The Dynamics of the Leader Follower Relationship

Student thesis: Phd


ABSTRACTThis study examined the forces that affect the influence relationship between leaders and followers in a public sector organisational setting. The study is motivated by the ambition of presenting a critical perspective of the social influence process referred to as leadership. The forces were explored by studying leaders and followers engaged in their normal work context. A variation of a critical ethnographic methodology after Alvesson and Sk├Âldberg (2005) was utilised in order to identify and explain how the dynamics impacted upon the leader follower relationship. An extended period of fieldwork was conducted within a large unitary local government authority (referred to through out the study as the ABC), during which observations and informal interviews with observed constituents were conducted and documentary evidence collected. Subsequently, an interpretive reflection of selected materials was undertaken in order to inform a critical perspective of the dynamics uncovered and the impact they had on the relationship between leaders and followers.These dynamics are shown to be predominantly external to the leader follower dyad. The dynamics of ambiguity, environment, resources, symbiosis, politics and "playing the game" impact on the relationship to create an influence relationship distinct from that detailed in normative models of leadership. The organisation comprises high levels of ambiguity; not least in the roles individuals play as leaders and followers. The transactional basis of the relationship with central government informs the basis of relationships between leaders and followers but in doing so also constricts the possibilities for leadership within the organisation. The environment is therefore an influential dynamic in leader follower relationships. Leaders and followers use the availability, acquisition and utilisation of resources to negotiate the position of their leadership and followership. Leaders are aware that they need followers as a resource and followers need leaders as they control access to resources. The relationship takes the form of a complex social symbiosis in which both component parts support each other. The relationship has a political bias. The use of politics underpins the independence of followers who are capable of acting in ways that can frustrate leaders. Finally, the two constituent parts of the relationship are engaged in playing a game, the rules of which are not explicitly stated, but can involve behaviour deemed to be illegitimate or non-sanctioned. The normative position of followers as a largely homogenous group, docile and subject to the influences of leaders is shown to be unsubstantiated. This study concludes that followers have the capacity to act under their own agency toward their own goals and aspirations; and highlights the use of political behaviour to discredit leadership as an asymmetrical influence relationship. This study concludes by asserting that political behaviour corresponds to leadership and subsequently achieves its emancipatory intent.
Date of Award1 Aug 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorPaula Hyde (Supervisor) & John Hassard (Supervisor)


  • Leadership
  • Critical Theory
  • Politics

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