What makes people follow a controversial leader?
Last week in a Henley MBA cohort we had a heated debate. This leaves no one indifferent. And it is a difficult one. We can easily focus on the person only – and condemn or applaud. I am more interested in the system of leadership relationships and how we react to the phenomenon.
Commentators have focussed on the person characteristics they decoded: Ascribing the phenomenon only to a person’s inherent individual characteristics, style, values, sense of identity or world view is cutting too short. Well, in non-academic terms it also a “cop out” for others involved. Leadership research is pretty clear about that. We might call it charisma, or else, nevertheless it is not working like a light bulb that you just switch on for yourself and everyone is attached!
Instead people decide if they see something in you and endorse you. That is why many commentators have focussed on sections of society of distinct characteristics that supposedly have endorsed Donald Trump and are the key for the success. Might be.
How long those relationships will last is an intriguing question. We can differentiate between leadership as deciding/taking action and leadership as mobilising people around a shared purpose. What happens when the actual decisions will not match the purpose for which people got mobilised? Many might have projected their fears or dreams into the person. What if those are not being fulfilled? Will we see more disappointment and separation which initially might have been the reason for the strong bonds and certain votes?
And the contribution to the current dynamics of the people who have not voted for the person or not voted at all? I increasingly think about non-action as a key ingredient of leadership consequences. Normally research looks at laissez faire shown by managers. I am as much interested in laissez faire behaviour of followers – or here observers, collaborators…
Refer to your organisational experience – when large numbers of people are not content with the development of their organisation. However, they never speak up. Or always assume that someone else is stepping up to prevent the developments they really do not like. Have we seen in many a sense of being superior or being correct by default? And thus not considering to take enough action or to start thinking? Because it cannot happen, can it?
You could conclude from this and ask: Who is actually detached? Those who are not involved and seemingly do not benefit from societal developments (as presented often by commentators)? Or those who are involved and benefitting from societal developments but do consider it worth to contribute to make it sustainable for other communities?
You guessed it. Two aspects of leadership I have not touched, but for many might manifest lines that have been crossed: The relevance of personal values of a person, and the overall purpose: how will the link between the individual purpose and ambition and the shared purpose a person is answerable to play out? Nice one to discuss at the lunch table.
Originally posted on https://blog.berndvogel.org/.