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I follow, therefore I lead: A longitudinal study of leader and follower identity and leadership in the marines

  • The University of Exeter

Abstract and Figures

It is acknowledged that identity plays an important role in a person's leadership development. To date, however, there has been little consideration of the possibility – suggested by the social identity perspective – that individuals who identify as followers may be especially likely to emerge as leaders. We test this possibility in a longitudinal sample of recruit commandos in the Royal Marines. Recruits rated their identification with leader and follower roles five times over the course of their 32‐week training programme. Recruits’ leadership and followership were evaluated by their commanders, and their leadership was assessed by their peers. Analysis indicated that while recruits who identified as leaders received higher leadership ratings from their commanders, recruits who identified – and were perceived – as followers emerged as leaders for their peers. These findings suggest that follower and leader identities underpin different aspects of leadership and that these are differentially recognized by others.
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British Journal of Psychology (2018)
©2018 The British Psychological Society
I follow, therefore I lead: A longitudinal study of
leader and follower identity and leadership in the
Kim Peters* and S. Alexander Haslam
School of Psychology, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
It is acknowledged that identity plays an important role in a person’s leadership
development. To date, however, there has been little consideration of the possibility
suggested by the social identity perspective that individuals who identify as followers
may be especially likely to emerge as leaders. We test this possibility in a longitudinal
sample of recruit commandos in the Royal Marines. Recruits rated their identification
with leader and follower roles five times over the course of their 32-week training
programme. Recruits’ leadership and followership were evaluated by their commanders,
and their leadership was assessed by their peers. Analysis indicated that while recruits
who identified as leaders received higher leadership ratings from their commanders,
recruits who identified and were perceived as followers emerged as leaders for their
peers. These findings suggest that follower and leader identities underpin different aspects
of leadership and that these are differentially recognized by others.
For many scholars, practitioners and laypeople, leadership and followership are very
different things. Indeed, many see one as the direct opposite of the other. Thus
writing in Forbes, Bradberry (2015) asks ‘Are you a leader or a follower?’ and
Leadership and followership are mindsets. They’re completely different ways of looking at the
world. One is reactive, and the other is proactive. One is pessimistic; the other is optimistic.
Where one sees a to-do list, the other sees possibilities.
This distinction is preserved in most academic treatments too. So, while leadership is
defined as a capacity to exert influence over others, followership is defined as a
willingness to accept it (Bligh, Pillai, & Uhl-Bien, 2009; Hollander & Webb, 1955).
Accordingly, the aim of many individual difference approaches was to establish which of
these two categories a person belongs to (e.g., after Gibb, 1958; Stogdill, 1948). As
Torpman (2004) observes, in contemporary organizational contexts this means that
leadership typically has a ‘differentiating function’ in which a key managerial objective is
to identify would-be leaders and then set them apart from followers (physically,
financially, psychologically).
If leaders and followers are indeed differentiated in this way, then people who see
themselves as leaders should be unlikely to see themselves as followers. More
*Correspondence should be addressed to Kim Peters, School of Psychology, University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Qld 4072,
Australia (email:
importantly, if leadership and followership are different mindsets, then it is the people
who see themselves as leaders (not followers) who should come to be recognized as
leaders by others. The existing empirical evidence is broadly consistent with this
possibility, as it has found that people who identify as leaders are more likely to attain
leadership positions (Chan & Drasgow, 2001; Kark & van Dijk, 2007; Lord & Hall, 2005).
However, there is very little (if any) evidence that people who identify as followers are less
likely to emerge as leaders. Indeed, there is reason to question the assumption that
leadership and followership operate in the fixed antagonistic ways suggested above. This
is because group-based perspectives on leadership suggest that there may be contexts in
which a follower identity will increase a person’s capacity to influence other group
members (Haslam, Reicher, & Platow, 2011; Hogg, 2001; Reicher, Haslam, & Hopkins,
2005). This study aimed to directly test the antagonistic assumption by exploring the
unique contributions of people’s leader and follower identities to observers’ recognition
of their leadership.
Identifying as leader and follower
Leadership is generally defined as the process of influencing other people in ways that
motivate them to contribute to the achievement of collective goals (e.g., Haslam, 2004;
Rost, 2008). This definition implies that, within a particular group at any given point in
time, people will occupy one of two complementary roles: that of leader, who exerts
influence, or that of follower, who responds to that influence. Although group members
do not need to see themselves in terms of these roles for leadership to occur, individuals
often internalize leader and follower roles as identity constructs that speak to their unique
worth within a social group (Ashforth, 2001; Chan & Drasgow, 2001; DeRue & Ashford,
2010; Epitropaki, Kark, Mainemelis, & Lord, 2017; Katz & Kahn, 1978; Sluss, Dick, &
Thompson, 2011). Importantly, as with any other self-categorization, when a group
member internalizes a role as leader or follower they are more likely to adopt and act in
terms of role-related goals, values and norms (Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher, & Wetherell,
1987; Turner, Oakes, Haslam, & McGarty, 1994). So, where identifying as a leader should
increase a person’s tendencies to engage in behaviours that are prototypical of leaders
(e.g., by being dominant and confident; Epitropaki & Martin, 2004; Guill
en, Korotov, &
Mayo, 2012; Smith & Foti, 1998), identifying as a follower should increase their tendencies
to engage in behaviours that are prototypical of followers (e.g., by being industrious and a
good citizen; Sy, 2010).
While there is a growing body of work that has explored the impact of a leader identity
on a person’s leadership, very little (if any) research has directly examined the
implications of taking on a follower identity. One reason for this is the fact that, as
noted above, there is often an implicit assumption in the leadership literature that
follower and leader identities have fixed and antagonistic effects on leadership
outcomes. For example, Chan and Drasgow’s (2001) Motivation to Lead scale which
is seen as a stable predictor of leadership performance captures a person’s self-concept
of the self as leader not follower. By implying that a leader identity comes at the cost of a
follower identity (and vice versa), this perspective suggests that effective leadership will
be facilitated by boosting a person’s identity as leader and suppressing that of follower.
However, there are perspectives that suggest that these identities need not be
antagonistically related. For instance, some researchers (e.g., Haslam et al., 2011) have
argued that it is possible for leader and follower identities to coexist within a person (albeit
in different contexts and at different times). Furthermore, in one notable study, Hollander
2Kim Peters and S. Alexander Haslam
and Webb (1955, see also Tanoff & Barlow, 2002) found that if naval aviation cadets
nominated a particular peer as someone that they would choose to lead, they were almost
certain to nominate the same person as someone they would choose to follow.
Importantly, this pattern of nominations was not accounted for by a preference for
working with friends. This pattern of findings led the researchers (see also Hollander &
Offermann, 1990) to conclude that, while leadership and followership are typically seen
as distinct, they are often aligned not least because when people are looking for
leadership they often turn to those who have previously shown followership. Similar
patterns have also been observed in non-military contexts. In particular, in a large sample
of executives, Agho (2009) found widespread agreement for the possibility that effective
followership is a prerequisite for effective leadership. Further, Baker, Mathis, and Stites-
Doe (2011) found that health workers perceived that, in a context of organizational
change, followers possess both exemplary leader and follower characteristics. If these
perspectives are correct in suggesting that leader and follower identities (and behaviours)
are not opposite poles of a scale, then this raises the possibility that both identities may
contribute positively to leadership.
