The Importance of Followers in Leadership

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Leadership encompasses all the things discussed in the pharmacy curriculum, its co-curriculum, and likely that much more. Even the most sophisticated of theories often regards leadership in a vacuum, as though employees either respond or do not respond well as a direct result of leadership; however, participation in itself can be subsumed under leadership, and “good followers” are really needed.

Wang et al challenged this leadership-in-a-vacuum notion.1 They contend that studies of leadership tend to regard followers as passive recipients of leaders' influences. In that regard, researchers of leadership often control for follower characteristics (eg, age, gender, organizational tenure/experience) when examining relations between leadership behaviors and other variables. However, reversing-the-lens theory suggests that followers' characteristics represent substantive factors that may affect how they perceive their leaders or how leaders behave toward different followers. They conducted two studies to investigate this possibility. In Study 1, they meta-analyzed data from 479 primary studies (N = 172,494) and found meaningful relations between follower individual differences (eg, gender, personality) and ratings of their leaders' behaviors (eg, transformational leadership, abusive supervision). In Study 2, they conducted a primary experiment to estimate the extent to which actual leader behaviors or differences in follower perceptions of those behaviors account for these relations. Results suggest that follower perceptions and measurement error explain almost the same or more variance in follower ratings than do actual leader behaviors. However, actual leader behaviors do play a role, in that leaders tend to behave differently toward followers who possess high or low levels of certain characteristics (eg, agreeableness). Taken together, the two studies provide evidence that follower differences are related to ratings of leader behaviors and thus deserve more attention.

What are the implications of these studies for pharmacy managers? Leadership theories and the books that leaders likely read are quite important, but so too are the people they are leading/managing. The pharmacy leader (or manager) must prepare for contingencies and accept that the outcomes of their behaviors will not correctly predict employee behavior 100% of the time (in fact, perhaps not close to that). Pharmacy managers/leaders need to understand the people working for them and the culture in which they operate to be truly effective and not rely solely on the latest leadership “trends”, even while those leadership trends and theories will be very helpful. It is also important for employees likewise to be good citizens, try to empathize with their leader/manager and consider that at least most of them are trying their level best and will react to how you, the employee, behave. Employees typically do not have all the information that a manager/leader might have when decisions are made.

Additional information about Leadership can be found in Pharmacy Management: Essentials for All Practice Settings, 5e. If you or your institution subscribes to AccessPharmacy, use or create your MyAccess Profile to sign-in toPharmacy Management: Essentials for All Practice Settings, 5e. If your institution does not provide access, ask your medical librarian about subscribing.

1Wang G, Van Iddekinge CE, Zhang L, Bishoff J. Meta-analytic and primary investigations of the role of followers ratings of leadership behaviors and organizations. J Appl Psychol. 2018; doi: 10.1037/apl0000345.

Shane Desselle

Professor of Social and Behavioral Pharmacy, Touro University California

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Shane Desselle 8 months ago

Are you a good follower? Have you influenced the behavior of leaders?