Leader-Follower Theory


In order to appreciate the impact of the Leader-Follower Theory in your workplace or organization, one must first understand the meaning of Leader-Follower Theory. This is important because the meaning represents a foundation upon which to build upon. The impact is the effect of the identified processes and behaviors that stem from the foundation.

Meaning of Leader-Follower Theory in the Workplace

Leadership, in and of itself, is a hard thing for many people to wrap their minds around. Because of this, many different suppositions intended to explain the inner working, reasons, psychology, and need, have been developed over a great many years. At the very least, most can agree that leadership is a “process by which a person influences others to accomplish an objective” (Foster, 2010).

In the workplace, or any other organization, there are always things either aimed at or sought after; a goal, if you will. Or better said: a purpose. This is the objective with which the company or organization has been tasked with completing or achieving. These objectives usually come about like pieces of an overall bigger picture provided via the principal owner’s or creator’s vision or mission.

There will be employees and/or workers if there is a company or organization. These would be the people who have voluntarily taken a position with said group or have allowed themselves to be a part of the organization and agreed to work towards the collective missions or goals. This, by very definition, suggests that they are the followers within the organization itself.

By its very definition, leadership presumes that there are followers to lead. And if there are followers to lead, that creates the necessity for an actual leader. Essentially, leaders exist because of followers, and followers exist because of leaders (Hogg, 2001). The company or organization then requires that a leader lead the followers to accomplish the mission or objective as provided in the principal owner’s or creator’s vision or mission. This leader will attempt to influence the followers in such a way that the objectives are reached effectively but also efficiently.

The value of both leader and follower are fairly easy to recognize in this given scenario. However, the leader-follower relationship must ensure that resistance is minimal. This means that the potential leader must be willing to lead, and the follower must be willing to follow. Still, this willingness from both sides does not equate to or even guarantee symbiosis. How a leader leads, and how a follower follows, plays a big part in the leader-follower relationship.

Because of this, many different leaders and scholars will seek a better understanding of this relationship. Many methods and theories have been created and pondered in an attempt to aid in this process of effective objective completion. These include but are not limited to great man, top-down, agency theories, and of course Leader-Follower Theory which is comprised of several different theories to understand the follower in relation to the leader.

Impact of Leader-Follower Theory in the Workplace

Because the company or organization has been tasked with completing or achieving a particular goal, and because the organization must have willing followers to complete the necessary tasks, any potential leader must be a good fit for both the organization and the overall follower culture. This is very much where LMX or Vertical Dyad Linkage Theory comes into play because a follower will only be a follower as long as they are willing to be a follower and when they can see value in the leader. Hence, that leader should not treat the individual follower like everyone else. Instead, that leader must attempt to demonstrate appreciation and value in the individual follower to allow that follower the opportunity to enhance said leader.

This Leader-Follower relationship is critical in the grand scheme of an organization. Essentially, it equates to the idea that leaders and followers are, in fact, working together. The leader is willing to lead; the follower is willing to follow. It is not to say that the follower could not be the leader, nor that the leader could not be a follower. Instead, it is to say that given the provided circumstance, the team is coming together and working towards a common goal in the provided and possibly necessary roles.

Gilbert and Matviuk (2008) state that within a leader-follower relationship, “followership escapes the box of simple subordination and obedience of organizational tasks and opens up opportunities for innovative followership that generates and enhances growth within their leader.” This type of relationship benefits everyone within the organization. It would also equate to the organization’s desired efficiency and higher job satisfaction for both the worker and the leader.

Ultimately, when you evaluate individual theorems such as the adaptive change theory, the leader-member exchange format of leadership, and the theories of social identity and adaptive change, you can begin to see the need to use elements of other theories when attempting to piece together a possible method for organizational harmony. The Leader-Follower does just that, especially regarding specific workplace situations which may require a hands-on management style in organizations focused on the rapid turnaround of a product or service (Grayson, 2014).


Obviously, there is not a single style of leadership that will work for every given situation. On the opposite side of that coin, not every follower is desired. However, when dealing with a clearly identified task or mission, the necessary roles are more easily seen, and the types of leaders and followers can then be envisioned and sought. The leader-follower theory demonstrates that the end result should be the symbiosis of leader and follower working together to reach that common goal while at the same time enriching one another in their roles.

Be sure to read my article titled, “Defining Your Leadership Traits and Theories.


Foster, P. (2010). Leader – Follower Theory for the Learning Organization. Leaderlab Qyarterly, 1(3).
Gilbert & Matviuk. (December 01, 2008). The symbiotic nature of the leader-follower relationship and its impact on organizational effectiveness. Academic Leadership, 6, 4.)
Grayson, L. (2014, January 1). The Meaning & Impact of the Leader-Follower Theory as It Relates to Management & the Workplace. Retrieved from http://smallbusiness.chron.com/meaning-impact-leaderfollower-theory-relates-management-workplace-33607.html
Hogg, M. (2001). A social identity theory of leadership. Personality & Social Psychology Review, 5 (3), 184-201. http://tinyurl.com/2er4u6b