Identifying as leader and follower and leadership recognition
There is a growing body of work which shows that seeing oneself as a leader can be
expected to facilitate leadership development because it is likely to increase a person’s
motivation to engage in, and persist with, behaviours that will help him or her to succeed
as a leader and to acquire formal leadership positions. The importance of this motivational
function is highlighted by the observation that to be an effective leader a person may need
to work actively on acquiring a range of social, cognitive, and behavioural skills over an
extended period of time (Day & Halpin, 2004; Lord & Hall, 2005). Chan and Drasgow’s
(2001) large-scale study of male military recruits to the Singaporean military provides
evidence of this possibility. This study found that recruits who identified more highly as a
leader were evaluated as having greater leadership potential by assessment centre raters;
they also received higher ratings of leadership potential from their peers and supervisors
upon completion of their training programme. Along similar lines, Day and Sin (2011)
found that students who reported higher levels of leader identity were rated by their
coaches as exhibiting higher levels of leadership within their teams. Miscenko, Guenter,
and Day (2017) also observed a positive association between postgraduate students’
identification as leaders and self-reported leadership skills over the course of a 7-week
leadership training module. Together, these strands of theory and evidence suggest that
people who identify as leaders are more likely to be recognized as such. This therefore
provides the basis for our first hypothesis:
Hypothesis 1: Group members who identify more highly as leaders are more likely to be
perceived as leaders.
At the same time, though, when one considers the group that provides the context for
such leader development behaviours, it is less obvious that a leader identity will always
increase a person’s capacity to influence other group members. Indeed, the social identity
approach to leadership, which incorporates social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1979)
and self-categorization theory (Turner, 1982; Turner et al., 1987, 1994), provides the
basis for expecting that a follower identity may be more helpful in this regard.
Leading by following 3
According to this approach, a person’s influence within a group is determined to a
large degree by group members’ perceptions that he or she represents, and is committed
to, the group (Haslam et al., 2011; Hogg, 2001; Reicher et al., 2005; Van Knippenberg &
Hogg, 2003; van Knippenberg, van Knippenberg, De Cremer, & Hogg, 2004; Turner &
Haslam, 2001). This claim is borne out by evidence that prototypical group members, who
are seen to embody ideal characteristics of the group, are more likely to be endorsed as
leaders than their less prototypical peers (e.g., Platow & van Knippenberg, 2001; Ullrich,
Christ, & van Dick, 2009). It is also supported by evidence that group members are more
likely to endorse a person’s leadership and to display followership if that person clearly
identifies with the group and is committed to realizing its ambitions rather than their own
personal ones (e.g., Duck & Fielding, 2003; Giessner, van Knippenberg, van Ginkel, &
Sleebos, 2013; Graf, Schuh, Van Quaquebeke, & van Dick, 2012; Haslam & Platow, 2001;
Jetten, Duck, Terry, & O’Brien, 2002; van Dick, Hirst, Grojean, & Wieseke, 2007; van
Knippenberg & van Knippenberg, 2005). Illustrative of both these processes, archival
research by Steffens and Haslam (2013) showed that in all the Australian Federal elections
that have taken place since 1901, Prime Ministerial candidates were much more likely to
have been successful (winning 34 of the 43 elections) if they made more references to ‘we’
and ‘us’ in their campaign speeches than their opponent.
According to the above arguments, whether leader and follower identities can be
expected to facilitate social influence and leadership is a function of the extent to which
these identities encourage the behaviours that signal a person’s oneness with, and
commitment to, the group. All else being equal, it seems that a follower identity may be
more likely to promote this group-serving behaviour than a leader identity. Not least, this
is because a leader identity may increase a person’s motivation to differentiate themselves
from potential followers (Lord & Hall, 2005; Van Knippenberg & Hogg, 2003), where this
can be realized by engaging in prototypical leader behaviours of dominance and
confidence (Epitropaki & Martin, 2004; Guill
en et al., 2012; Smith & Foti, 1998). In
contrast, prototypical follower behaviours include displays of industry and citizenship
(Smith & Foti, 1998; Sy, 2010), where these behaviours that more clearly situate a person
as striving within and for the group. Together, then, these strands of theory and evidence
provide the basis for a second hypothesis:
Hypothesis 2: Group members who identify more highly as followers are more likely to be
perceived as leaders.
In sum, our theoretical analysis provides reason to expect that the impact of leader and
follower identities on a person’s ability to lead may be more complementary than has
previously been assumed and that identifying with either role may confer benefits. In what
follows, we present the results of a longitudinal field study that was designed to shed light
on this possibility. This study examined the unique impact of marine recruits’
identification as leader and follower (measured repeatedly over the course of their
training) on commander and peer perceptions of their leadership on completion of their
Although not part of our a priori reasoning, as will become evident from our results,
different audiences appeared to respond differently to recruits’ identification as leader or
follower. Specifically, our findings are consistent with the possibility that commanders,
who observe recruits from outside their group, are particularly sensitive to recruits’
tendencies to behave in line with the generic leadership prototype (Epitropaki et al.,
2017; Lord & Hall, 2005), while ingroup peers are more sensitive to recruits’ tendencies to
4Kim Peters and S. Alexander Haslam
represent and advance their group (Platow & van Knippenberg, 2001). These observa-
tions, if robust, support a more nuanced understanding of the implications of leadership
role identities for social influence and leadership recognition, and the conditions under
which they are likely to translate into the attainment of leadership positions. We expand
on this (and alternative) theorizing in the Discussion.
Participants were 218 Royal Marine recruits belonging to one of four troops that
commenced their training in September or October of 2008. (Our sample size was
determined by troop commanders’ willingness to only grant us access to four troops for
the duration of their training). As the ban on women in ground close combat roles in the
United Kingdom was only lifted in 2016, all were male. Surveys were completed during
scheduled classroom time, and all recruits consented to participate. The final sample for
analytic purposes consisted of the 68 recruits who (1) completed at least one of the five
surveys (63 recruits completed four or more), (2) received commander ratings of their
leadership and followership midway through their training and again on its completion,
and (3) were rated by their peers as part of the Commando Medal vote. The final sample
were on average 20.90 years old (SD =2.76, range 1628 years).
Sample attrition was primarily due to the arduous nature of marine commando
training. The Royal Marines is a specialized infantry force with particular expertise in
warfare in extreme environments (including arctic and mountainous terrain). Every year,
approximately 1,200 recruits embark on the 32-week training programme, which is
considered to be one of the most physically demand ing specialist infantry training regimes
in the world. According to Royal Marines Commando Training Centre statistics, on
average, just over half of recruits successfully complete their training, and only around
40% complete it as a member of their original troop (injured recruits undergo
rehabilitation before continuing with a new troop and this may delay their completion
by many months). Importantly, because recruits are not permitted to discharge from
training before the end of Week 4, we were able to examine whether there were any
differences in leader and follower identity between the final and initial samples on the first
four surveys. This analysis did not reveal any evidence that recruits who completed the
training within the time frame captured by our study differed in their endorsement of a
leader or follower identity or in their interpersonal dominance from the recruits who did
not, all t(214227) <|1.23|,p>.222.
As part of a broader project examining recruit belonging and career motivation,
participants were asked to complete three scales relating to leader and follower identity.
We measured leader identity with three items (as=.56.80): ‘I think that I am a natural
leader’, ‘I have the skills and abilities to lead others’, and ‘I prefer to keep with my peers,
rather than standing out as a leader’ [reversed]. We measured follower identity with two
items (r=.28, p=.026, to r=.68, p<.001): ‘I think it is more important to get the job
done than to get my way’, and ‘If another person has a good idea, I am prepared to work
hard to make it happen’. Finally, to control for the possibility that identity endorsement
could be confounded with recruits’ interpersonal dominance (see Nevicka, De Hoogh,
Leading by following 5
Van Vianen, Beersma, & McIlwain, 2011, for evidence that such narcissis tic characteristics
predict leader categorization), we also measured dominance with two items (r=.49,
p<.001, to r=.75, p<.001): ