Once upon a time in a land not so far away lived an Air Force officer who thought very highly of himself. He thought of himself so highly he regularly described how he was a visionary, placing himself next to the likes of General Billy Mitchell, the father of the modern day Air Force, or even the likes of Steve Jobs. In his world, he was king and the plebes around him were there simply to do his bidding. Unfortunately for the king, vision is meaningless without forethought to planning, legality or the constraint of resources. He paid little attention to those areas because it was beneath him. Obviously, that’s what the plebes were for. His responsibility started and ended at concocting wild visions and then expecting the plebes around him to figure out the details. He set expectations at unachievable levels and went so far as to dismiss any need to motivate the plebes or help them understand how his vision aligned with their primary job responsibilities.
It was within this kingdom, which was not that far away, that the king’s conduct placed himself and all of his plebes in assorted outgroups. By outgroup, I am referencing Leader-Member Exchange Theory, which centers on the dyadic, shared, relationship between followers and their leaders (Northouse, 2016, p. 137). Basically, a healthy relationship between followers and a leader results in an in-group, where both parties contribute more than what is expected. Out-groups on the other hand are unhealthy and result in bare-minimums. In the king’s case, he unwittingly cultivated a garden of toxic relationships around him and didn’t have the intellectual or introspective capacities to denote there was an issue. I have modified Figure 7.4 “In Groups and Out-Groups”, to the right, to demonstrate the phenomenon (Northouse, 2016, p. 140). To complicate this, the military is inherently authoritarian so the plebes were less apt to be forthright and honest with the king, from the get-go, let alone under such heavy hands. So to the king, he was a genius, professing the greatness and grandeur of his visions, but to the plebes, they thought he was a lunatic with little care for their wellbeing or even the wellbeing of the village they tended daily. The result? Every plebe in the village tended only to their specific task. While Northouse (2016) said “followers in the out-group are less compatible with their leader and usually just come to work, do their job, and go home” (p. 139), I contend that it is entirely possible for the leader (or king) to be less compatible with their followers as well, resulting in absolute havoc for the organization.
One of the less entertaining aspects of this toxic environment was how the plebes perceived the king’s primary motivator to be self-interest. He wanted his superiors to understand he was a genius. To accomplish this feat, a normal king would utilize the power of leadership making, which promotes the dire need to build positive relationships with plebes and throughout the organization as a whole, (Northouse, 2016, p. 142). As Northouse continues to explain, the strength of these relationships grow over time. Kings and plebes start out as strangers and over time build trust and understanding, and ultimately ends in a mature partnership – key word, partnership (Northouse, 2016, p. 143). Unfortunately for this king, he failed to understand any of this and achieve any of his visions. Ultimately, he was removed and replaced by a new king.
Day one of the new king’s reign started with listening, respect, and appreciation of the followers. While they were all strangers, the followers noted how the new king was pleasant, trusting, cooperative, and even agreeable. Northouse (2016) happened to reference all of these traits as keys to formulating positive leader-member relationships in the very beginning (p. 142). “Is he a leader? Does he really value us?” The followers asked themselves in regard to this new king. The fired king cut them so deeply that it took a minute for them to awaken to the idea that there are still leaders in the world. The new king started to ask for input on current processes and even asked the followers for their ideas on how to improve things. Northouse describes this as the second phase of leadership making – the “acquaintance phase”. The followers took a risk, and told the new king the staff meeting was horribly disorganized and how they feel it was simply an instrument of organizational micromanagement. Instantly the new king followed their advice, changed the construction of the meeting, and the followers knew they had a leader.
As time wore on and the leader continued to trust and listen to the followers and set achievable organizational goals within the constraints of the follower’s job responsibilities, the followers started to want to move past those responsibilities and contribute in more ways to the organization. Northouse (2016) explains this as phase three of leadership making – mature partnerships (p. 143). The key is that these positive relationships weren’t simply dyadic in nature between the leader and each follower, but between the followers as well. The positive nature of the relationships took root within the organization as a whole. The strength of these roots allowed the organization to grow together and achieve milestones the fired king desired but was never able to achieve – because he never realized the success of the organization laid not within himself, but within the positive exchanges welled within the followers he only considered plebes.
Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership: theory and practice (7th ed.). Los Angeles: SAGE Publications.
Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2017). PSYCH 485 Lesson 8: Leader-Member Exchange Theory (LMX). Retrieved October 14, 2017 from https://goo.gl/VPzNYc