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The Follower’s Role

In all situations calling for transformation, the people closest to the individual in need of change play a pivotal role. Our primary relationships are the arena in which transformation of attitude and behavior is most likely to occur. As followers who are close to a leader, we have the power to play that pivotal role:

We can complicitly deny the need for transformation and cover it up, or we can openly contrast existing behaviors against desirable behaviors.

We can tolerate abusive or dysfunctional behavior, or we can draw a line in the sand.

We can fall in step with disruptive behavior, or we can model functional ways of interacting.

We can judge and rail against leaders’ failings, or we can see some of their struggles in ourselves.

We can create a hostile environment in which leaders fight for their lives, or we can provide the support they need to experiment and learn about personal change.

The paradox of transformation, from the follower’s perspective, is that it cannot be achieved by focusing solely on the leader. Such a focus can become obsessive and manipulative. If we wish to help a leader transform, we must ourselves be willing to participate in the process of transformation. We need to examine our own role in the relationship with the leader. That is the only role we potentially have full power to change. We need to notice what we do that enables and colludes with a leader’s dysfunctional behavior. For example, do we cower each time the leader throws a tantrum, and then frantically execute her barked orders? This reinforces the leader’s experience that tantrums are the way to control the environment. If we change that part of ourselves, the leader may make adjustments to find a new fit with us.

While the balance of the chapter will discuss how a courageous follower supports a leader’s transformation efforts, followers may want to seek similar support for their own transformation efforts.