADERSHIP STUDIES • Volume 7 • Number 4 • DOI:10.1002/jls
are called leaders and those who do followership are
called followers).
Followership in Leadership Studies
” e great man theory or the trait approach, the earliest systematic study of leadership (Bass, 1981; Kirkpatrick &
Locke, 1991; Lord, DeVader, & Alliger, 1986), does not
address followership. While starting with a presupposition that leaders are born with special personal qualities
or traits, Stogdill (1948) concluded that no universally
consistent set of traits diff erentiates leaders from nonleaders and that a person with leadership traits who is a
leader in one situation may not be a leader in another
situation. Moreover, a systematic study of followership
had not been a part of the leadership research until
the early 1990s. One of the evidences of this research
omission is the complementary list of leadership traits
with no followership traits developed from 1948 to
2004 (Kirkpatrick & Locke, 1991; Lord, DeVader, &
Alliger, 1986; Mann, 1959; Stogdill, 1948, 1974;
Zaccaro, Kemp, & Bader, 2004) with the exception of
the authentic leadership research, where the leader and
follower development is considered (Gardner, Avolio,
Luthans, May, & Walumbwa, 2005).
Human behavior has been perceived to be the result
of various factors (traits, habits, instincts, emotions,
passions, motivations, personal desire, preferences,
environment, etc.). ” us the trait approach falls short
in depicting one person as a leader and the other a
nonleader (Cavell, 2007).
” e skills approach, which aimed to solve complex
problems in organizational leadership (Katz, 1974;
Mumford, Zaccaro, Harding, Jacobs, & Fleishman,
2000), omits the leader–follower dynamic as a subject
of study. ” e skills approach fails to discuss followership
skills, which equally may be obtained through training
and education. Moreover, the skills approach certainly
overlooks the fact that the leader is also a follower, who
needs not only leadership but also followership skills to
be more eff ective in various situations.
The style approach, which defines leadership as
relational and task-oriented behavior (Ohio State
and Michigan State studies), as well as managerial or
leadership grid (Blake & Mouton, 1985) to explain
the importance of concern for people and concern for
the equation within the discipline into careful consideration: a study of the leader and the follower as one
researchable topic. As a result, the so-called static offi ce
of “leadership” has been created with little or no power
exchange between leaders and followers. For instance,
in the leadership research a significant number of
scholars seem to ascribe French and Raven’s (1959)
fi ve bases of power primarily to leaders with perhaps
little consideration of followers operating from the
same power bases.4
Furthermore, the positional leadership and the use of power in its various forms often
have produced abuse of power and leadership roles in
the world throughout human history. Even leaders
in democratic societies are not exempt from positional
leadership abuse, selfi shness, unethical behaviors, and
greediness (Kellerman, 2012).
” e static concept of leadership has not produced
the expected results in the private nor in the public sector of the world’s societies (Kellerman, 2012). Persons
occupying leadership positions may not be able to lead
everyone in every situation eff ectively, because they
cannot be eff ective in leading others all the time. In
other words, someone leading all of the time seems
to be ineffective and unnatural. Subsequently, the
positional leader may allow others to lead, which may
prove to be more eff ective and effi cient. ” us, if one is
not and cannot be a leader at all times in all situations,
then the concept of a “leader” as a noun does not exist
and seems rather a myth. ” e mythical concept of a
“leader” results in dangerous and toxic leaders obsessed
by its fi ctitious glory and fame. ” us a challenge exists:
how can we make leadership and followership accessible to more people and make followership and leadership exchangeable in decision-making processes and
Change may be needed in our understanding and
execution of leadership and followership. ” is does
not mean, however, abandoning what has already been
established in leadership studies, but rather bringing
followership into the discussion and studying leadership along with followership as one unit. In the following section, major leadership theories are analyzed
in light of two guiding themes: fi rst, leadership studies to be leader focused, and second, leadership and
followership viewed as static roles, functions,
and separate social identities (those who do leadership
JOURNAL OF LEADERSHIP STUDIES • Volume 7 • Number 4 • DOI:10.1002/jls 9
special and privileged groups within the organization
(Scandura, 1999). As in other theories, LMX theory
is a leader-focused approach to leadership and does
not consider leadership to be nonstatic and situational
where leaders and followers interchangeably share their
roles and responsibilities (Orwell, 1936). ” e model of
in-group and out-group membership certainly omits
the possibility of followers deciding whether or not
their leader should be an in-group or an out-group
Transformational leadership focuses on individuals’ transformational processes, including both leaders and followers (Bryman, 1992; Burns, 1978).
Transformational leadership, however, is again concerned with the leader’s behaviors (Bass, 1990; House,
1976) and can be viewed as elitist and antidemocratic
(Avolio & Gibbons, 1988). Besides, the charismatic
nature of transformational leadership can be destructive as a result of leaders’ psychological infl uence on
their followers (Conger, 1999). As with other theories, transformational leadership is leader centric and
holds a static view of both leader and follower, where
the concept of transformational followership has not
been explored. Can a transformational follower transform his or her leader and bring transformation in an
Charismatic leadership refers to the natural abilities of leaders who are risk takers, arouse emotions,
and motivate their followers beyond ordinary admiration (Freud, 1938; Zaleznik, 2009). Again, as in the
other leadership theories, charismatic leadership does
not address the charismatic followership dimension,
because it is a leader-centered theory with a fi xed concept of leaders’ leadership behavior.
Team leadership, which provides the most nonstatic understanding of leadership and followership
among other leadership theories, allows functional fl exibility between team members to choose their own
leader among the members of the team (Fisher, 1985;
Hackman, 2002; Kinlaw, 1998), and has tendencies
to focus more on the leader’s decision making toward
team eff ectiveness through internal or external leadership interventions, than on the team members moving from membership to leadership roles (e.g., Hill’s
Model for Team Leadership, Northouse, 2013, p. 291).
Moreover, in team leadership it seems unclear whether
productivity, seems, too, a leader-centered research,
where the follower’s styles have not been studied. ” us,
the style approach has overlooked the follower’s response
to the leader’s styles and how the former’s behavior may
aff ect or infl uence the latter’s eff ectiveness.
The situational approach, with its four leadership
styles (Hersey, Blanchard, & Johnson 2012) is also a
leader-oriented study, because followership styles and
how they may aff ect the leader’s behavior have not been
identifi ed. Although the situational approach takes followership into consideration, leadership and followership are still viewed as static roles. ” us, the situational
approach is a leader-centered and one-sided approach
to the leader–follower dyad, where the styles have been
perceived merely from the leader’s response to the follower’s behavior in various situations.
” e contingency theory, being a leader-match theory
(Fiedler, 1964, 1967; Fiedler & Garcia, 1987), assumes
that leadership eff ectiveness is contingent upon leadership style and leadership situation with no discussion
of the followership style and its impact on leadership
eff ectiveness. ” us, the contingency theory is leader
focused and fails to provide a mutually preferred model
of eff ectiveness.
” e path-goal theory, which is concerned with the
motivation of subordinates toward the goal set forth
by the leader of the organization (Evans, 1970; House,
1971; House and Dessler, 1974), posits that no leadership responsibilities are assigned to subordinates in the
leadership process to accomplish the goal. ” e organizational goals are not necessarily discussed and mutually agreed upon by the leader and the follower. ” us
the path-goal theory, like the other theories reviewed
previously, operates from a static paradigm (the leader
leads and the follower follows) of a leader and a follower as not only diff erent functions but also as diff erent social identities in organizational contexts.
” e leader–member exchange (LMX) theory, which
puts sole emphasis on leader–follower interactions
as a dyadic relationship within a three-phase developmental process (stranger, acquaintance, and partner)
(Dansereau, Graen, & Haga, 1975; Graen & Uhl-Bien,
1995), seems to segregate followers into two types of
groups: in-group and out-group.
” e LMX theory thus can be easily accused of favoritism and unfairness, because it justifi es the existence of
10 JOURNAL OF LEADERSHIP STUDIES • Volume 7 • Number 4 • DOI:10.1002/jls
Authentic leadership is one of the few leadership theories where followership is fully present in research
and the followers’ emotional reaction to the leader’s
inauthentic behavior has been studied alongside of
leadership (Eagly, 2005; Gardner et al., 2005; George,
2004; George & Sims, 2007). It focuses on the leader’s self-acceptance from an intrapersonal perspective
without trying to be someone else (Gardner, Avolio, &
Walumbwa, 2005; Goff ee & Jones, 2006; Shamir &
Eilam, 2005) and also focuses on an interpersonal process toward transparent, authentic, and dyadic relationships and leadership credibility (Eagly, 2005; Gardner,
Avolio, & Walumbwa, 2005; Kouzes & Posner, 2003,
2012). However, most scholars of authentic leadership
still ascribe leadership and followership functions to
two separate human identities. ” us, the theory seems
to hold the static view of the leader and the follower.
The intercultural leadership research has not been
exempt from the leader-focused approach. Social
anthropologists, along with research groups such as
GLOBE and scholars in cross-cultural psychology,
international management, and communication, have
studied leadership primarily from the leader perspective
in the context of western and nonwestern cultures and
societies (Berry, Segall, & Kagitcibasi, 1997; Chhokar,
Brodbeck, & House, 2007; Crosby & Bryson, 2005;
Deardorff, 2009; Harris, Moran, & Moran, 2004;
Lewis, 2006; Sam & Berry, 2006; Schultz & Lavenda,
2012). The undertaken research tasks have been to
understand leadership styles in light of multiple cultural characteristics that aff ect leaders (Doob, 1988;
Hofstede, 1980, 1997, 2001; House, Hanges, Javidan,
Dorfman, & Gupta, 2004; Lewis, 2006).
In summary, it seems evident that most theories on
leadership have been leader focused or leader centered.
” ey have been researched from the leader’s perspective
and have taken a one-sided approach to the leader–
follower dyadic relationships. Followers in most of the
discussed theories are present but not necessarily
the subject of study or research. The most popular
definitions of leadership use the concept of influence, hence the leader infl uencing the follower, but
they ignore the infl uence of the follower. ” is is to say
that right from the outset leadership has been defi ned
from the leader’s point of view to serve the interest of
the leader, whereas the interests of the followers have
the team members are team leaders or team followers
and when and how they shift their roles. Once more,
it is a leader-oriented approach, this time focusing on
multiple individual leaders’ performance as leaders.
Shared, collective, or distributed leadership is interested
in collective input, processes, distributing roles and
responsibilities, and interactive infl uence, as well as further development of relationships between team members (Avolio, Walumbwa, & Weber, 2009; Carson,
Tesluk, & Marrone, 2007; Day, Gronn, & Salas, 2004;
Morris, 2005; Pearce & Conger, 2003). Although this
approach minimizes the positional power gap between
members of the team, it has a tendency to eliminate
the followership functions among the team members
and thus is a leader-focused theory. For instance, Pearce
and Conger (2003) completely omit followership from
their work on Shared Leadership.
Servant leadership, which begins from an altruistic
attitude of a leader to serve as a result of his or her
natural inner drive, claims to make others “healthier,
wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves
to become servants” (Greenleaf, Spears, & Covey, 2002,
p. 27) and lead people at a higher level and beyond the
day-to-day realities of organizational problems (Autry,
2004; Blanchard & Hodges, 2003), yet the focus here
still seems to be on the one who becomes a leader
through his or her service. Servant leadership still does
not show how one can be a servant follower or how one
may shift roles or functions from servant leadership to
servant followership.
In the psychodynamic approach, which presupposes
that leaders are more eff ective in their roles when they
understand their own psychological world as well
as that of their subordinates and that the emotional
responses and habitual patterns of behavior of both
leaders and followers are the result of strong infl uences
from past experiences (Freud, 1938; Jung, 1961), the
follower doesn’t necessarily seem to be the subject of
study in relation to the leader.
In the leadership ethics approach, leaders’ failures and
success are examined (Ciulla, 2002; Price, 2006, 2008),
and leaders are encouraged to develop skills for moral
sensitivity, moral judgment, moral motivation, and
moral action (Rest, 1986). Here the leader is at the
center of the research attention, so how can the followers’ ethical behavior be discounted (Hollander, 1995)?
JOURNAL OF LEADERSHIP STUDIES • Volume 7 • Number 4 • DOI:10.1002/jls 11
followers trade their functions from leader to follower
and from follower to leader in order to develop their
intrapersonal perspectives, foster interpersonal relationships, and maximize mutual eff ectiveness.
From the perspective of the LFT approach, infl uence
between the leaders and the followers is always mutual.
” ey mutually infl uence each other. Hollander (2009)
calls it “two-way fl ow of infl uence” (p. 37), or as Martin
Buber (1958) puts it, “I–” ou” mutual dialogue. ” us,
the study and research on leadership–followership as
one unit focuses on mutual infl uence: the leader infl uences the follower, and the follower influences the
leader. Moreover, eff ectiveness, according to the LFT
approach, refers to a leader–follower dyad. As soon
as the paradigm is shifted from a leader to a leader–
follower dynamic, one may easily view eff ectiveness in
light of leader–follower relationships. Eff ectiveness,
in turn, which equally depends on the leader and the
follower, is mutually addressed and evaluated. Both
the leader and the follower seek eff ectiveness together.
” us the attitude of the leader and the follower toward
each other seems to be a regulating determinant for
eff ective leadership and followership. ” us the leader’s
and the follower’s effectiveness is the condition for
maximum eff ectiveness in a group or organizational
Leadership traits do not make one superior over a person who has followership traits. After all, leadership
and followership functions are valuable human functions and both leaders and followers possess unique talents and abilities. ” us, the static concept of leadership
seems discriminatory and separatist. Leadership here is
taken as a mere function or a role, as opposed to social
stratifi cations, that emerges in human interactions for
service toward the common good of humanity. ” us,
the LFT approach to leadership and followership, like
situational behavioral functions, is more inclusive and
humane because every person, although not equal, has
both leadership and followership traits and abilities.
been primarily omitted. As Avolio, Walumbwa, and
Weber (2009) state: “Perhaps one of the most interesting omissions in theory and research on leadership
is the absence of discussions of followership and its
impact on leadership” (p. 434). Finally, most leadership
theories also seem to advocate the static paradigm of
the leader and the follower as separate human identities
resulting in social segregations (leaders remain leaders
for leadership, whereas followers remain followers for
followership). As a result, the exchange or the shifts of
roles have not been considered.
A Case of Leader–Follower Trade
In this section, attempts have been made to view leadership and followership as interchangeable and valuable
and yet as somewhat separate human functions performed by the same person, or more than one person,
in diff erent situations. A new paradigm is advocated
(Stech, 2008) where leadership and followership functions and roles may be traded or exchanged by leaders and followers in diff erent organizational settings.
Kelley (1992) describes leadership and followership
as “two separate concepts, two separate roles. ” ey are
complementary, not competitive” (p. 40). In fact, one
person functioning as both a leader and a follower may
be more eff ective (Chaleff , 2012). Kelley (1992) then
goes on to say:
If there is anything that the nineties have already
taught us, it’s that most people are both leaders and
followers. The role of followers and leaders are no
longer as clearly demarcated as they used to be. We
need to acknowledge both parts of ourselves. (p. 9).
To address the two problems in leadership studies (the
omission of followership and the static concept of
leadership and followership), the leader–follower trade
(LFT) approach is introduced to the leadership theories
as an organic way of doing leadership and followership
and a new way of integrating followership into the
leadership practice and research.5
The definition of the LFT approach is as follows:
Leadership–followership processes occur in relationships and leading–following functions are exchangeable
behaviors in human relationships. ” us, leaders and
12 JOURNAL OF LEADERSHIP STUDIES • Volume 7 • Number 4 • DOI:10.1002/jls
of followers, then the relationship between diff erent followers must be taken into account. ” e style approach
thus should address leader–follower, follower–leader,
and follower–follower relationships and task behaviors.
A paradigm shift from static to functional leadership
and followership in the situational approach seems necessary. Rather than changing leadership styles, one may
consider changing the leader’s function from leading to
following and from following to leading. A person may
exchange his or her functions (LFT approach) by focusing on developing either leadership or followership
skills. Here the skills, style, and situational approaches
come together to serve leader–follower mutual empowerment, growth, performance, and job satisfaction. ” e
situational approach then becomes equally benefi cial for
both leaders and followers, which is to say, the leaders
learn to follow in one situation and the followers learn
to lead in another situation.
One of the shortfalls of the LFT approach in the
situational approach may be the lack of willingness and
competences on the part of both leaders and followers
for functional exchange. For instance, if a participant
is low in support and high in need, the leadership–
followership functional exchange may be ineff ective.
” us, the willingness and competences of the leader
and the follower must be considered for the LFT
approach (see a further discussion on this topic later in
the article).
Leadership eff ectiveness in the contingency theory, measured by the LFT approach, is a way to promote leader
and follower mutual eff ectiveness. ” is may require a
mutual emphasis and analysis of styles and situations for
the leader and the follower as a way to a mutually preferred model of leadership and followership as opposed
to the originally proposed leader-focused approach:
LPC (least preferred coworker). ” e use of the LFT
approach in the LPC scale in all three situational factors
(leader–member relations, task structure, and position
power) may change the entire dynamic of the contingency theory by adding the follower’s perspective on the
In order for the skills approach to be more applicable to
multiple situations in various contexts, the focus must
shift from the leader to the leader–follower dimension
of skills. ” e leader needs to obtain the follower’s skills
and vice versa, because true eff ectiveness is measured by
one’s ability to function both as a leader and a follower.
Unlike the trait theory, where the interaction takes place
between the leader and follower, the skills approach is
two dimensional: leader–follower/leader–follower. ” us,
to introduce the LFT approach to the skills approach,
the leader then is expected to learn how to function as a
follower in one situation, and the follower is expected to
learn to function as a leader in another. Or, in another
situation, the same leader may pass on the learned skills
to his or her followers.
” e skills approach is true for every individual, ethnic
group, and people worldwide. Skills are important for
eff ective performance of leading and following functions. Leaders and followers interact and infl uence each
other through a skills exchange and learning if: (1) the
leader is willing to learn from the followers how to follow and (2) the followers are willing to learn from their
leader how to lead. ” erefore, if the LFT approach is
used in the skills approach, it may enhance development
and advancement in the leader–follower relationships.
” e LFT approach, in response to the leader’s behavior,
changes the entire understanding of the style approach,
because the latter has been leader focused. By adding a
new dimension to the theory (e.g., followership style),
new leader–follower-focused research may be necessary
to understand the two-way dynamic (Chaleff , 2008).
” e relational and task behaviors are characteristic
of both leaders and followers. If the mutual relationship between the leader and the follower is taken into
account, then the style approach should equally apply
to the leader and the follower (including the follower’s
task and relationship behavior). ” us the LFT approach
adds to the quest for a matching style of the leader and
the follower (Bjugstad, ” ach, ” ompson, & Morris,
2006). In this case, the challenge of the leader is not
only his or her own behavior but also that of the followers. Moreover, if the leader is dealing with a group
JOURNAL OF LEADERSHIP STUDIES • Volume 7 • Number 4 • DOI:10.1002/jls 13
out-group categorizations) if both leaders and followers
exchange their roles or group affi liations as opposed
to mere content and process exchange.5
In certain
instances, because the LFT approach presupposes an
ongoing exchange or trade of leadership and followership functions between the leaders and the followers
in various situations, the in-group and the out-group
models may become outmoded and be eliminated from
the LMX theory in certain situations or organizational
settings. Moreover, by minimizing the leader’s bias of
favoritism through the use of the LFT approach, the
LMX theory may foster a more mutually respectful distribution of responsibilities and benefi ts to in-group
and out-group members.
From the perspective of the LFT approach, transformational leadership considers the possibility for transformational followership and advocates for mutual
transformation. Much like the mutual influence
between the follower and the leader, the transformational infl uence is also mutual. ” us, transformational
leadership and followership are beyond who the leaders
or the followers are. ” ey transcend human limitations
and embrace a vision that is always bigger and higher
than the leaders’ or the followers’ abilities.
Moreover, although transformational leadership promotes inspiration and empowerment for followers
and enhances personal and organizational change and
growth, the intention has never been the transformation
of the follower into a change agent. However, just like
leaders, followers are also agents for change (Kellerman,
2008). ” us, the LFT approach may open new horizons
for followers to be functionally transformed into leaders equipped for leadership tasks. In the process both
the leader and the follower are transformed into a new
functional reality: the leader becomes a follower and the
follower becomes a leader, which may off er solutions to
the problems in transformational leadership (lone-ranger
mentality, psychological infl uence, elitism).
If a person is charismatic by nature, then regardless of
his or her functions, that person may well be not only
LPC model as well as the combination of the latter’s
leader and follower dimensions.
A holistic approach to the problem of the leader–follower
dynamic in the path-goal theory is needed. ” e leader
in the holistic approach (mutual infl uence) infl uences
followers not only through his or her change of leadership styles or behavior (directive, supportive, participative, and achievement oriented), but also with his or
her change of functions by making leadership a shared
experience with the followers. ” e outcome of the shared
leadership and followership may be an attitudinal and
behavioral change, improvement in performance,
and willingness to cooperate with the leader. As for the
organizational goals and objectives, the follower will
improve his or her performance and buy into the vision of
the organization if the leader is able and willing to share
leadership roles and responsibilities with the followers in
the goal-setting and decision-making processes. ” us the
LFT approach fosters a change of the static paradigm into
a functional paradigm of leadership and followership. In
certain situations the leader may choose to function as a
follower and the follower to function as a leader toward
personal and organizational empowerment.
Using the LFT approach in the LMX theory, the leader
may function as both leader and follower with the
members of both the in-group and the out-group in
order to cultivate shared leadership and followership,
thus attaining leadership and followership effi ciency at
personal and organizational levels. ” e three phases of
the leader–member dyad within the LMX theory (the
stranger phase, the acquaintance phase, and the partner phase) may become a three-phase developmental
process for each group member between the positional
leaders and followers if the LFT approach is implemented. ” e latter may create a synergistic environment
and mutually empowering relationship for all members
of the organization, resulting in personal and organizational betterment, eff ectiveness, and productivity.
On the other hand, the discriminative character
of the LMX theory may be improved (in-group and
14 JOURNAL OF LEADERSHIP STUDIES • Volume 7 • Number 4 • DOI:10.1002/jls
then the leader–follower dyad may be more inclusive by leaving no room for mere individualistic, topdown, and autocratic leadership (Hollander, 2009).
This is because the shared leadership is realized in
(a) leader–follower relationships, when dynamic relationships are unleashed between leaders and followers,
and (b) through functional trades from leading to following and from following to leading.
” e LFT approach fi ts the servant leadership philosophy,
because both bring the two roles, servant [follower] and
leader, together harmoniously in one person to create
a new type of leadership: follower–leader. Although
Greenleaf (1977) seems hesitant in using the term follower in reference to servant, the concept is present in his
approach, because servants are mostly associated with
followers. ” us servant leadership can be translated as
“follower leadership.” In other words, this is a leadership
of followers, which opens a new horizon for followers to
lead and the leaders to follow. One leads through following, and such a follower can become an inspirational
leader, because the two roles are interchangeable—
the leader becomes a follower and the follower becomes
a leader. Greenleaf (1977) rightly calls this fusion a
“dangerous creation.” It is dangerous and unusual
because leaders are expected to serve rather than to be
served, and servants are expected to lead. In servant
leadership one may not always be viewed as a leader and
the other as a follower, but rather see it as an exchangeable function of leading and following.
If the LFT approach is used in the psychodynamic
approach, the research may shift to a new dimension:
an analysis of psychological characteristics of leaders
who become followers and of followers who decide to
become leaders. A question then arises: What are the
patterns of behaviors and psychological consequences
of the functional exchange between leadership and
followership? Such an inquiry perhaps has not yet
been fully undertaken. By reinforcing the concept of
no better or worse personalities of the psychodynamic
research, both behavioral functions (leading and
a charismatic leader but also a charismatic follower. In
other words, in a charismatic leader one may fi nd a charismatic follower, or vice versa. ” us, it seems necessary to
study charismatic leadership from functional perspectives
without necessarily viewing the two functions as two
separate individuals. Moreover, the charismatic aspect
of followership in relation to leadership may address
some of the dark sides of charismatic leadership (use and
abuse of power and authority, unquestionable authority,
top-down leadership, infallibility and infl exibility of the
leader, psychological manipulation, and others) and off er
a mutually empowering model of reciprocal relationships
between charismatic leaders and followers toward mutual
inspiration and encouragement. ” e world needs both
charismatic leaders as well as charismatic followers.
Although team leadership is one of the few theories that
advocates the concept of sharing leadership functions,
the emphasis of team leadership is more on leading than
following, where the members of the team strive to
lead. ” e LFT approach for team leadership theory allows
viewing the two functions, leading and following, as
developmental possibilities for both leaders and followers within the leadership team. In this case, the issue is
not who leads and who follows, but rather how to lead
and how to follow through a free expression of one’s
natural abilities, desires, and acquired skills for leading
and following. After all, one is free to choose to lead
and follow as the outcome of one’s inner condition or
outer needs. Not everyone has a natural desire to lead.
On the other hand, it can be assumed that when everyone leads, no one follows, or, when everyone follows,
no one leads. ” us, it is crucially important that leaders
within the team learn to follow and followers learn to
lead through the functional trade (LFT approach) in
order to maximize group eff ectiveness.
” e LFT approach may be easily implemented in shared
leadership, if the focus is shifted from leaders to leaders–followers. In this case, leaders and followers will
not only share their leadership roles but also their followership roles. If the underlying assumption for shared
leadership is a collectivistic approach to leadership,
JOURNAL OF LEADERSHIP STUDIES • Volume 7 • Number 4 • DOI:10.1002/jls 15
may be realized either by the same person or by multiple individuals performing leadership and followership
functions interchangeably or simultaneously, much like
in a tango dance (Chaleff , 2012).
It is crucial to learn and acknowledge cultural diff erences and how those diff erences aff ect one’s perception
of leadership and followership in intercultural contexts.
” us, the LFT approach in the intercultural leadership
research adds the followership variable into the study of
leadership to fi nd ways in which leader–follower relationships may enhance interpersonal as well as intercultural eff ectiveness in global organizations.
Anthropologically, the gender diff erence seems to have
no eff ect on the LFT process, because leadership and followership functions are gender neutral. In other words,
regardless of one’s gender, one may function as a leader
or as a follower based on one’s personal preferences and
strengths. However, culturally, the gender role may have
a significant impact on the applicability of the LFT
approach. For instance, in masculine cultures, where
male and female roles are strictly diff erentiated, the LFT
approach may be resisted or rejected by that culture.
