Leaders often get all the attention given their critical roles within organizations, and rightly so. They are responsible for driving change and innovation, as well as progressing the mundane day to day operations along. With all of this attention on the leaders, followers often get neglected, taken for granted even. I have experienced this for a long time, and it is not very gratifying. Particular leadership styles are more guilty of this than others, as are poor leaders who cannot effectively address the necessary needs that followers hold. Aspects of both style and situational approaches can provide guidance to leaders so they meet follower’s needs (Northouse, 2016). Failure to sufficiently support followers can lead to a lack of trust, engagement and workplace well-being (Gardner, Avolio, Luthans, May & Walumbwa, 2005).
As I have been in the Navy for nearly 8 years, I have long since felt that my personal growth needs have not been met, as they are typically not the focus of the military leader. Task accomplishment comes first before all other concerns, as there is often little time for anything else. Additionally, these leaders are trained in one fashion, unable to change based on the situation. First, the style approach, through its focus on both task accomplishment and relationship building, serve to remind leaders that both are important and each need to be sufficiently addressed (PSU WC, 2019, L. 5). It is also dependent on the individual follower, as some may need more emotional support than others (Northouse, 2016). I have worked with a wide variety of individuals, and I have seen what occurs when a leader ignores the softer side of leadership, they are ineffective. Leaders who are unconcerned or are inflexible are more prone to fail than those who are the opposite (PSU WC, 2019, L. 5).
Akin to the style approach is the situational approach. One major component of the situational approach are follower development levels. Numbered D1 through D4, each level classifies followers along a continuum requiring different leadership guidance at each state to further develop as a follower (Northouse, 2016). Different levels of commitment and/or competence determine which leadership style is appropriate (Northouse, 2016). The important takeaway is that leaders need to treat each follower differently, depending on their individual skills and motivations, to realize organizational goals. Based on my experiences, leaders who fail to do this attempt to apply the same techniques to everyone. If a leader is attempting to direct someone who is already competent in their work, supportive behaviors will suffer, thus demotivating that person to improve any further. I have personally fell victim to this problem. This will lead to additional problems if not corrected.
While the article by Gardner, Avolio, Luthans, May and Walumbwa (2005) is focused on the application of authentic leadership, which has yet to be addressed, it’s focus on the follower is still applicable to this discussion. One major benefit of leading in an open and trustworthy manner is the emphasis placed on follower’s needs as so far to modify their own concerns, matching those of their followers (Northouse, 2016). The inability of leaders to exhibit concern for their follower’s needs will demonstrate that they are not wholly concerned about their well-being or opinion, resulting in decreased trust between parties (Gardner, Avolio, Luthans, May and Walumbwa, 2005). Most important is the link to employee engagement. It is the role of a leader to provide opportunities for development and address concerns regarding “psychological safety” (Gardner et al., 2005). When these two items are not properly addressed, it can, and likely will, result in decreased motivation and organizational commitment. This has been my experience when a leader has failed to address my own needs, resulting in a cascade of subsequent negative side-effects.
It is important for leaders to meet the needs of their followers. Too often, leaders get fixated on completing tasks that they fail to take this side of leadership into consideration. The also fail to adapt to the situation, preferring to force the situation into their own concrete style. The style approach stresses the importance of both to lead effectively (Northouse, 2016). Additionally, the situational approach, through its continuum of follower development, demonstrates the importance of tailoring a leader’s approach to suit individual followers as opposed to a one size fits all approach (Northouse, 2016). If these needs are sufficiently met and leaders acknowledge the necessity to ensure proper follower development, increased trust and workplace well-being can result, leading to more engaged employees and proper follower development throughout their career (Gardner, Avolio, Luthans, May and Walumbwa, 2005).
Gardner, W. L., Avolio, B. J., Luthans, F., May, D. R.& Walumbwa, F. (2005). “Can you see the real me?” A self-based model of authentic leader and follower development. The Leadership Quarterly, 16(3), 343-372. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.leaqua.2005.03.003
Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Pennsylvania State University World Campus. (2019). PSYCH 485 Lesson 5: Style and situational approaches. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1985970/modules/items/26589480