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Trevor E. S. Smith | The leader-follower divide is widening

Published:Sunday | March 11, 2018 | 12:00 AMTrevor E. S. Smith

Today's leaders face unique challenges, some of which threaten the very existence of their organisations.

The follower group is increasingly diverse demographically, impacting demands and needs. Leaders strive to bring new approaches to the process. Followers struggle to stay engaged.

Think of a bus ride as we examine some of the issues.


I. Destination versus Influence


The leader is focused on their chosen destination. The follower wants to be consulted about the destination and how and when to get there.


Leader Influence


One difficult issue is determining how much influence the executive leader should have on the organisation.

Many organisations take on the persona of the leader and reflect his/her interest. In the case of Steve Jobs at Apple, his experience worked in the interest of the business.

However, how many organisations can claim extraordinary levels of success that can be attributed to the impact of the leader?

Weighing up the role of leader influence is challenging.

Leaders must exert their influence. The concept of a custodian-type leader is not feasible in an environment in which an upstart or well-heeled competitor can totally disrupt entire industries. Think Amazon on bookstore ownership.

Leaders need to stamp their influence on the organisation. The question is, where does that stop? When should the follower community step in to provide balance, correct course and fine-tune direction?

How does a destination-focused leadership comfortably ride with an informed and activist followership?

This is a compelling discourse that is often avoided but is important in guiding the organisation on its path to the next level.


Follower Dilemma


A follower may be torn between committing to supporting the initiatives of the leader and fashioning alternative paths to achieving breakthroughs for the organisation. These alternatives may be totally valid strategies but not fully aligned with the leader's strategic plan.

At what point does active pursuit of those alternatives become an act of disloyalty?

Would a follower who shelves alternative strategies be acting in the best interest of the organisation?

How does a committed follower find the right balance between loyalty to a leader and the pursuit of actions that are in the best interest of the organisation?

In an ideal world, an environment will be created in which both approaches are appropriately accommodated. However, wide rifts in leadership and management ranks exist in many organisations.

Worse yet, the divisions extend to team members across the organisation. In such instances, internal competition, conflict and a lack of cooperation combine to limit the development of the organisation.


Cost versus Experience


The leader is focused on the most cost-effective way of getting the bus to the destination. Followers are focused on the experience of the journey and the satisfaction that comes from it.


II. Coterminal Solution


Adopting a transformational approach to leadership helps to provide a successful bus ride for leader and follower. Extracts from the Transformational Leadership Model (Alimo-Metcalfe & Alban-Metcalfe, 2004) provide guidance for leaders.

Showing genuine concern: Shows genuine interest in staff as individuals; values their contributions; develops their strengths; coaches, mentors; has positive expectations of what their staff can achieve.

Enabling: Trusts staff to take decisions/initiatives on important matters; delegates effectively; develops staff's potential.

Being accessible: Is approachable and not status-conscious; prefers face-to-face communication; is accessible and keeps in touch.

Encouraging change: Encourages questioning traditional approaches to the job; encourages new approaches/solutions to problems; encourages strategic thinking.

Being honest and consistent: Is honest and consistent in behaviour; is more concerned with the good of the organisation than personal ambition.

Acting with integrity: Is open to criticism and disagreement; consults and involves others in decision-making; regards values as integral to the organisation.

Being decisive; risk-taking: Is decisive when required; takes difficult decisions and risks when appropriate.

Inspiring others: Is a charismatic and exceptional communicator; inspires others to join them.

Resolving complex problems: Has capacity to deal with a wide range of complex issues; is creative in problem-solving

Networking and achieving: Inspires communication of the vision of the organisation/service to a wide network of internal and external stakeholders; gains the confidence and support of various groups through sensitivity to needs, and by achieving organisational goals.

Focusing team effort: Clarifies objectives and boundaries; is team-oriented to problem-solving and decision-making, and to identifying values.

Building shared vision: Has a clear vision and strategic direction, in which e or she engages various internal and external stakeholders in developing; draws others together in achieving the vision.

Supporting a developmental culture: Is supportive when mistakes are made; encourages critical feedback of him or herself and the service provided.

Facilitating change sensitively: Is sensitive to the impact of change on different parts of the organisation; maintains a balance between change and stability.




The Breakthrough Boot Camp And Mentoring Programme is now open for participation. Find answers to leader/follower challenges.

Conflict Avoidance And Management Personal Development Public Workshop series continues on Sunday, March 25, at 6 p.m. at the St Andrew Church of Christ, 77 Red Hills Road. Facilitators: AndrÈ Allen-Casey and Trevor Smith. No charge.

- Trevor E. S. Smith and the Success with People Academy team prepare and certify leadership professionals and coach/mentors and develop high-performing teams. Hire smart with their recruitment solutions. Now enrolling for the next cohort of the ICF/SHRM-accredited Certified Behavioural Coach programme. Email: