Leadership and followership presentation: section 1

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Note: This presentation is divided into three sections. This week, you will complete and submit Section 1. You will submit Section 2 in Week 5 and in Week 6 you will submit the completed presentation and script, which includes Section 3. 

An important part of mastering any topic in social science (and leadership is such a topic) is being able to evaluate how and why an observed practice, or set of witnessed behaviors and interactions among people, led to intended outcomes or not. The key to your evaluation will be to use relevant, documented best practices and theoretical frameworks about leadership and followership to support your evaluations. For example, it is one thing to have an opinion about why someone is an effective leader; it is quite another to be able to explain how and why they are effective, using leadership knowledge to support your reasoning.

During the next 3 weeks, you will develop and formalize a presentation based on the following scenario:

You have been asked by your manager to present at this year’s annual Dynamic Leadership conference. The subject of your presentation is on followership and how it contributes to effective leadership in a business context.
The basic outline for this presentation will include three sections:
Section 1: Followership Defined
Section 2: The Leader-Follower Interaction
Section 3: Traits of Leadership and Followership

In each of the next 3 weeks, you will complete and submit one section of the presentation. Each section will include not only the slides for the presentation but a completed speaker notes section that will serve as the script for your presentation. For the final presentation, due in Week 6, you will need to provide the completed PowerPoint slide deck (with script for all three sections). The total presentation is scheduled to be 30 minutes in length. (Note: You will not actually be giving the presentation.) The PowerPoint deck should be professional looking and follow the template you have been provided for this Assignment. 

For this week’s Assignment, you will begin by completing Section 1 of the PowerPoint presentation. In addition to the slide content, you will also need to include text in the speaker notes section of each slide that would serve as the script you would use to deliver this presentation to a group of people. As you prepare your presentation and script, be sure to cover all items outlined for Section 1, including the incorporation of references to appropriate academic sources, such as those found in the Learning Resources or those in the Walden Library.


Submit Section 1 of your presentation and script. Be sure you are fully addressing the following in 3–5 slides, excluding references:

Section 1: Followership Defined

  • Identify the qualities and behaviors of followers who contribute to the success of an organization.
  • Using at least one example from your professional life, analyze how leaders can draw value from their followers.
  • Summarize the responsibilities of followers in an age in which the complexities of leadership and pace of change are ever increasing.

Refer to the Week 4 Assignment Rubric for specific grading elements and criteria. Your Instructor will use this grading rubric to assess your work.



3Copyright © 2006 by Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

e are all followers. While

we may prefer to focus on

our roles as leaders

within our organizations, almost all

of us have a role in “following” some-

one else as well. The irony is that

when we lose sight of this, we dimin-

ish our leadership effectiveness.

Why? Simply put, the qualities of

great followers share much in com-

mon with those of great leaders.

With that in mind, it’s never a bad

idea to brush up on your followership

skills, no matter where on the org

chart you sit. Here’s what to do:

1.Be honest
But be sure you do it in a way that

doesn’t embarrass or blame. Con-

sider when to share your opinion in

public and when to share it in private.

Telling the truth in a manner that

does not result in a loss of credibility

for your boss is likely to increase your


2.Be supportive
Your job is to make your boss and

your organization more successful. If

your boss has missed something

important, you should bring it to his

attention or take care of it yourself—

and do so discreetly, as stated above.

When you take the initiative to be

supportive, you win your boss’s trust

and boost your chances of gaining

access to his inner circle. This, in turn,

makes you more visible and more

valuable, and positions you for greater

leadership responsibilities yourself.

3.Be reliable
When people can count on you, you

become an asset to them, the organi-

zation, and to yourself—especially

when it comes to handling duties

outside the confines of your job

description. Doing what needs to be

done instead of avoiding or ignoring

it because it’s not your responsibility

shows you understand and work

toward the bigger picture—a key

characteristic of effective leaders.

4.Always seek the big picture
Working with the big picture firmly

in focus not only will help others see

you as a leader, but it will also help

you be a better follower. When the

boss’s actions or decisions appear

unreasonable or inappropriate,

remember that you may see only part

of the picture that she sees. Instead of

assuming your boss is wrong, seek

information that will help you put

her actions into context. The better

you understand the big picture, the

better advocate you can be for the

things that are important to you.

5.Ask good questions
When you ask constructive ques-

tions, you’re helping your boss slow

down and reflect on decisions. The

key here is to frame your questions

thoughtfully. If you make it clear that

you are not questioning your boss’s

capabilities to make good decisions

but, rather, your aim is to help him

obtain the best possible outcome,

your efforts will be appreciated and


By employing this competency as

a follower, you are acting as a leader.

You are modeling for colleagues and

direct reports one of the most effec-

tive tools available to any leader: the

ability to ask good questions.

6.Be aware of your own
Being aware of how your own

assumptions affect every situation is

one of the most important traits of

good followers and influential lead-

ers. Instead of assuming you under-

stand your boss’s motives, ask. You

may find you are mistaken and learn

something significant in the process.

Achieving awareness of your own

assumptions or mental models can give

you more personal power (and satis-

faction) than any combination of the

other traits discussed in this article. �

Chris Musselwhite is the author of

Dangerous Opportunity: Making Change

Work (Xlibris Corp., 2004) and the CEO and

founder of Discovery Learning Inc., based in

Greensboro, N.C. He can be reached at

[email protected].


Why Great Followers
Make the Best Leaders

by Chris Musselwhite

The better you

understand the big

picture, the better

advocate you can be

for the things that are

important to you.

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In Praise of Followers

by Robert E. Kelley

Reprint 88606

Harvard Business Review

This document is authorized for use only by Yaina Delgado in Dynamic Leadership-Summer 2023 at Walden University (Canvas), 2023.

We are convinced that corporations succeed or
fail, compete or crumble, on the basis of how well
they are led. So we study great leaders of the past
and present and spend vast quantities of time and
money looking for leaders to hire and trying to cul-
tivate leadership in the employees we already have.

I have no argument with this enthusiasm. Lead-
ers matter greatly. But in searching so zealously for
better leaders we tend to lose sight of the people
these leaders will lead. Without his armies, after
all, Napoleon was just a man with grandiose ambi-
tions. Organizations stand or fall partly on the basis
of how well their leaders lead, but partly also on the
basis of how well their followers follow.

In 1987, declining profitability and intensified
competition for corporate clients forced a large
commercial bank on the east coast to reorganize its
operations and cut its work force. Its most sea-
soned managers had to spend most of their time in
the field working with corporate customers. Time
and energies were stretched so thin that one de-
partment head decided he had no choice but to del-
egate the responsibility for reorganization to his

staff people, who had recently had training in self-

Despite grave doubts, the department head set
them up as a unit without a leader, responsible to
one another and to the bank as a whole for writing
their own job descriptions, designing a training pro-
gram, determining criteria for performance evalua-
tions, planning for operational needs, and helping
to achieve overall organizational objectives.

They pulled it off. The bank’s officers were de-
lighted and frankly amazed that rank-and-file em-
ployees could assume so much responsibility so
successfully. In fact, the department’s capacity to
control and direct itself virtually without leader-
ship saved the organization months of turmoil, and

Copyright © 1988 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW November-December 1988

Robert E. Kelley teaches at the Graduate School of In-
dustrial Administration, Carnegie Mellon University.
He is the author of Gold-Collar Worker: Harnessing the
Brainpower of the New Work Force (Addison-Wesley,
1985) and Consulting: The Complete Guide to a Prof-
itable Career (Scribner, rev. ed., 1986). The material in
this article is drawn from a book in progress, Follower-
ship–Leadership–Partnership. This is his second article
for HBR.

Not all corporate success is due to leadership…

In Praise of Followers
by Robert E. Kelley

This document is authorized for use only by Yaina Delgado in Dynamic Leadership-Summer 2023 at Walden University (Canvas), 2023.

as the bank struggled to remain a major player in its
region, valuable management time was freed up to
put out other fires.

What was it these singular employees did? Given
a goal and parameters, they went where most de-
partments could only have gone under the hands-
on guidance of an effective leader. But these em-
ployees accepted the delegation of authority and
went there alone. They thought for themselves,
sharpened their skills, focused their efforts, put on a
fine display of grit and spunk and self-control. They
followed effectively.

To encourage this kind of effective following in
other organizations, we need to understand the na-
ture of the follower’s role. To cultivate good follow-
ers, we need to understand the human qualities
that allow effective followership to occur.

The Role of Follower
Bosses are not necessarily good leaders; subordi-

nates are not necessarily effective followers. Many
bosses couldn’t lead a horse to water. Many subor-
dinates couldn’t follow a parade. Some people avoid
either role. Others accept the role thrust upon them
and perform it badly.

At different points in their careers, even at differ-
ent times of the working day, most managers play
both roles, though seldom equally well. After all,
the leadership role has the glamour and attention.
We take courses to learn it, and when we play it
well we get applause and recognition. But the reali-
ty is that most of us are more often followers than
leaders. Even when we have subordinates, we still
have bosses. For every committee we chair, we sit
as a member on several others.

So followership dominates our lives and organi-
zations, but not our thinking, because our preoc-

cupation with leadership keeps us from consider-
ing the nature and the importance of the follower.

What distinguishes an effective from an ineffec-
tive follower is enthusiastic, intelligent, and self-
reliant participation – without star billing – in the
pursuit of an organizational goal. Effective follow-
ers differ in their motivations for following and in
their perceptions of the role. Some choose follower-
ship as their primary role at work and serve as team
players who take satisfaction in helping to further a
cause, an idea, a product, a service, or, more rarely, a
person. Others are leaders in some situations but
choose the follower role in a particular context.
Both these groups view the role of follower as legiti-
mate, inherently valuable, even virtuous.

Some potentially effective followers derive moti-
vation from ambition. By proving themselves in the
follower’s role, they hope to win the confidence of
peers and superiors and move up the corporate lad-
der. These people do not see followership as attrac-
tive in itself. All the same, they can become good
followers if they accept the value of learning the
role, studying leaders from a subordinate’s perspec-
tive, and polishing the followership skills that will
always stand them in good stead.

Understanding motivations and perceptions is
not enough, however. Since followers with different
motivations can perform equally well, I examined
the behavior that leads to effective and less effective
following among people committed to the organiza-
tion and came up with two underlying behavioral
dimensions that help to explain the difference.

One dimension measures to what degree follow-
ers exercise independent, critical thinking. The oth-
er ranks them on a passive/active scale. The result-
ing diagram identifies five followership patterns.

Sheep are passive and uncritical, lacking in initia-
tive and sense of responsibility. They perform the
tasks given them and stop. Yes People are a livelier
but equally unenterprising group. Dependent on a
leader for inspiration, they can be aggressively defer-
ential, even servile. Bosses weak in judgment and
self-confidence tend to like them and to form al-
liances with them that can stultify the organization.

Alienated Followers are critical and independent
in their thinking but passive in carrying out their
role. Somehow, sometime, something turned them
off. Often cynical, they tend to sink gradually into
disgruntled acquiescence, seldom openly opposing
a leader’s efforts. In the very center of the diagram
we have Survivors, who perpetually sample the
wind and live by the slogan “better safe than sorry.”
They are adept at surviving change.

In the upper right-hand corner, finally, we have
Effective Followers, who think for themselves and

This document is authorized for use only by Yaina Delgado in Dynamic Leadership-Summer 2023 at Walden University (Canvas), 2023.

carry out their duties and assignments with energy
and assertiveness. Because they are risk takers, self-
starters, and independent problem solvers, they get
consistently high ratings from peers and many su-
periors. Followership of this kind can be a positive
and acceptable choice for parts or all of our lives – a
source of pride and fulfillment.

Effective followers are well-balanced and respon-
sible adults who can succeed without strong leader-
ship. Many followers believe they offer as much
value to the organization as leaders do, especially in
project or task-force situations. In an organization
of effective followers, a leader tends to be more an
overseer of change and progress than a hero. As or-
ganizational structures flatten, the quality of those
who follow will become more and more important.
As Chester I. Barnard wrote 50 years ago in The
Functions of the Executive, “The decision as to
whether an order has authority or not lies with the
person to whom it is addressed, and does not reside
in ‘persons of authority’ or those who issue orders.”

The Qualities of Followers
Effective followers share a number of essential

1. They manage themselves well.
2. They are committed to the organization and to

a purpose, principle, or person outside themselves.
3. They build their competence and focus their

efforts for maximum impact.
4. They are courageous, honest, and credible.

Self-Management. Paradoxically, the key to being
an effective follower is the ability to think for one-
self – to exercise control and independence and to
work without close supervision. Good followers are
people to whom a leader can safely delegate respon-
sibility, people who anticipate needs at their own
level of competence and authority.

Another aspect of this paradox is
that effective followers see them-
selves – except in terms of line re-
sponsibility – as the equals of the
leaders they follow. They are more
apt to openly and unapologetically
disagree with leadership and less
likely to be intimidated by hierarchy
and organizational structure. At the same time,
they can see that the people they follow are, in turn,
following the lead of others, and they try to appreci-
ate the goals and needs of the team and the organi-
zation. Ineffective followers, on the other hand, buy
into the hierarchy and, seeing themselves as sub-
servient, vacillate between despair over their seem-

ing powerlessness and attempts to manipulate lead-
ers for their own purposes. Either their fear of pow-
erlessness becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy – for
themselves and often for their work units as well –
or their resentment leads them to undermine the
team’s goals.

Self-managed followers give their organizations a
significant cost advantage because they eliminate
much of the need for elaborate supervisory control
systems that, in any case, often lower morale. In
1985, a large midwestern bank redesigned its person-
nel selection system to attract self-managed work-
ers. Those conducting interviews began to look for
particular types of experience and capacities – initia-
tive, teamwork, independent thinking of all kinds –
and the bank revamped its orientation program to
emphasize self-management. At the executive level,
role playing was introduced into the interview pro-
cess: how you disagree with your boss, how you pri-
oritize your in-basket after a vacation. In the three
years since, employee turnover has dropped dramati-
cally, the need for supervisors has decreased, and
administrative costs have gone down.

Of course not all leaders and managers like hav-
ing self-managing subordinates. Some would rather
have sheep or yes people. The best that good follow-
ers can do in this situation is to protect themselves
with a little career self-management – that is, to
stay attractive in the marketplace. The qualities
that make a good follower are too much in demand
to go begging for long.

Commitment. Effective followers are committed
to something – a cause, a product, an organization,
an idea – in addition to the care of their own lives
and careers. Some leaders misinterpret this com-
mitment. Seeing their authority acknowledged,
they mistake loyalty to a goal for loyalty to them-
selves. But the fact is that many effective followers

see leaders merely as coadventurers on a worthy
crusade, and if they suspect their leader of flagging
commitment or conflicting motives they may just
withdraw their support, either by changing jobs or
by contriving to change leaders.

The opportunities and the dangers posed by this
kind of commitment are not hard to see. On the one


4 HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW November-December 1988

Self-confident followers
see colleagues as allies and

leaders as equals.

This document is authorized for use only by Yaina Delgado in Dynamic Leadership-Summer 2023 at Walden University (Canvas), 2023.

hand, commitment is contagious. Most people like
working with colleagues whose hearts are in their
work. Morale stays high. Workers who begin to
wander from their purpose are jostled back into
line. Projects stay on track and on time. In addition,
an appreciation of commitment and the way it
works can give managers an extra tool with which
to understand and channel the energies and loyal-
ties of their subordinates.

On the other hand, followers who are strongly
committed to goals not consistent with the goals of
their companies can produce destructive results.
Leaders having such followers can even lose control
of their organizations.

A scientist at a computer company cared deeply
about making computer technology available to the
masses, and her work was outstanding. Since her
goal was in line with the company’s goals, she had
few problems with top management. Yet she saw
her department leaders essentially as facilitators of
her dream, and when managers worked at cross-
purposes to that vision, she exercised all of her con-
siderable political skills to their detriment. Her im-
mediate supervisors saw her as a thorn in the side,
but she was quite effective in furthering her cause

because she saw eye to eye with
company leaders. But what if her
vision and the company’s vision
had differed?

Effective followers temper their
loyalties to satisfy organizational
needs – or they find new organiza-
tions. Effective leaders know how
to channel the energies of strong
commitment in ways that will
satisfy corporate goals as well as a
follower’s personal needs.

Competence and Focus. On the
grounds that committed incompe-
tence is still incompetence, effec-
tive followers master skills that
will be useful to their organiza-
tions. They generally hold higher
performance standards than the
work environment requires, and
continuing education is second
nature to them, a staple in their
professional development.

Less effective followers expect
training and development to come
to them. The only education they
acquire is force-fed. If not sent to a
seminar, they don’t go. Their com-
petence deteriorates unless some

leader gives them parental care and attention.
Good followers take on extra work gladly, but

first they do a superb job on their core responsibili-
ties. They are good judges of their own strengths
and weaknesses, and they contribute well to teams.
Asked to perform in areas where they are poorly
qualified, they speak up. Like athletes stretching
their capacities, they don’t mind chancing failure if
they know they can succeed, but they are careful to
spare the company wasted energy, lost time, and
poor performance by accepting challenges that
coworkers are better prepared to meet. Good fol-
lowers see coworkers as colleagues rather than

At the same time, effective followers often
search for overlooked problems. A woman on a
new product development team discovered that
no one was responsible for coordinating engineer-
ing, marketing, and manufacturing. She worked
out an interdepartmental review schedule that
identified the people who should be involved at
each stage of development. Instead of burdening
her boss with yet another problem, this woman
took the initiative to present the issue along with
a solution.

HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW November-December 1988 5

Some Followers Are More Effective

Independent, Critical Thinking

Dependent, Uncritical Thinking





Yes PeopleSheep


This document is authorized for use only by Yaina Delgado in Dynamic Leadership-Summer 2023 at Walden University (Canvas), 2023.

Another woman I interviewed described her ef-
forts to fill a dangerous void in the company she
cared about. Young managerial talent in this manu-
facturing corporation had traditionally made ca-
reers in production. Convinced that foreign compe-
tition would alter the shape of the industry, she
realized that marketing was a neglected area. She
took classes, attended seminars, and read widely.
More important, she visited customers to get feed-
back about her company’s and competitors’ prod-
ucts, and she soon knew more about the product’s
customer appeal and market position than any of
her peers. The extra competence did wonders for
her own career, but it also helped her company
weather a storm it had not seen coming.

Courage. Effective followers are credible, honest,
and courageous. They establish themselves as inde-
pendent, critical thinkers whose knowledge and
judgment can be trusted. They give credit where
credit is due, admitting mistakes and sharing suc-
cesses. They form their own views and ethical stan-
dards and stand up for what they believe in.

Insightful, candid, and fearless, they can keep lead-
ers and colleagues honest and informed. The other
side of the coin of course is that they can also cause
great trouble for a leader with questionable ethics.

Jerome LiCari, the former R&D director at Beech-
Nut, suspected for several years that the apple con-
centrate Beech-Nut was buying from a new supplier
at 20% below market price was adulterated. His
department suggested switching suppliers, but top
management at the financially strapped company
put the burden of proof on R&D.

By 1981, LiCari had accumulated strong evidence
of adulteration and issued a memo recommending

a change of supplier. When he got no response, he
went to see his boss, the head of operations. Ac-
cording to LiCari, he was threatened with dismissal
for lack of team spirit. LiCari then went to the pres-
ident of Beech-Nut, and when that, too, produced
no results, he gave up his three-year good-soldier
effort, followed his conscience, and resigned. His
last performance evaluation praised his expertise
and loyalty, but said his judgment was “colored by
naiveté and impractical ideals.”

In 1986, Beech-Nut and LiCari’s two bosses were
indicted on several hundred counts of conspiracy to
commit fraud by distributing adulterated apple
juice. In November 1987, the company pleaded
guilty and agreed to a fine of $2 million. In February
of this year, the two executives were found guilty
on a majority of the charges. The episode cost
Beech-Nut an estimated $25 million and a 20% loss
of market share. Asked during the trial if he had
been naive, LiCari said, “I guess I was. I thought
apple juice should be made from apples.”

Is LiCari a good follower? Well, no, not to his dis-
honest bosses. But yes, he is almost certainly the
kind of employee most companies want to have:
loyal, honest, candid with his superiors, and thor-
oughly credible. In an ethical company involved
unintentionally in questionable practices, this kind
of follower can head off embarrassment, expense,
and litigation.

Cultivating Effective Followers
You may have noticed by now that the qualities

that make effective followers are, confusingly
enough, pretty much the same qualities found in
some effective leaders. This is no mere coinci-
dence, of course. But the confusion underscores an
important point. If a person has initiative, self-con-
trol, commitment, talent, honesty, credibility, and
courage, we say, “Here is a leader!” By definition, a
follower cannot exhibit the qualities of leadership.
It violates our stereotype.

But our stereotype is ungenerous and wrong. Fol-
lowership is not a person but a role, and what dis-
tinguishes followers from leaders is not intelli-
gence or character but the role they play. As I

pointed out at the beginning of this
article, effective followers and effec-
tive leaders are often the same peo-
ple playing different parts at differ-
ent hours of the day.

In many companies, the leadership
track is the only road to career suc-
cess. In almost all companies, leader-
ship is taught and encouraged while

followership is not. Yet effective followership is a
prerequisite for organizational success. Your orga-
nization can take four steps to cultivate effective
followers in your work force.

1. Redefining Followership and Leadership. Our
stereotyped but unarticulated definitions of leader-
ship and followership shape our expectations when
we occupy either position. If a leader is defined as re-
sponsible for motivating followers, he or she will


6 HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW November-December 1988

Courageous followers
can keep a leader honest –
and out of trouble.

This document is authorized for use only by Yaina Delgado in Dynamic Leadership-Summer 2023 at Walden University (Canvas), 2023.

likely act toward followers as if they needed motiva-
tion. If we agree that a leader’s job is to transform
followers, then it must be a follower’s job to provide
the clay. If followers fail to need transformation, the
leader looks ineffective. The way we define the roles
clearly influences the outcome of the interaction.

Instead of seeing the leadership role as superior to
and more active than the role of the follower, we
can think of them as equal but different activities.
The operative definitions are roughly these: people
who are effective in the leader role have the vision
to set corporate goals and strategies, the interper-
sonal skills to achieve consensus, the verbal capaci-
ty to communicate enthusiasm to large and diverse
groups of individuals, the organizational talent to
coordinate disparate efforts, and, above all, the de-
sire to lead.

People who are effective in the follower role have
the vision to see both the forest and the trees, the
social capacity to work well with others, the
strength of character to flourish without heroic sta-
tus, the moral and psychological balance to pursue
personal and corporate goals at no cost to either,

and, above all, the desire to participate in a team ef-
fort for the accomplishment of some greater com-
mon purpose.

This view of leadership and followership can be
conveyed to employees directly and indirectly – in
training and by example. The qualities that make
good followers and the value the company places on
effective followership can be articulated in explicit
follower training. Perhaps the best way to convey
this message, however, is by example. Since each of
us plays a follower’s part at least from time to time,
it is essential that we play it well, that we con-
tribute our competence to the achievement of team
goals, that we support the team leader with candor
and self-control, that we do our best to appreciate
and enjoy the role of quiet contribution to a larger,
common cause.

2. Honing Followership Skills. Most organiza-
tions assume that leadership has to be taught but
that everyone knows how to follow. This assump-
tion is based on three faulty premises: (1) that lead-
ers are more important than followers, (2) that fol-

lowing is simply doing what you are told to
do, and (3) that followers inevitably draw
their energy and aims, even their talent,
from the leader. A program of follower
training can correct this misapprehension
by focusing on topics like:

Improving independent, critical thinking.
Disagreeing agreeably.
Building credibility.
Aligning personal and organizational

goals and commitments.
Acting responsibly toward the organiza-

tion, the leader, coworkers, and oneself.
Similarities and differences between

leadership and followership roles.
Moving between the two roles with ease.

3. Performance Evaluation and Feed-
back. Most performance evaluations in-
clude a section on leadership skills. Fol-
lowership evaluation would include items
like the ones I have discussed. Instead of
rating employees on leadership qualities
such as self-management, independent
thinking, originality, courage, compe-
tence, and credibility, we can rate them on
these same qualities in both the leadership
and followership roles and then evaluate
each individual’s ability to shift easily
from the one role to the other. A variety of
performance perspectives will help most

HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW November-December 1988 7
This document is authorized for use only by Yaina Delgado in Dynamic Leadership-Summer 2023 at Walden University (Canvas), 2023.

people understand better how well they play their
various organizational roles.

Moreover, evaluations can come from peers, sub-
ordinates, and self as well as from supervisors. The
process is simple enough: peers and subordinates
who come into regular or significant contact with
another employee fill in brief, periodic question-
naires where they rate the individual on follower-
ship qualities. Findings are then summarized and
given to the employee being rated.

4. Organizational Structures That Encourage
Followership. Unless the value of good following is
somehow built into the fabric of the organization,
it is likely to remain a pleasant conceit to which

everyone pays occasional lip service but no dues.
Here are four good ways to incorporate the concept
into your corporate culture:
� In leaderless groups, all members assume equal
responsibility for achieving goals. These are usually
small task forces of people who can work together
under their own supervision. However hard it is to
imagine a group with more than one leader, groups
with none at all can be highly productive if their
members have the qualities of effective followers.
� Groups with temporary and rotating leadership
are another possibility. Again, such groups are prob-
ably best kept small and the rotation fairly fre-
quent, although the notion might certainly be ex-
tended to include the administration of a small
department for, say, six-month terms. Some of
these temporary leaders will be less effective than
others, of course, and some may be weak indeed,
which is why critics maintain that this structure is
inefficient. Why not let the best leader lead? Why
suffer through the tenure of less effective leaders?
There are two reasons. First, experience of the lead-
ership role is essential to the education of effective
followers. Second, followers learn that they must

compensate for ineffective leadership by exercising
their skill as good followers. Rotating leader or not,
they are bound to be faced with ineffective leader-
ship more than once in their careers.
� Delegation to the lowest level is a third tech-
nique for cultivating good followers. Nordstrom’s,
the Seattle-based department store chain, gives
each sales clerk responsibility for servicing and sat-
isfying the customer, including the authority to
make refunds without supervisory approval. This
kind of delegation makes even people at the lowest
levels responsible for their own decisions and for
thinking independently about their work.
� Finally, companies can use rewards to underline
the importance of good followership. This is not as

easy as it sounds. Managers depen-
dent on yes people and sheep for ego
gratification will not leap at the idea
of extra rewards for the people who
make them most uncomfortable. In
my research, I have found that effec-
tive followers get mixed treatment.
About half the time, their contribu-
tions lead to substantial rewards.

The other half of the time they are punished by
their superiors for exercising judgment, taking
risks, and failing to conform. Many managers insist
that they want independent subordinates who can
think for themselves. In practice, followers who
challenge their bosses run the risk of getting fired.

In today’s flatter, leaner organization, companies
will not succeed without the kind of people who
take pride and satisfaction in the role of supporting
player, doing the less glorious work without fan-
fare. Organizations that want the benefits of effec-
tive followers must find ways of rewarding them,
ways of bringing them into full partnership in the
enterprise. Think of the thousands of companies
that achieve adequate performance and lackluster
profits with employees they treat like second-class
citizens. Then imagine for a moment the power of
an organization blessed with fully engaged, fully
energized, fully appreciated followers.

Author’s note: I am indebted to Pat Chew for her contributions
to this article. I also want to thank Janet Nordin, Howard Seck-
ler, Paul Brophy, Stuart Mechlin, Ellen Mechlin, and Syed
Shariq for their critical input.

Reprint 88606


8 HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW November-December 1988

Groups with many leaders can
be chaos. Groups with none can
be very productive.

This document is authorized for use only by Yaina Delgado in Dynamic Leadership-Summer 2023 at Walden University (Canvas), 2023.


Blair, B. Ariel[email protected]
Bligh, Michelle C.1


Journal of Social Issues. Mar2018, Vol. 74 Issue 1, p129-143. 15p.

Document Type:


Subject Terms:

Cultural values
Social norms
Decision making
Social role
Ingroups (Social groups)
Group identity

Looking for Leadership in All the Wrong Places: The Impact of Culture on Proactive Followership and Follower Dissent 

Abstract: Despite increasing globalization, we know little about how culture influences leader–follower relationships. Specifically, what is the impact of cultural values and norms on followers’ view of their role, and their willingness to disagree with a team’s or a leader’s decision? Recognizing that followers by definition represent a lower status and marginalized group, we explore how cultural values and tightness–looseness theories influence proactive followership and follower dissent. We theorize that the intersection of theories of followership, power distance, cultural tightness–looseness, and minority dissent provides a rich opportunity to understand cultural differences in how followers lead and follow. We develop propositions regarding these interrelations, and conclude with implications for predicting which contexts will be more or less conducive to proactive followership and follower dissent, with the goal of fostering more innovative and effective decisions. We suggest that values and norms focused on hierarchy and control will limit active follower beliefs in shared responsibility for leadership, thus marginalizing leadership exhibited by those in follower roles.

Cultural norms of leadership often marginalize followers, defining them as passive recipients of a leader’s direction (Sy, [ 
40] ; Uhl‐Bien & Pillai, [ 
42] ; Uhl‐Bien, Riggio, Lowe, & Carsten, [ 
43] ). The leader is seen as the principal driver of innovation and change. In contrast, minority influence research demonstrates that innovation and change in a group setting often originate from low‐status ingroup members or numerical minorities, from people on the margins (Martin & Hewstone, [ 
27] ; Moscovici, [ 
29] ). By definition, followers are lower status than leaders, and thus follower expression of divergent viewpoints represents minority dissent. In the current article, we argue that the expression of dissent or divergent ideas by followers often leads to better decisions and innovation. However, there has been limited study of how cultural differences may influence followership and follower dissent. As a result, we need research that examines when and how followers from different cultures are more or less likely to engage in active dissent. This article examines how culture influences proactive followership and follower dissent, with the goal of fostering more effective and innovative group decisions.

We propose that the intersection of followership, minority influence, and cultural norms and values theories provides a rich opportunity to cultivate new understandings of proactive followership, including expressions of dissent, new insights, and divergent thought. Previous literature defines proactive followership as followers who are committed to excellence, have the courage to challenge leaders, and take the initiative to stand up for leaders who are being undermined or unfairly criticized or marginalized (e.g., active co‐contributors, Chaleff, [ 
8] ; Kellerman, [ 
26] ; Shamir, [ 
38] ; Uhl‐Bien et al., [ 
43] ). Acting in this way, followers dynamically demonstrate both followership and leadership on their own behalf as well as that of the team. (For more comprehensive reviews of followership theory, see Bligh, [ 
3] ; Bligh & Kohles, [ 
4] ; Uhl‐Bien et al., [ 
43] ). This positive view of proactive followership assumes that followers’ divergent viewpoints must be included in order to enact exemplary leadership and achieve positive outcomes (Bennis, [ 
2] ). Importantly, the inclusion of followers’ viewpoints redefines the role of followers from a lower status, marginalized role to that of co‐creators of the group and its leader.

One advantage of exploring cultural influences on leadership and followership is that this lens removes some of the strong reactions that result in ingroup blind spots when researching sensitive sources of marginalization (e.g., race, ethnicity, or religion). Though not completely free of power dynamics, research conducted through a cultural lens provides an opportunity to explore analytical approaches to marginal groups outside of the politically charged power relationships that can make these subjects difficult to address. Because these sensitive relationships are so charged, they can become the “Achilles’ heel” of a group or organization. Whether looking at sectarian violence and war, color differences (European and African Americans) linked to institutionalized racism, or functional differences (marketing and engineering departments) that spark budget battles, part of the underlying challenge is grounded in an inability to consider, understand, and integrate divergent norms, values, attitudes, and practices. The current exploration of cultural differences in followership offers a potentially fruitful avenue to investigate these types of misunderstandings.

In addition, it is important to highlight that most theories of followership and minority influence have been developed in only three of nine worldwide cultural regions: English speaking, Catholic Europe, and Protestant Europe. That means the cultural practices of six regions are not represented: Africa, Confucian, Cyprus, Latin America, Orthodox, and South Asia (Inglehart & Welzel, [ 
23] ). As a result, the current culturally‐bounded theories may fail to include potential cultural differences (Boyacigiller & Adler, [ 
5] ). In the following sections, we examine how culture moderates the social construction of followership and of minority dissent. First, we review aspects of followership that highlight the social and relational nature of leader–follower roles. Second, we review cultural values theory and cultural tightness–looseness theory, highlighting that values and norms both fundamentally affect the social and relational context of leadership (Aktas, Gelfand, & Hanges, [ 
1] ), followership, and leader–follower roles. We focus specifically on power distance, the cultural value that influences perceptions and acceptance of inequality and hierarchy (Hofstede, [ 
18] ), and tightness–looseness, the strength and variance of cultural norms (Triandis, [ 
41] ). Understanding these cultural influences on followership and minority dissent will lead to more accurate explanations of follower expressions of dissent. Finally, we discuss how minority dissent theory predicts the conditions in which followers’ divergent ideas will be influential, and the potential benefits of those ideas. In the next section, we begin with a discussion of the construct of proactive followership.


Because the leader–follower relationship is socially constructed, we propose that social environments importantly influence this relationship. Cultural values and norms guide the behaviors of people in a society (Rokeach, [ 
34] ), and thus influence the social construction of both leadership and followership roles and behaviors as well. Fundamentally, we assert that culture moderates the leader–follower relationship and, as a result, impacts specific behaviors such as follower willingness to express insights or divergent thoughts. Although the definition of followership is still emerging, we follow Uhl‐Bien et al.’s ([ 
43] , p. 96) assertion that: “followership theory is not the study of leadership from the follower perspective…it is the study of how followers view and enact following behaviors in relation to leaders.” Uhl‐Bien et al. ([ 
43] ) further distinguish formal hierarchical roles between supervisors and subordinates from relationships between followers and leaders.

More specifically, we also expect that national culture helps to define the relationship between leaders and followers, although precisely how and in what ways has yet to be systematically examined. To understand how national culture influences groups, we draw on social identity theory, which addresses the impact of norms on group dynamics (Smith & Hogg, [ 
39] ). Although there is not (yet) a social identity theory of followers, the social identity theory of leadership (Hogg, [ 
20] ) can help us understand how followers co‐create leadership in a group. The theory predicts that when group membership is salient, team members will create a group prototype that distinguishes the ingroup from outgroups, and embodies group norms. Followers thus help to construct the identity and prototype of the group and of its leader (Hogg, [ 
20] ). This process is in fact follower co‐production of leadership, and is guided by the norms of the culture in which the group resides.

As mentioned above, the theories upon which we build primarily originate from three cultural regions, implicitly placing greater emphasis on the cultural assumptions of those regions. In addition, although the Global Leadership Organizational Behavior Effectiveness (GLOBE) researchers explored how cultural values are linked to leadership attributes and effectiveness (Javidan, House, Dorfman, Hanges, & Sully de Luque, [ 
24] ), research linking cultural values to followership is extremely rare. This is an important limitation, as existing research provides evidence that followership is socially constructed, and that followers may perceive their role differently even within the same culture. For example, Uhl‐Bien and Pillai ([ 
42] ) propose that contexts defined by formal hierarchical roles also create lower self‐expectations on the part of followers, leading to a greater hesitance to make suggestions to leaders. In contrast, in situations where the leader–follower relationship is more collaboratively constructed, followers both expect and are expected to actively participate, think critically, and challenge leaders. In essence, more hierarchical contexts create a more passive view of followership, while more participative contexts result in a more active view (Uhl‐Bien & Pillai, [ 
42] ).

Carsten and Uhl‐Bien ([ 
6] ) subsequently examined the construct of followers’ co‐production beliefs, which they define as “the extent to which individuals believe the follower role involves partnering with leaders to advance the mission and achieve optimal levels of productivity” (p. 211). Proactive followership is reflected in “strong” co‐production beliefs, versus “weak” co‐production beliefs that characterize a more passive construction (Carsten & Uhl‐Bien, [ 
6] ; Uhl‐Bien et al., [ 
43] ). Followers with strong co‐production beliefs think their role is to contribute proactively to better outcomes by making suggestions and challenging leaders (Carsten & Uhl‐Bien, [ 
6] ).

While existing research informs our understanding of how followership is socially constructed within a single culture, the question of how culture influences that social construction remains open. Acknowledging that their sample was limited to North America, Carsten et al. suggest that there is a need to research co‐production beliefs in cultures that differ in power distance, individualism and uncertainty avoidance (Carsten & Uhl‐Bien, [ 
6] ; Carsten, Uhl‐Bien, West, Patera, & McGregor, [ 
7] ). In the next section, we discuss cultural values and norms theories that address hierarchy within a group, as well as characteristics of national cultures, the cultural contexts in which groups exist.

Cultural Values and Norms

Cultural values and social norms influence the behaviors of people within a society, and form the basis of rules these societies share and on which they depend for guidance (Hofstede, [ 
18] ; Rokeach, [ 
34] ). Schwartz et al. ([ 
37] , p. 521) define values as “desirable, transsituational goals, varying in importance, that serve as guiding principles in people’s lives.” Since social norms provide a sense of how individuals should act in relation to others and in specific situations (Triandis, [ 
41] ), we assert that these cultural norms also guide how leaders and followers act in groups. Offering additional refinement to support the understanding of the influence of norms on followership and follower dissent, the concepts of tightness and looseness describe differences in the strength of social norms and the deviance that is acceptable surrounding those norms (Gelfand et al., [ 
17] ; Gelfand, Nishii, & Raver, [ 
16] ; Triandis, [ 
41] ).

The GLOBE research is currently the most comprehensive exploration of the linkage between leadership and cultural values (Javidan et al., [ 
24] ). Although the GLOBE approach fails to incorporate followership, it contributes a foundational piece to values theory by separating “as is” actual practices from ideal, “should be” cultural values. House, Javidan, Hanges, and Dorfman ([ 
22] ) explore differences in how people think culture actually occurs, and how it should occur in an “ideal world” for organizations and for society. They find that “as is” scores represent cultural practices and are related to societal effectiveness. In contrast, “should be” scores represent cultural values and are related to leadership effectiveness (Javidan et al., [ 
24] ). The finding that “should be” cultural values relate to leadership effectiveness supports our assertion that cultural values fundamentally influence how leadership and followership are constructed and enacted cross‐culturally.

Power Distance and Followership

Values define norms by which people within the culture choose actions, evaluate others, and determine how institutions should function (Schwartz, [ 
35] ). In discussing culture’s influence on followership and minority dissent, values related to hierarchy and inequality are important. Power distance relates to the extent to which those with less power accept an unequal distribution of power (Hofstede, Hofstede, & Minkov, [ 
19] ). Examples of countries with high power distance are Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Russia, and China (Hofstede et al., [ 
19] ). Using the Hofstede’s values theory, we focus on the values that guide behavior related to hierarchy and protecting or challenging the status quo to explore culture’s effect on the social construction of followership.

Given the hierarchical nature of the leader–follower relationship, assigning a leader more authority than a follower is likely to be particularly influenced by the extent to which power distance is viewed as an acceptable, even natural characteristic of human relationships. The relationship between inequality or hierarchy and more or less proactive follower roles proposed by Uhl‐Bien and Pillai ([ 
42] ) suggests that power distance may have a unique relationship with proactive followership. More specifically, cultures that accept or place higher value on inequality likely have more passive constructions of followership, while those that value equality likely have more proactive constructions of followership and foster a more collaborative approach to the leader–follower relationship.


There is a negative relationship between high power distance and proactive followership.

Although cultural values theories provide an important framework for understanding cross‐cultural values, researchers have increasingly called for looking beyond values (Earley, [ 
13] ; Gelfand et al., [ 
16] ; Schwartz, [ 
36] ; Westwood & Low, [ 
44] ) to add richness and a more complete understanding of the ways in which culture influences our lives. In response to this call, the next section addresses the related theory of cultural tightness–looseness (Gelfand et al., [ 
16] ), which explains differences in acceptable deviance surrounding cultural norms.

Tightness–Looseness Theory

Adding the tightness–looseness cultural norms perspective (Triandis, [ 
41] ) to the cultural values perspective enhances our understanding of the impact of cultural context as it relates to followership and follower dissent. There are two components of the tightness–looseness theory. One is concerned with the strength of social norms, while the other addresses sanctioning behaviors and the degree to which deviance is tolerated in a society (Gelfand et al., [ 
16] , [ 
17] ; Triandis, [ 
41] ). Societies that have strong norms and do not allow much deviance from those norms are considered tight cultures. Similarly, means‐focused groups that expect members to behave according to prescribed social norms will reward members who conform to group prototypes. Followership in tight cultures will be guided by the strong norms in the culture. Homogeneous cultures tend to be tight, as their norms and values are closely aligned and deviation is clear (Triandis, [ 
41] ). People in tight cultures expect to be judged for their adherence to norms. In addition, they expect that violation of norms will be met with strict enforcement and punishment. These societies also value tradition, conformity and limited change. India, Pakistan, Singapore, and South Korea are examples of tight cultures (Gelfand et al., [ 
17] ). We expect the range of accepted follower role definition to be narrower, and less tolerant of variance, in tight cultures than in loose cultures.

In contrast, societies that have weak norms and allow a fair amount of deviance around them are considered loose cultures (Triandis, [ 
41] ). Self‐regulation also varies between tight and loose cultures. Individuals in loose cultures will not regulate themselves or others as closely as those in a tight cultures (Triandis, [ 
41] ). Norms in looser, more heterogeneous cultures may contrast, making it somewhat ambiguous which norm prevails in a given situation. Societies characterized as loose are also more prone to innovation and change. Brazil, Israel, Ukraine, and Estonia are examples of loose cultures (Gelfand et al., [ 
17] ). Due to the breadth of admissible deviance around cultural norms, and lower levels of self‐regulation in loose cultures, we expect a greater range of acceptable follower role definition in loose cultures than in tight cultures. It is possible that due to a greater acceptance of deviance, loose cultures allow more proactive follower constructions and freer expression of divergent ideas. In contrast, in tight cultures an emphasis on strong norms and sanctions may reduce the assertiveness of followers, leading to more passive followership.


There is a negative relationship between tight cultural norms and proactive followership.

