• Friday, March 01, 2024
businessday logo


The psychology of follower-focused leadership

Seven attributes of a leading leader in 2024

In the first article of our exploration into follower-focused leadership, we laid the groundwork for understanding its principles and practical applications. Now, let’s embark on a journey into the intricate web of psychology that underlies this dynamic leadership approach, shedding light on the profound impact it can have on both individuals and organisations.

At the core of follower-focused leadership lays a profound grasp of emotional intelligence, an indispensable tool for any leader seeking to navigate the complex landscape of human interactions. Leaders who excel in emotional intelligence possess an acute awareness of their own emotions and those of their followers. They leverage this understanding to foster authentic connections, creating an environment where trust can flourish. In the C-suite, where decisions ripple through entire organisations, leaders attuned to the emotional needs of their teams hold a distinct advantage.

Read also: Opportunity for transformative leadership program beckons on W/ African candidates

Motivation theory takes centre stage in the follower-focused playbook, recognising that a one-size-fits-all approach is archaic in today’s diverse and dynamic workplaces. Leaders adopting this style are adept at discerning the unique motivational drivers of each team member, crafting a tailored approach that inspires and propels them toward shared goals. By acknowledging individual aspirations and aligning them with the broader organisational mission, these leaders cultivate a sense of purpose that transcends the mundane tasks of daily work.

The idea of social learning theory integrates smoothly into the framework of motivation theory, underscoring the significance of observational learning and role modelling. Follower-focused leaders understand that their behaviour sets the tone for the entire team. Through their actions, they model the values, work ethic, and collaboration essential for success. In this way, leadership becomes a beacon for positive behaviour, sparking a ripple effect throughout the organisation.

The leader-follower dynamic, a linchpin in this leadership style, thrives on mutual understanding and effective communication. Leaders who grasp the intricacies of their followers’ motivations forge stronger connections, fostering an environment where loyalty is reciprocal. This reciprocity becomes the bedrock upon which innovative ideas, collaboration, and resilience can flourish.

Research in organisational psychology substantiates the profound impact of follower-focused leadership on team dynamics, organisational culture, and productivity. A study by the Journal of Applied Psychology founds that teams led by follower-focused leaders exhibit higher levels of job satisfaction and engagement. These teams are more cohesive and collaborative, fostering a supportive work environment that encourages individual growth and team success.

At the core of follower-focused leadership lays a profound grasp of emotional intelligence, an indispensable tool for any leader seeking to navigate the complex landscape of human interactions.

Another study by the Journal of Organisational Behaviour found that teams led by follower-focused leaders have lower turnover rates. This can save organisations significant costs associated with recruitment and training. An additional study by the Journal of Applied Psychology founds that follower-focused leadership can enhance team creativity and innovation. By creating an environment where followers feel safe to express their ideas and take risks, leaders can drive innovation throughout their organisations.

Read also: The essence of follower-focused leadership

Further, case studies from top-performing companies illustrate how embracing this leadership style results in more than just a harmonious workplace; it catalyses a surge in job satisfaction, engagement, and performance metrics. A report by Harvard Business Review found that follower-focused leadership significantly impacts organisational culture. It promotes a culture of empathy and mutual respect, where employees feel valued and heard. This can significantly enhance employee morale and retention, contributing to a positive and productive work environment.

Again, case studies further illuminate the impact of follower-focused leadership on productivity. One notable example is the transformation of Microsoft under CEO Satya Nadella. Recognizing the stifling effects of their competitive internal culture, Nadella shifted the focus towards cooperation and empathy, embodying the principles of follower-focused leadership. This shift resulted in a significant increase in Microsoft’s employee satisfaction and a dramatic improvement in their market performance. Under Satya Nadella’s leadership, Microsoft underwent a cultural transformation, shifting from a competitive to a collaborative environment. Nadella recognized the untapped potential of his employees and worked to create an environment where they could pursue their intrinsic motivations. His approach paid off. Employee satisfaction at Microsoft soared, and the company saw a dramatic increase in innovation. They launched several new products and services, like Microsoft Teams and Azure, that have since become industry leaders.

Similarly, Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, exemplified follower-focused leadership when she worked to dismantle the company’s traditional hierarchy and foster a culture of transparency and accountability. Barra’s approach resulted in a significant increase in employee engagement and a more innovative work environment.

Expert opinions from renowned psychologists and leadership consultants echo these findings. Dr. Meredith Hayes, a leading authority on organisational behaviour, emphasises that follower-focused leadership is not a mere trend but a transformative paradigm shift. “In an era where the workforce is more diverse and interconnected than ever, leaders must evolve beyond traditional command-and-control models. Follower-focused leadership is the future, where empathy, collaboration, and understanding drive unprecedented success,” she asserts.

In conclusion, follower-focused leadership is not just about focusing on the followers; it is about understanding and leveraging human psychology to drive positive outcomes. It is about recognizing and validating the intrinsic motivations of followers, leading by example, and fostering a culture of continuous learning. Leadership is not just about the leader; it is about the followers too. Follower-focused leadership recognizes this, shifting the focus from the leader to the followers. It is about understanding and validating their motivations, fostering their growth, and leading by example. It is about creating a work environment where everyone feels valued, heard, and motivated to do their best.

Read also: Nigeria-Britain Association annual lecture advocates leadership role in national prosperity

Follower-focused leadership is not just a leadership style; it is a mindset, a philosophy. It is about recognizing the power and potential of each individual and leveraging it to drive organisational success. It’s a philosophy that’s worth embracing for any leader looking to make a positive impact on their team and their organisation.


Dr. Toye Sobande is a strategic leadership expert, lawyer, public speaker, and trainer. He is the CEO of Stephens Leadership Consultancy LLC, a strategy and management consulting firm offering creative insight and solutions to businesses and leaders. Email: [email protected]