Social Networks : Are Followers More than Physical Beings?

Richard Pfohl has worked with various Fortune 500 high-tech, insurance, telecommunications, software, utilities and government organizations. He has been involved with various organizations which promote leadership like CBMC and Vision New England. Presently, Richard is the Leader of the Hartford chapter of CBMC. He is also enrolled in the Doctor of Strategic Leadership Program at Regent University School of Leadership Studies, Virginia Beach, Virginia.

The Changing Nature of a Follower


Our followers are part of a global uncertainty and search for meaning which is translating back into their organizational performance. In The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner state, “from heightening uncertainty across the world to an intense search for meaning, our connections as people and as leaders are part of this context.” According to Kouzes and Posner the “content” of leadership has not changed but the “context” has. They mention the heightened uncertainty and search for meaning within this changing context is evident in the rapid pace of our new economy which includes; globalization, continuous connectivity, knowledge capital, instant gratification and access, and a new social contract.


Our followers are changing, within this context, and leaders need to seize the opportunity to lead differently. Leading differently means understanding how to approach the changing context affecting our followers. Leaders need to see their followers as more than physical beings or as Susan Cramm who wrote, Desperation Outsourcing, refers to them as “headcount.” Fred Map, in Open Ear Policy, believes this policy is how we connect with followers and erase the fear and uncertainty. It is ultimately the example of Christ that will allow leaders to fill the gap of uncertainty and transition their followers into compliance.

Leader and Follower Connection


How can leaders connect with followers? Where do they begin? If leaders focus only on the physical presence of the follower they will disregard the emotional and physical. By definition a focus on the physical is a focus on “anything relating to the body” which is also anything that is distinguished from “the mind or spirit.” If the follower is only a physically being then a leader would be able to motivate simply by focusing on the physical aspects of the follower. In reference to motivation, The History of Management Thought by Daniel Wren states Abraham Maslow focused on the “whole person” and this person has “values” and makes “choices.” Maslow saw motivation moving beyond a focus on followers as physical beings. This is certainly not revolutionary because Jesus came to shows us the spiritual realm and redirect our focus on “things which are eternal” (II Corinthians 4:18).


In Bass and Stogdill’s, Handbook of Leadership, it states, “leaders cannot exist without followers, nor can followers exist without leaders.” Heller and Van Til proposed “leadership and followership are linked concepts.” In other words, neither can happen without the other. “The compliance of the followers is the mirror image of successful leadership.” At the same time, “successful leadership” is a product of “task completion” and “socio-emotional relations” which is “influence.” So the leader can influence the followers but not without compliance from the followers. If a follower was only physical then influence should work by itself. This is not what Heller and Van Til determined in their research. There was much more to the relationship.


If we look deeper into this influence and compliance relationship we see that influence does not happen without compliance and compliance does not happen without influence. Bass and Stogdill’s state, “followers’ expectations affect the performance of their leaders; followers’ perception of their leaders’ motives and actions constrain what their leaders can succeed in doing.” In Wren, Follett described this as, “’power-with’” instead of ‘power-over’” to replace consent and coercion.” This demonstrates Follett’s idea of moving from the physical “power-over” to the interaction of the more complete individual by utilizing “power-with.” The leader-follower relationship begins when the leader sees the follower as much more than a physical being.


Leaders connect with followers through their physical, emotional and spiritual needs who create a relationship where legitimacy begins. Bass and Stogdill’s says that in many situations followers have more information that leaders. If leaders do not connect with followers then they will not be able to act on this information. Their ability to act is based on their connection to their followers. Compliance of the follower comes from the leaders legitimacy as determined by the follower. Bass and Stogdills’s demonstrate that compliance of followers doesn’t just happen but it “depends on the active cultivation of the leader’s legitimacy.” They need each other so a narrow focus on their physical being will not cultivate a leader follower relationship. It is only through a cultivation of their entire being (physical, emotional, spiritual) that a leader can begin to connect with their follower.

A Leadership Approach


What approach can Christian business leaders practice to see their followers in this way and connect with them? Who can they model in this approach? In The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner state “to effectively model behavior they expect of others, leaders must first be clear about their guiding principles; You must lead from what you believe; People first follow the person, then the plan.” Bass and Stogdill’s demonstrated this through the influence-compliance interaction.


Bass and Stogdills’s demonstrate that compliance of followers doesn’t just happen but it “depends on the active cultivation of the leader’s legitimacy.” Kouzes and Posner explain five practices that can move followers to compliance and leaders to becoming influential. This will allow leaders and followers to move together and fulfill their roles. The best example of these five leadership practices is the leadership practiced by Jesus. The practices include; a) Model the Way, b) Inspire the Shared Vision, c) Challenge the Process, d) Enable Others to Act and e) Encourage the Heart. According to Kouzes and Posner these are the similar paths leaders take on their “pioneering journeys.”


Jesus came to show us how to live and store “treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19-21; I Timothy 6:19) as we wait for Him to return and bring us to our Heavenly home. In the gospels Jesus modeled the way.  According to Kouzes there are two commitments essential to modeling the way. One commitment is to “clarify your values” and the other is to “express your self.” Throughout the gospels Jesus was immediate to correct and rebuke wrong behavior and aligned beliefs by communicating His values. By doing this Jesus was expressing himself. Kouzes and Posner state, “You cannot lead through someone else’s values, someone else’s words.” You need your own experiences and your own style.  


The practice of ‘Inspire a Shared Vision’ Kouzes says, “Leaders forge a unity of purpose by showing constituents how the dream is for the common good.” When referring to ‘Challenge the Process’ Kouzes states, “All leaders challenge the process.” Did Jesus challenge the process? Maybe the question should be re-stated, when did Jesus not challenge the process? Jesus challenged the Jewish law at every turn, any question posed by the Pharisees and the thought-process of his disciples and pointed them to Kingdom-thinking (Matthew 12:1-8; Matthew 12:9-14).


The practice of ‘Enable Others to Act’ was very evident in the ministry of Jesus. Kouzes states, “Exemplary leaders enable others to act. They foster collaboration and build trust; Leaders make it possible for others to do good work.” Jesus was a good example of this. Jesus didn’t just speak but enabled others to act and fostered collaboration. In Matthew 11:29 Jesus says to “learn from me.” In Matthew 9:13 Jesus said to “go and learn what this means.” Jesus enabled others to take action.


The final practice ‘Encourage the Heart’ was not just evident in the rhetoric of Jesus but in His actions. Kouzes and Posner state, “Leaders encourage the heart of their constituents to carry on.” Throughout the gospels we see examples of Jesus reaching out to others and not waiting for them to come to him. Rather than telling them what to do He took the first step to encourage their heart. We see this in Mark 1:31 where Jesus “raised her up, taking her by the hand.” In Mark 1:41 He “stretched out His hand, and touched him.”


When referring to Jesus, George Barna, in Think Like Jesus says, “First, He had a foundation that was clear, reliable and accessible. Second, He maintained a focus on God’s will. Third, He evaluated all information and experiences through a filter that produces appropriate choices. Fourth, He acted in faith.” Through foundation, focus, filter and faith Jesus was an exemplary example of leading through the five practices.


What does this mean for leaders? Kouzes and Posner state, “leaders take every opportunity to show others by their own example that they’re deeply committed to the values and aspirations they espouse. Leading by example is how leaders make visions and values tangible.” Jesus led by example and did not miss one opportunity to align others to Kingdom values. It is this example which brings leaders to legitimacy with their followers.


Leaders are also called to align values. Proverbs 11:28 says, “He who trusts in riches will fall, But the righteous will flourish like a green leaf.” David states in Psalm 52:8, “But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.” Psalm 92:12-14 says when we flourish we bear fruit even in old age. It is the role of the leader to help followers flourish and align their values. This will allow leaders to influence and lead them to compliance.

Erasing Uncertainty and Moving to Compliance


In the 2005 Changing Nature of Leadership Report by The Center for Creative leadership we see our world is changing which is affecting our followers and therefore making it more difficult to lead unless we lead differently. It is the role of the leader to see this and change their approach to leadership in order to deal with the whole person and not just the physical person.


As demonstrated, the five practices presented by Kouzes and Posner are a great approach in dealing with the whole person and moving a leader towards legitimacy. The best example of someone who exemplified these practices was Jesus. By modeling his actions leaders will see followers are more than physical beings and be able to influence their followers in a period of “uncertainty.” This will lead followers to compliance and allow the relationship to flourish as mentioned in the Psalms.


Does this solve the problem of uncertainty and confusion for the followers and improve their condition? Certainly a leader who applies the five practices can achieve some results and move in the right direction but there is more than application of the practices that is needed from the leader in order to flourish. If we look at what Barna stated again we see that Jesus had a foundation, focus, filter and faith. In order to erase uncertainty a leader will need a foundation which means they need to be clear, reliable and accessible for their followers. They will also need to focus and filter through values and finally they need to believe in their followers. This begins by seeing followers as more than physical beings and beginning to understand their emotional and spiritual aspects.  

Copyrigh 2006 - Richard M. Pfohl

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