When the roles and functions are traded or exchanged
between leaders and followers, the accountability structure must be in place at all times. ” is may be possible
if one moves from a positional to a relational paradigm
of accountability. In the positional paradigm, it is the
follower who is expected to be accountable to her or his
leader in most cases. In the relational paradigm, however,
the accountability becomes mutual. In one situation the
person in a leadership role playing a leader role will hold
his or her followers accountable and in another will hold
leaders accountable while taking the role of a follower.
In summary, through the LFT approach one may
view leadership and followership as processes that occur
in relationships and that leading–following functions
are exchangeable behaviors in human relationships
following) are acceptable and cannot be viewed as
better or worse. ” ey are just diff erent functions subject to a constant exchange in individual and corporate
life as acceptable and necessary functions for human
” e LFT approach presupposes that leadership ethics
be perceived as an inseparable part of followership
ethics. Ethical issues may arise when there is a leader,
a follower, and a situation. In other words, ethics is
the result of the communication and the relationship
between the leader and the follower and the latter’s
response to either the former’s behavior or action. It
seems unethical to ignore followership ethics in relation to leaders and followers themselves. To study
the leader’s ethical behavior apart from the follower’s
response is detriment to both parties involved. ” us
it is essential that the follower’s ethical understanding
and behavior be taken into account in conjunction
with the leader’s ethical understanding and behavior.
Leaders and followers are responsible not only for their
own behaviors but also for those of corporate ethics as a
result of the leader–follower interaction and exchange.
The LFT approach in authentic leadership will guarantee authenticity in leading and following in various situations. “Be yourself” then will mean that if a
person in a follower role has a talent or a skill to lead,
then he or she should be encouraged to lead out of his
or her authentic self. Moreover, as soon as the paradigm is shifted from the leader to the leader–follower
dynamic, then one’s intrapersonal perspective changes
and broadens toward his or her self-knowledge, selfregulation, and self-concept as a leader as well as a follower (Hannum, 2007; Stech, 2008).
Regarding the interpersonal processes between leaders and followers, the LFT approach expands the horizon for creativity and collaboration between leaders
and follower in their authentic dyadic relationships.
Furthermore, it also increases the potential for functional exchange, mutual empowerment, and development (Dixon & Westbrook, 2003). In this case,
authenticity, as a human quality, behavior, and skill,
16 JOURNAL OF LEADERSHIP STUDIES • Volume 7 • Number 4 • DOI:10.1002/jls
exchange, a persuading and modeling style may be
used for the implementation of the LFT approach.
2. Apprehensive Avoidance = Low competency, Low
willingness. Leaders and followers may hesitate and
avoid the LFT approach. ” us it may be infeasible.
Response-change: When the leader and the follower are incompetent and unwilling for a functional exchange, a teaching and encouraging
development style may be used for the implementation of the LFT approach.
3. Inquisitive Avoidance = Low competency, High
willingness. Leaders and followers may express
interest but avoid the LFT approach. ” us it may
be feasible.
Response-change: When the leader or the follower is
incompetent but willing for a functional exchange, a
teaching and participatory development style may be
used for the implementation of the LFT approach.
4. Enthusiastic Engagement = High competency,
High willingness. Leaders and followers may be
enthusiastic and engaged in the LFT approach.
” us it is feasible.
Response-change: When the leader or the follower is
competent and willing for a functional exchange, an
empowering and delegating development style may
be used for the implementation of the LFT approach.
(1) When the leader–follower willingness is high, it is
more likely that the LFT approach will be feasible.
Conversely, when the leader–follower willingness is
low, it is more likely that the LFT approach will be
(2) When the leader–follower competency is high, it is
more likely that the LFT approach will be feasible.
Conversely, when the leader–follower competency
is low, it is more likely that the LFT approach will
be infeasible.
Conclusion and Recommendation
Leadership and followership as behavioral functions
ought to be treated mutually and studied simultaneously. ” e theoretical foundation of followership should
be studied along with the foundations of leadership in
order to understand how the relationships between the
regardless of one’s gender, ethnic, cultural, or social
identity. Moreover, leaders and followers may trade
their functions from leader to follower and from follower to leader if they are willing and capable in order
to foster interpersonal relationships, develop their
intrapersonal perspectives, and maximize mutual eff ectiveness across cultural, ethnic, and gender diversities.
” us, the study on followership in relation to leadership is not an option but a necessity.
Feasibility of the LFT Approach
Two major limitations of the LFT approach seem
evident in the areas of willingness and competencies.
First, some leaders or followers may not be willing to
exchange their roles and functions due to their personal
preferences. Second, the leaders and followers may feel
incompetent for the role and functional exchange. For
instance, it would seem unrealistic or perhaps naïve to
assume that an inexperienced leader, who lacks knowledge, skills, and expertise, may increase his or her eff ectiveness by implementing the LFT approach. Moreover,
in order for true dialogue and mutual learning to take
place between leaders and followers, the same benefi ts
and privileges, such as decision-making power, compensation, and status, must apply to both parties. ” ere
seem to be four possible variations of feasibility of the
LFT approach. ” e quadrants in Figure 1 provide feasibility stages for the applicability and implementation
of the LFT approach.
1. Resistant Avoidance = High competency, Low willingness. Leaders and followers may resist but not
avoid the LFT approach. ” us it may be infeasible.
Response-change: When the leader and the follower are competent but unwilling for a functional
Figure 1. The feasibility quadrants of the LFT approach Low Competency High
Low Willingness High
JOURNAL OF LEADERSHIP STUDIES • Volume 7 • Number 4 • DOI:10.1002/jls 17
correspondingly influences the leader. Thus the
question always remains, “Who is influencing
whom and who is leading whom?”
