Relationship Between Leader-Centered and Follower-Centered Leadership

Subject: Leadership Styles
Pages: 10
Words: 2723
Reading time:
12 min
Study level: PhD


Organizational performance and the success of maintained operations depend greatly on the way leaders control and direct their employees. In this framework, there are two major styles of leadership: leader-centered and follower-centered leadership. These two styles tend to differ in their focuses, goals, and achievement methods.

Today, most attention is usually paid to those who lead, and scientists rarely discuss their followers, the people who act as subordinates and who “have less power, authority, and influence than do their superiors, and who therefore usually, but not invariably, fall into line” (Kellerman, 2008, p. 213). The majority of individuals who work in any organization are representatives of this group of followers; leaders, on the other hand, are not and can affect organizational performance greatly. In the framework of all these leadership styles, a person in charge appears as either a successful or a poor leader depending on the way he or she interacts with followers and achieves desired goals (Monin & Bathurst, 2008). Scholars, including Kelley and Kellerman, believe that the most critical aspect of effective leadership is the building of mutual trust, on the basis of which the employees develop the ability to follow the leader actively (Martin, 2015).

This act of following the leader is known as followership, a skill that is similar to leadership but appears on the opposite side of the spectrum of leader-follower interaction (Baker, 2007). Effective leadership is impossible without decent followership because its absence can cause constant resistance to following orders (Hoption, 2014). As a result, organizational performance can also be adversely affected. The followers’ intentions to leave may depend on their satisfaction with the leadership or other organizational features. When the turnover rate is too high, the company may lack efficient employees and face issues with performance. Employee engagement ensures that the workers have mutual goals and value organizational purposes. Thus, they support the leader and do their best to reach the shared objectives. Employee creativity and innovation can be encouraged or limited by the leader. Depending on the leadership style, the company is likely to either remain stagnant on the same level or implement new ideas to enhance its competitiveness.

Thus, taking into consideration the discussed influences, this paper aims to answer the question of whether or not followership mediates the relationship between leader-centered and follower-centered leadership and organizational performance. The paper strives to prove that 1) followership mediates the relationship between leader-centered styles and organizational performance and 2) followership mediates the relationship between follower-centered styles and organizational performance.

Literature Review

Followership is as critical for every organization as leadership is. In fact, it may be even more essential because it creates the basis on which the leader operates and the organization develops. Yung and Tsai (2013) state that followership is “a collaborative leadership [that] is an influence relationship among leaders and collaborators who intend significant changes that reflect their mutual interests” (p. 49). Decent followership can ensure a high level of organizational performance, sound decision-making, increased motivation, and enthusiasm to work. Followers are likely to value loyalty, honesty, and synergy.

Scholars discuss two main types of followership (Yung & Tsai, 2013). Active followership presupposes the possibility to be involved in decision-making processes and other critical parts of organizational operations. Passive followership, on the other hand, presupposes total control of all processes by the leader; followers remain unable to interfere with this (Blanchard, Welbourne, Gilmore, & Bullock, 2009). Robert Kelley, Ira Chaleff, and Barbara Kellerman are “recognized as pioneers in the field of followership, and their recent contributions have created the foundation for further study” (Gallant, 2011, p. 1). They each developed unique follower models: Kelley paid attention to one’s behavior in an organization, Chaleff focused on followers’ courage in the workplace, and Kellerman discussed their relationship to leaders (Kelley, 2008). In the same framework, Thach, Thompson, and Morris (2006) defined four main types of followers:

  • Alienated followers. These are employees who have a rather skeptical approach regarding the company. They are able to perform their duties decently but are not willing to do so.
  • Conformist followers. These active workers are always ready to participate in operations and meet the leader’s demands.
  • Passive followers. These employees are ready follow their leaders providing to innovative or creative ideas, considering that it is not significant.
  • Exemplary followers. These are independent people who can control various organizational processes and can question decisions made by the leader if they consider them to be unsatisfactory.

Follower behavior, which refers to these types, presupposes particular feedback from the leadership. For their cooperation to be effective and to avoid misunderstandings, passive followers should cooperate with individuals who utilize leader-centered styles.

The relationship between followers and leaders can be biased due to particular beliefs (Carsten & Uhl-Bien, 2013; Parry & Kempster, 2014). For example, the romance of leadership is a recognized phenomenon in which “the faithful belief in leadership is itself beneficial in providing a sense of comfort and security, in reducing feelings of uncertainty, and in providing a sense of human agency and control” (Bligh, Kohles, & Pillai, 2011, p. 1059). It can be beneficial due to the establishment of trust-based relationships but can also cause organizational issues due to a lack of innovation (Schyns, 2014).

Leadership is critical for every organization because it defines the way the employees perform their duties and influences the performance of the whole firm (Leroy, Anseel, Gardner & Sels, 2015). Generally, leadership is divided into two categories, which have opposing methods of reaching goals. Leader-centered styles focus on the individual in charge, and progress is obtained through one’s “self-realization and self-projection” (Maslennikova, 2007, par. 4). As a rule, this type of leadership style is used in the companies where hierarchy and authority are valued and questions are generally discouraged. This group of styles includes authoritarian leadership, which represents the leader as an expert who is responsible for achieving success. The leader has absolute power over the employees and uses it to make decisions independently and then to provide the followers with instructions and tasks they need to accomplish. Transactional leaders are also those whom the staff obeys. They believe that employees are to focus on their duties; they should follow orders and meet the leader’s expectations. Decent results can receive appreciation from the leader, while poor ones bring about some form of punishment. A charismatic leader interacts with his or her followers but believes in his or her own abilities when reaching for success, thinking that they are better than those of the followers. Such people tend to attract and inspire others even though they are highly concerned about personal image.

The group of follower-centered styles, on the other hand, place emphasis on the employees and their development. The companies where they are used usually have a flat structure, which presupposes employee equality and involvement. In this framework, participative leaders provide all employees with the opportunity to take part in decision-making and rely on their abilities (Kim & Schachter, 2015). Moreover, these leaders involve the followers in problem-solving and refer to their feedback. Still, the final decision is always made by the leader who thoroughly considers staff input. Such leaders realize that one person cannot be an expert in all spheres, so they cooperate with their employees, motivating them to achieve more and become leaders themselves.

In this way, they pay much attention to employee development. Another type of leader, servant leaders share their values with their staff members in order for them to reach success. Personal achievements are not as significant for these people. They investigate the followers’ needs and try to create a positive environment in which these needs can be met. In this way, the leaders tend to serve as facilitators who help other reach their full potential. Under this leadership style, the followers are very involved in the organizational processes. They are respected and motivated to achieve organizational success. Lastly, transformational leaders build trust-based relations with the employees to lead them by personal example. As a result, they share their attitudes about the operations and have a particular vision of the organizational future that they aim to achieve. They transform the followers by involving them in all organizational processes.

Overall organizational performance depends on both the leadership and followership greatly (Emrich, 1999). For example, if employees are dissatisfied with their jobs, they are more likely to change them. In this way, with ineffective leadership, personnel turnover increases greatly. As a result, the company may lack experienced workers, which can lead to further complications and the inability to maintain everyday operations. Creativity and innovation are also critical in this framework because passive workers are not likely to use these talents even if they have such an opportunity. Their unwillingness to contribute to these efforts can adversely affect the company’s performance and its competitiveness.

The concept of implicit followership was discussed by numerous researchers including Martin (2015) who defined them as one’s personal considerations regarding the characteristics and behaviors that are used to characterize the employees. Such theories are based on the prototypes of the particular category that can be applied to its representatives. In this way, real behaviors are compared with expected ones, and thus an impression regarding the individual is created. Implicit followership theories are connected with follower and leader outcomes, as they consider relations between these parties (Delbecq, House, Luque, & Quigley, 2013). The followership prototype deals with positive outcomes, while its antiprototypes deal with negative ones. Being unutilized in the organizational framework, this theory considers the way leaders evaluate the personnel. They can consider whether the employees have the required potential, which can fit their prototype or not. In the same way, Lakshman and Estay (2016); Schyns and Schilling (2011); Verlage, Rowold, and Schilling, (2012); and Rogelberg (2006) paid attention to the implicit leadership theory, which deals with those characteristics and behaviors that are used to describe the category and prototype of a leader with the emphasis on one’s attributions.

Leaders’ implicit followership theories include vital elements known as prototypes (Bullough & Luque, 2015; Ford & Harding, 2015). These are “abstract, composite mental representations for particular cognitive categories” (Whiteley, Sy, & Johnson, 2012, p. 824). They were developed in accordance to the theory created by Eleanor Rosch. Festekjian, Tram, Murray, Sy, and Huynh (2014) state that leaders can consider those prototypes that describe how ideal followers should look and act, as well as the central tendency prototypes, which show the ordinary real follower. These prototypes primarily involve six dimensions: “industry, enthusiasm, good citizen, conformity, insubordination, and incompetence” (Whiteley, Sy, & Johnson, 2012, p. 824). Each dimension can be represented by positive and negative prototypes of followers. Popper (2015) considers this theory to be easier and more convenient to use because it discusses fewer features than other similar theories while still keeping enough information to create a useful categorization scheme. According to Schyns and Schilling (2011), this theory claims that followers classify their leaders, comparing them with prototypes of a category, while at the same time, the leaders classify their followers on the same basis.

The influence provided by leaders on followers is undeniable. Even their expectations towards the way the workers should perform their duties can be very influential (Russel, 2003). Known as the Pygmalion effect, this connection can greatly change organizational outcomes (Whiteley, Sy, & Johnson, 2012). This effect is a self-fulfilling prophecy that reveals the power of social phenomenon, as the way the leader sees the workers operate affects their actual performance. As a rule, leaders’ implicit followership theories mainly have particular concepts of followers. Thus, the expectations that leaders have are often connected to the specific situation that the company is currently experiencing or to the characteristics that the employees already have.

In order to ensure that what the leader communicates to the followers and what the leader does have an influence on follower performance, a leadership membership exchange can be maintained (Haslam & Platow, 2016). Martin (2015) mentions that this model is rather beneficial because it provides an opportunity to define the main concepts of effective leadership and followership.


This research will be conducted as a quantitative study, which is generally considered to be more authoritative, objective, and valuable then a qualitative one. It will turn the information received from the participants into numerical data, which will then be discussed statistically. Thus, there will be an opportunity to generalize results and make them useful not only in this specific sample’s framework.

The information required for this research will be gathered with the help of a questionnaire. A list of questions will be developed to inquire about the role of followership and its influence on the organization. Such a tool is rather effective because it allows the researcher to gather a lot of information in a short period of time. Moreover, it is cost-effective, which is a great advantage considering the absence of external funding for this research. The least-preferred coworker questionnaire will be used to measure the way people are treated. It will reveal one’s leadership style, showing whether this person is relationship- or task-orientated. Then Kelley’s questionnaire will be used to pay attention to the opposite aspect and discuss followership style. The bi-polar organizational performance scales that are a part of a Korean questionnaire on the impact of organizational learning and innovations on performance will be used for the organizational performance variables (Questionnaire Korea 2008).

The information obtained during the research will be analyzed and measured with the help of statistical techniques. Structural equation modeling (SEM) will be used to confirm that followership really serves as a mediator between leader-centered and follower-centered leadership and organizational performance.

The selected questionnaires will provide an opportunity to obtain all information related to the research problem, including leadership, followership, and organizational performance. The measuring instrument allows the researcher to see the connection between these variables and not just to describe them but to confirm or refute the hypothesis of followership being a mediating factor. These methods are valid and reliable, as they undoubtedly refer to the discussed area, provide statistically significant results, and meet the standards for the scientific research method.

The participants for the study will represent the personnel of ABC organization. They will be selected through the snowball sampling method. In this way, several managers and employees who are willing to assist and are interested in the research will be approached first and then asked to reach out to other individuals as well. This purposive sampling method will ensure that the sample includes both leaders and followers so the data obtained is relevant and useful. There will be no exclusions regarding people’s individual characteristics, such as race, age, or gender.

The study will be carried out in several defined steps. First of all, all needed materials will be obtained, such as questionnaire forms (three days). Then the representative of the management team will be approached (one day). Further, the questionnaire will be extended to other leaders and followers who will then assist in finding new participants (four days). They will fill out the form and hand it in. The results will be measured and analyzed (two days and three days, respectively). Then, they will be interpreted in the framework of ABC organization and generalized (two days). Finally, the conclusion that clearly states whether the hypothesis was correct will be made (one day).


Thus, this study will be completed to find out the connection between leadership, followership, and organizational performance. In particular, it will focus on the influence of followership on the relationship between leader-centered and follower-centered leadership and organizational performance. The research will answer the question of whether followership mediates these factors or not. This will be a quantitative research, the information for which will be obtained with the help of the least-preferred coworker scale, Kelley’s followership questionnaire, and bi-polar organizational performance scales. Results will be analyzed using SEM.

The study will help ABC organization and other companies discover how organizational performance issues are connected with leadership and triggered by followership. It will also identify opportunities for improvement in the same framework. This study will attract attention to the important role that followers have in any organization, which is critical because the emphasis is currently placed only on the leaders, even though the number of followers is much higher and potentially has a much greater influence on company performance overall.


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