Leadership Styles Are Important to Followers

Scrabble letters on a table spelling the word leadership which is important to followers.

The leadership behavior of organization managers has both positive and negative impacts on their direct reports. The academic research literature has shown that leadership styles are important to followers. After an extensive examination of the literature, Andrew Carton concluded that researchers need to take a new look at the specific behaviors that are important to followers. We decided to do just that and conduct a qualitative study of how direct reports view their managers’ leadership behavior. This recent paper, a collaboration with David Howard, Eric Eisenberg, John Couris and Joann Quinn, identified 9 important behaviors of leaders as seen by their followers. Note, we published the paper open-access so anyone can download it for free.

How We Conducted the Study

We invited all direct reports of 44 hospital managers to complete a survey providing their experiences with that manager. The first thing we asked them to do was describe in their own words how their manager functioned as a leader and how they acted toward direct reports. Two hundred and seventy-three of those direct reports provided descriptions. Two member of the team read those descriptions and looked for common themes. This meant that descriptions by different individuals describe the same behaviors, often using the same or very similar terms. Some of those descriptions were positive behaviors whereas others were negative. Often the same words were used to represent different directions, for example, some said their manager was a micromanager, whereas others said their manager was not a micromanager. Some described their manager as supportive and others as non-supportive.

The Themes We Found

After several rounds of examination and discussion, we identified nine themes that represented how direct reports viewed their leaders’ behavior. The top four in frequency of mention, noted by at least 20% of the direct reports were:

Kindness: The most often mentioned behavior concerned whether or not the manager was kind and caring. Most who mentioned this noted that the manager was kind, but a small minority said they were not.

Supportive: Although kindness and supportiveness are often assumed to go together, this was not the case. Managers who supported their direct reports were not necessarily described as kind, and kind managers were not necessarily described as supportive.

Open to Input: These managers listened to and solicited input from direct reports.

Allow Autonomy: Some managers were democratic in their approach whereas others, not so much.

Leadership Styles Are Important to Followers.

In addition to asking for descriptions, we included a quantitative measure of how much the direct reports trusted their manager. Trust is important as it is linked to job performance, job satisfaction, and retention. All nine of the themes related to trust in the leader. Direct reports who described their leader as high on a dimension in the positive direction (e.g., was kind) rated their trust higher than direct reports who described a leader’s behavior in the opposite way (e.g., was unkind). These results show how manager leadership behavior is important for building trust, which is the foundation of a good leader-follower working relationship.

Photo by Markus Winkler at Pexels

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