Tightness–looseness theory shares important characteristics with cultural values theories. Like cultural values, tightness–looseness theory focuses on social norms (Gelfand et al., [ 
17] ; Triandis, [ 
41] ). The theory addresses some of the criticisms of cross‐cultural theory as overly reliant on aggregating individual values (Earley, [ 
13] ; Gelfand et al., [ 
16] ). Based on the foundational work of Pelto, tightness–looseness is also supported by objective characteristics of cultures. Pelto ([ 
32] ) identified characteristics of societies, such as population density, to differentiate tight and loose cultures. Distal factors and threats such as natural disasters, disease or war, combined with challenges such as population density, help predict the strength or weakness of norms and the strictness with which they are enforced (Gelfand et al., [ 
17] ). Validated by external factors and historical patterns rather than individual values, the theory provides both complementary and divergent perspectives (Gelfand et al., [ 
16] ) that can enrich and extend cross‐cultural understanding.

The benefit of combining values theory with tightness–looseness theory is the ability to gain improved understanding of cultural differences beyond what either theory alone can provide. For example, the interaction of power distance with tightness and looseness may help explain differences in followership orientation and the tolerance of divergent ideas. It may be that the combination of high power distance values in a tight culture will place greater limits on proactive followership than high power distance values in a loose culture will.


Tightness moderates the relationship between power distance and proactive followership, such that groups in cultures with high tightness and high power distance will have significantly less proactive followership than groups in cultures characterized by low tightness and high power distance.

Minority Dissent

Based on this overview of cultural impacts on beliefs about followership, we posit that different cultural contexts influence when followers are more or less likely to voice divergent ideas or insights. However, just voicing divergent ideas or challenging the status quo is often insufficient for followers to impact group process; those ideas must also be heard and attended to in order to have influence. Grounded in social influence theory, minority dissent theory explains why and how minority ingroup status contributes to group performance (De Dreu & West, [ 
12] ). Specifically, minority dissent enhances team performance by stimulating consideration of a broader range of ideas. As a result of processing dissenting ideas from minority group members, the group thinks in divergent ways, and considers a wider range of alternative ideas (Nemeth, [ 
30] ). We first review minority dissent theory and its relationship to the proactive followership, before exploring the impact of cultural context on this relationship.

Research found that minority dissent and active employee participation in group processes are critical for good decisions and outcomes (De Dreu & West, [ 
12] ). Minority dissent is the expression of thoughts by either the numerical minority or lower status members within the group that differ from those of the majority (Crano & Chen, [ 
10] ; Martin & Hewstone, [ 
27] ; Nemeth, [ 
31] ). Therefore, minority dissent is a critical mechanism that allows proactive followers, as lower status group members, to co‐create leadership and influence group decision‐making and outcomes.

Previous research found that when a low status or minority team member introduces a dissenting idea, conversion or change is more likely to occur (Moscovici, [ 
29] ; Nemeth, [ 
31] ). When a divergent idea is introduced by the majority or group leader, research suggests that the most likely outcome will be compliance rather than internalized change. Novel ideas are more likely to be considered when a follower is willing to risk disagreement with the majority or high status team members and advance divergent ideas that challenge the status quo (see Johnson, van de Schoot, Delmar, & Crano, [ 
25] ). Nemeth ([ 
31] )’s convergent–divergent theory asserts that teams are more likely to consider new and divergent ideas introduced by a lower status person (in our terms, a follower, not a leader or high status team member). The common mechanism in all of these approaches is elaboration of the dissenting view by the group. More specifically, elaborative processing means that the group tries to understand the alternate perspective put forth by the minority (Martin, Thomas, Hewstone & Gardikiotis, [ 
28] ). The process of exploring divergent ideas thus improves decisions and outcomes (Nemeth, [ 
30] ).

In addition to the role of status, there is evidence to suggest that divergent ideas from followers who are more prototypical are likely more influential as well. Hogg’s ([ 
20] ) social identity theory of leadership suggests that members create both shared norms and a shared identity for the group. These shared norms, attitudes, and beliefs describe how ingroup members differ from outgroups (Hogg, [ 
20] ), and both leaders and followers vary in the extent to which they represent this ideal image of the group. Empirical research has demonstrated that the more prototypical a leader, or the more he or she embodies the group attributes and norms, the more flexibility s/he has to challenge group norms (Hogg, [ 
20] ; Hogg, van Knippenberg, & Rast, [ 
21] ). When a group’s social identity is salient, the group perceives ingroup messages positively. The combination of showing preference for ingroup messages and allowing prototypical leaders that fit the group’s identity expanded latitude in challenging group norms lead us to predict a similar latitude for more prototypical followers: followers who fit the group’s identity will similarly be better suited to challenge group norms and express divergent ideas. Supporting this argument, Crano and Chen ([ 
10] ) also emphasize the importance of ingroup status. As with Hogg’s leadership identity theory (Hogg, [ 
20] ), Crano and Chen ([ 
10] ) find that additional leniency is granted for more prototypical ingroup members. As a way of showing courtesy to minority members and protecting group cohesion, the majority listens to the minority position (Crano & Chen, [ 
10] ; Crano & Seyranian, [ 
11] ). Based on these empirical findings, we propose that proactive followers are more likely to express divergent views, and these views will be more influential when expressed by more prototypical followers.


There will be a positive relationship between proactive followership and willingness to express divergent viewpoints.


The positive relationship between proactive followership and minority dissent will be moderated by prototypicality, such that followers who are more prototypical of the group’s identity will have more leniency to express divergent viewpoints.

Culture and Minority Dissent

Finally, we consider the various ways in which cultural values and tightness–looseness may impact followers’ willingness to express divergent ideas or insights. As discussed above, cultural influences such as power distance and tightness–looseness are likely to shape the ways in which followership is enacted, and the likelihood of speaking up in a follower role (Westwood & Low, [ 
44] ). First, we will discuss the relationship between power distance and minority dissent. Second, we will examine the influence of tightness–looseness on minority dissent. Finally, we discuss the interaction of power distance and tightness–looseness on minority dissent.

In high power distance cultures, followers and leaders value and respect hierarchical differences. Followers expect that their bosses will be more autocratic, act as experts, and make unilateral decisions (Hofstede et al., [ 
19] ). High power distance values hinder the potential contribution of minority dissent to making better decisions. In contrast, followers in low power distance cultures expect a more democratic, egalitarian approach from their leaders (Hofstede et al., [ 
19] ). In low power distance cultures, followers can more comfortably express dissenting views without directly challenging cultural norms. As the result of combining minority dissent theory with cultural differences in acceptance of inequality (power distance), we assert that cultural contexts that value equality (low power distance) will be more favorable to minority dissent.


There is a negative relationship between high power distance and minority dissent.

Similar to the way tightness–looseness norms guide followership, we suggest tightness–looseness norms likely influence minority dissent as well. Specifically, tightness–looseness is an indicator of differences in appropriate personal disclosure. Previous research shows that people in looser cultures disclose more than those in tighter cultures. This is consistent with the theory’s assertion that people in tight cultures demonstrate greater self‐regulation, as self‐disclosure increases a follower’s vulnerability to criticism (Triandis, [ 
41] ). These cultural differences in willingness to personally disclose suggest tightness–looseness theory may provide insights into followers’ willingness to share innovative or dissenting views as well. We therefore expect that the negative relationship between tightness and personal disclosure will similarly discourage followers from expressing divergent views or speaking up against the status quo.


There is a negative relationship between tight cultural norms and minority dissent.