6. ” e relational and task behaviors are characteristic
of both leaders and followers: (1) leader–follower,
(2) follower–leader, and (3) follower–follower.
Leadership and followership are situational.
Individuals may constantly exchange their leadership and followership functions. ” e situational
exchange must be geared toward leader–follower
mutual empowerment, eff ectiveness, and growth.
7. In organizational settings, leadership and followership have traditionally been perceived as separate
roles. However, both roles may be exchangeable
based on one’s giftedness, behavioral preference,
expertise, and situational needs. ” us organizational eff ectiveness may be maximized if leaders
and followers trade their functions, roles, and
responsibilities toward developing leader–follower
skills through mutually empowering synergetic
8. ” e LFT approach is based on the mutual infl uence through both (1) change of leadership style
or behavior and (2) change of functions in order
to make leadership and followership a shared
9. The skills, inner dispositions, and followership
qualities do not come naturally. If this assumption were correct, then we would have more than
one Leo Tolstoy against social injustice and court
violence in Czarist Russia; Mahatma Gandhi against
British colonialism in India; Martin Luther King, Jr.
against segregation, discrimination, and racism in
the United States; or more than one Archbishop
Desmond Tutu against apartheid in South Africa.
” us followership along with leadership must be
taught and developed in both leaders and followers from educational institutions to work
10. If human behavioral functions, such as leading
and following, are contingent upon or shaped by
the cultural characteristics, then these behavioral
functions must be studied from leader–follower
perspective without falsely separating them into
two independent functions.
two dependent variables work. Nearly every relationship incorporates leadership and followership directly
or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously. Both functions are vital components of human interactions. ” us
societies need eff ective followers no less than they need
eff ective leaders. As Bennis puts it: “In many ways, great
followership is harder than leadership. It has more dangers and fewer rewards, and it must routinely be exercised with much more subtlety. But great followership
has never been more important.”6
Finally, more research
and study is needed in the area of leadership and followership as one discipline (Riggio et al., 2008).
” e following summary of conclusions and recommendations is made from this theoretical article:
1. Human beings are born with abilities to lead
and follow (organic leadership and followership).
Leaders and followers share common humanity
with their unique personalities and characteristics.
Subsequently both are valuable and useful human
behavioral functions.
2. In reality, one cannot claim that he or she is a leader
or a follower at all times and in all circumstances.
” us the concepts of a “leader” or a “follower” as
nouns and separate human identities do not exist
and seem rather myth. ” us the nonstatic paradigm of the LFT approach to “leading” and “following” as verbs seems more natural and authentic
to every individual regardless of their social status.
3. Leadership and followership traits and skills are
valuable human functions and cannot independently exist. Contingent upon their preferences
and circumstances, some people develop leadership
skills whereas others develop followership skills.
Both skills and abilities are attainable through education and thus deserve attention.
4. Leadership and followership are not static concepts
or behavioral functions. In one situation a person
may function as a leader and in another as a follower, or both.
5. Leadership and followership cannot occur in
a vacuum because they are defined by action
and behavior in a particular context. They
require relationship, which involves influence.
Infl uence, on the other hand, is always mutual.
As the leader infl uences the follower, the follower
18 JOURNAL OF LEADERSHIP STUDIES • Volume 7 • Number 4 • DOI:10.1002/jls
need for a holistic understanding of how one’s intrapersonal processes and interpersonal relationships aff ect
his or her leadership and followership behavior. For
this reason, further research is necessary to understand
one’s internal and external shifts that may cause one to
act as a leader in one situation or act as a follower in
another. ” is approach will perhaps facilitate the process of developing followership–leadership skills toward
holistic personal and group eff ectiveness. Additionally,
a further study may be necessary to understand how
individuals and organizations may develop competencies and a willingness to implement the LFT approach
by moving from the resistant quadrant (high competency, low willingness) to the enthusiastic quadrant
(high competency, high willingness), from the apprehensive (low competency, low willingness) to the enthusiastic, and from the acquisitive (low competency, high
willingness) to the enthusiastic quadrant as the highest
personal and organizational goal.
Leadership–Followership as Functions and Roles:
Community and Organizational Dimensions. Is it
too optimistic or naïve to think that we may see more
and more organizations function like a tango dance,
where the leader–follower relationships, influences,
and decisions are made mutually, harmoniously, and
interchangeably? On the other hand, can we foresee a
workplace where its members shift their leadership and
followership functions and roles based on their personal
preferences, strengths, competencies, and expertise
toward personal eff ectiveness and group productivity?7
To answer these and other related questions, the LFT
approach needs to be empirically tested to determine its
validity in global work environments and communities
across diverse cultural and economic systems.
1″ e static understanding of leadership is defi ned in the current article as static functions and roles leaders and followers
play in a community or an organizational context, where leaders
always remain leaders and followers always remain followers.
Conversely, the nonstatic or organic understanding of leadership
presupposes functional and role exchange, where leaders and
followers organically trade or exchange their functions
and roles in various situations based on their personal preferences and sets of skills.
11. ” e LFT approach may not be feasible for all individuals or circumstances. Individuals may not
desire to exchange their leadership or followership roles or possess the necessary competencies
for functional exchange. ” us in order for the LFT
approach to be successful on personal and organizational levels, one must acquire disposition of high
moral conscience and competency for high performance to be able to (1) acknowledge the reciprocal
benefi ts of the LFT approach for the participants,
(2) appreciate LFT’s participatory inclusiveness in
human performances, and (3) recognize its potential to treat fellow humans with respect regardless
of their leadership or followership functions or
roles in society or organizations.
” ree recommendations are proposed here for further
study and research in the areas of (1) scholarship (how
to conduct further research and study on leadership–
followership as one academic discipline), (2) a shift in
focus from a leader to a leader–follower paradigm (intrapersonal and interpersonal dimensions), and (3) making
an eff ort to apply the LFT approach to community and
organizational settings, where members of the group are
able to organically lead and follow by trading leadership
and followership functions and roles for the benefi t of
each other and the community or organization.
Integrative Scholarship. In the last 30 years or more
the followership literature emerged in leadership studies. Rather than building another pyramid of “followership literature” next to the “leadership literature,” as a
reaction to the industrial or postindustrial leadership
failures and abuse, it is time to study leadership and followership together, as “the two sides of the one coin.”
Leadership–Followership: Intrapersonal and
Interpersonal Dimensions. ” e static concept of leadership and followership (the leader is always viewed as
a leader and the follower always remains a follower) is
unreal and unnatural. Each individual, regardless of
his or her function, role, or position, follows in one
situation and leads in another, or leads and follows
at the same time. ” us there seems to be an urgent
JOURNAL OF LEADERSHIP STUDIES • Volume 7 • Number 4 • DOI:10.1002/jls 19
has resulted in the followers’ personal growth and commitment to members of the organization, its vision, as well as
organizational eff ectiveness and success.
” e LFT approach works well in my relationships with
my wife. Coming from a male dominating and masculine
society, I have learned to recognize the leadership and followership traits that my wife has. Today, I am not the only leader
of the family (although my culture and society has given me
that static role); we both are. So, organically in one situation
I lead and my wife follows, whereas in another situation she
leads and I follow.
Moreover, the LFT approach caused a paradigm shift in
my worldview and has helped me to become a better parent.
” e moment I gave away my own ego-centeredness and controlling addiction to leadership, parenting became an enjoyable adventure. Today, my wife and I are open to the ideas,
suggestions, roles, and responsibilities our daughter and son
play or the perspectives they bring into our family. ” ey are
a part of the discussion and the decision-making processes,
which allows them to lead or set the rules and at the same
time to follow the mutually established family rules. ” ey
call this relationship “fair.”
The LFT approach has transformed my own teaching,
scholarship, and community service. I have learned to value
people regardless of their social status or identity, leader or
follower, rich or poor, educated or uneducated. As a result,
people seem more authentic and trusting. In the area of
teaching, I intentionally seek advice and feedback from
my own students and often share my leadership roles and
responsibilities with them. For instance, my students take
a part in group evaluations and grading each other’s works.
They have freedom to select certain reading assignments
within the subject matter that best fi t their own intellectual
needs. I make decisions on activities, fi eld trips, or travel
with my students. As a result, they feel empowered, valued,
and appreciated. In my scholarship, the LFT approach taught
me to begin with followership. I follow people’s advice, editors’ counsel, reviewers’ critiques for publications, and seek
feedback from my colleagues. At the end, I benefi t much by
gaining wisdom and knowledge. In the area of service, the
LFT approach helped me to develop followership skills to
follow good leaders and refuse to follow toxic leaders. Often,
in my courageous followership role, leaders seek my advice
and counsel. I enjoy shifting my functions from leading to
following and from following to leading as well as trading
my roles of leadership and followership with people I live,
I have conducted a quantitative analysis of the residential
leadership programs on the bachelor’s level (53 majors and
17 minors) in the United States to learn whether or not
followership has been emphasized in the leadership curricula. Out of 200 entries in the International Leadership
Association website (
/index2.asp), 70 universities were randomly selected (26 state,
19 private, and 25 faith-affi liated universities) for analysis.
” e result of the analysis indicates that none of the 70 universities has a single course on followership or mentions followership in their course descriptions or program outcomes.
3For the James MacGregor Burns quotation, see the back
cover of Kellerman (2008).
4To understand where power comes from in the workplace,
French and Raven (1959) offer five bases of power: (1)
legitimate (a belief that a person has the right to demand
compliance and submission from others), (2) reward (one’s
ability or power to compensate another for obedience), (3)
expert (power that comes from one’s skills and knowledge
in a given area of expertise), (4) referent (power that comes
from one’s perceived attractiveness, worthiness, and earned
respect from others), and (5) coercive (ability to punish others for noncompliance).
5The LFT approach is different from that of Edwin
Hollander’s (2009) “Fair Exchange,” as a social exchange
framework. In his Inclusive Leadership, Hollander (2009),
much like in major leadership theories analyzed previously,
views leadership and followership as static concepts (leader
always stays a leader, and the follower stays always a follower): “” at is the idea of a ‘fair exchange’ in which the
leader gives things of value to followers—such as a sense of
direction, values, and recognition—and receives other things
in return—such as esteem and responsiveness—in their twoway dealings” (Hollander, 2009, p. 39).
6For the Warren Bennis quote, see the back cover of
Kellerman (2008).
7″ e LFT approach is the result of my own personal experience and encounter with individuals and organizations
(non profi t, for profi t, government, nongovernmental organizations, and education institutions) worldwide in the last
15 years of my teaching and practicing leadership and followership. It has proven to be one of the most eff ective ways
of working with diverse people across cultures for motivating them to achieve common organizational goals. My
work with young professionals nationally and internationally
has shown that a healthy leader–follower trade of functions
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