Finally, as with the combination of cultural values and norms in relation to followership, we suggest that combining power distance and tightness–looseness will increase our understanding of followers’ intentions to express divergent views. In situations where power distance is high, differences in personal disclosure and self‐regulation, as predicted by tightness–looseness norms, will likely affect levels of minority dissent as well. When both hierarchy (power distance) and self‐regulation (tightness) are high, we assert that followers’ expression of dissent will be lowest. However, in contexts in which power distance is high, but self‐regulation expectations are low (looseness), followers have more latitude and can take advantage of the higher levels of ambiguity to express dissenting ideas more freely.


Tightness moderates the relationship between power distance and minority dissent, such that groups in cultures characterized by high tightness and high power distance will have significantly lower levels of minority dissent than groups in cultures characterized by looseness and high power distance.


As Rast, Hogg, and Randsley de Maura ([ 
33] ) mention in their introduction, discussions of leadership often focus on one individual who is given credit for the success or failure of a group. We assert that followers also frequently demonstrate leadership through their willingness to voice innovative or divergent ideas to the majority, and that culture plays a critical role in determining when individuals are free to be more proactive in a follower role. In addition, we propose that minority dissent theory provides a critical mechanism for follower influence, as divergent views must be both expressed and attended to in order to positively impact group decision‐making and outcomes. Expanding followership beyond the culturally limited samples in which it has been tested makes the theory relevant in an increasingly globally connected world. In the current article, we have taken a first step in proposing how power distance and tightness–looseness norms may affect the social construction of followership. Addressing the distinction between tight and loose cultures is more informative than evaluating differences in cultural values alone. This type of analysis could also highlight significant factors that hinder the expression of divergent ideas that otherwise might not be readily apparent. Further expanding the application of cultural differences to antecedents of creativity can help to identify new ways in which cultural values and norms relate to follower dissent.

There is a real danger that by starting with culturally bound theories, important alternative theories will not emerge or will take some time to develop. With a large canon of theory based on research conducted in former colonial power centers and a predominance of academics educated at institutions located in these centers, it will take time to develop theory that fully utilizes the perspectives of postcolonial cultures (Connell, [ 
9] ). Our approach in similarly limited in its reliance on theory developed in these limited cultural contexts (Westwood & Lowe, [ 
44] ). Integrating more culturally diverse viewpoints has the potential to broaden theory and reflect more inclusive cross‐cultural perspectives (Boyacigiller & Adler, [ 
5] ).

Future Research

In cultures where power distance and tightness are more highly valued, those in power may assert control and demand compliance with norms, reinforcing the status quo. Research shows that minority dissent is unlikely if leaders emphasize compliance with the majority perspective (De Dreu & West, [ 
12] ). The same research indicates that a combination of dissent and participation in decision‐making predicts innovation. Building on these findings suggests that like participation, proactive followership has the potential to increase innovation. Research exploring the interrelationships among followership, participation, minority dissent, and employee voice in differing cultural contexts could provide valuable insights to improve cross‐national and collaborative innovation efforts. In addition, other cultural values such as individualism and uncertainty avoidance importantly influence teams (see Gelfand, Erez, & Aycan, [ 
15] ), and likely influence proactive followership beliefs and follower dissent as well. These cultural values, and their likely impact on the occurrence of proactive followership and minority dissent, all represent important directions for future research.

There is also evidence that the quality of the relationship between followers and leaders is an important mediating variable (Epitropaki, Sy, Martin, Tram‐Quon, & Topakas, [ 
14] ). There are likely many other relevant factors, such as whether the followers are expressing dissent within the group or in public, which are likely to act as important boundary conditions. Finally, industry influences and cultural differences between organizations likely play critical roles as well; for example, technology companies focused on innovation, growth and creativity may actively encourage proactive followership and reward dissent even in national cultures which may discourage it. It is possible that a norms focused organization might adopt norms that promote change, proactive followership, and divergent thought. Thus, the impact of multiple layers of culture and their combined influence on the leader–follower relationship are all important directions for future research.


A better understanding of how culture influences followership and minority dissent, such as the relative importance of hierarchy, will allow researchers to further hone cross‐cultural innovation research. However, empirical research is needed to test these relationships. As most cultural theory currently originates in only one of three cultural regions, there are considerable opportunities to use a broader cultural lens in creating and testing theory. Further exploration of the role of cultural influences on followership in different regions is promising, and will make leadership‐followership theory more meaningful and effective in an increasingly global world. This promises to be an exciting area for developing and strengthening theory.

The short‐term implications of the proposed research are to facilitate mechanisms that allow followers to share divergent ideas regardless of their cultural norms. Examples of processes to overcome cultural barriers include: provide technologically mediated mechanisms that allow followers to share ideas anonymously, implement recognition systems for both successful and unsuccessful divergent ideas, and define ingroup prototypes that include contributing divergent ideas as a key element of performance. Both organizations and societies could benefit from policies that enable proactive followers to have voice and input despite cultural norms that actively work to silence them.

On a practical level, the insights provided by this type of research offer the possibility of improved team member participation in cross‐cultural contexts, and may prevent expensive or even catastrophic mistakes. Having practical knowledge of how cultural values and norms moderate followership behaviors should allow multinational teams to access more completely the insights of all team members—leaders and followers—notwithstanding cultural differences.


 This article is part of the Special Issue “Leadership and Social Transformation: The Role of Marginalized Individuals and Groups,” David E. Rast, III, Michael Hogg, and Georgina Randsley de Moura (Special Issue Editors). For a full listing of Special Issue papers, see: 



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Leadership and Followership Presentation

Your Name

Master of Business Administration, Walden University

WMBA 6000: Dynamic Leadership

Instructor’s Name

Month XX, 202X

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Section 1: Followership Defined

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Qualities and Behaviors of Effective Followers

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Identify the qualities and behaviors of followers who contribute to the success of an organization.]

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The Value of Followers

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Using at least one example from your professional life, analyze how leaders can draw value from their followers.]

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Responsibilities of Followers

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Summarize the responsibilities of followers in an age where the complexities of leadership and pace of change are ever increasing.]

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Section 2: The Leader-Follower Interaction

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The Influence of Followers

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Analyze how followers can influence the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of leaders. Hint: Your analysis should consider how followers empower or enable leaders’ behaviors (for good or bad).]

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Effective Follower Communication and Collaboration

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Illustrate how followers can effectively communicate and collaborate with a leader whose style is not consistent with what they desire or with a leader they do not admire.]

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Leadership Strategies to Empower and Support Followers

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Propose at least three strategies for how leaders can better empower and support followers in meeting their goals.]

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Section 3: Traits of Leadership and Followership

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Influence of Personal Traits

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Examine how personal traits influence how one leads and how one follows. Draw on professional and personal experience to provide examples.]

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A Follower’s Contribution to Effective Leadership

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Analyze how a follower can contribute to effective leadership in an organization. Provide at least one example to support your analysis.]

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Encouraging Effective Leadership

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Analyze how a leader can encourage effective followership in an organization. Provide at least one example to support your analysis.]

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Becoming a Better Leader and Follower

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Identify at least one personal trait you would like to improve upon to become a more effective leader and at least one trait you would like to improve upon to become a more effective follower. Explain why these improvements would be a benefit to you and to an organization.]

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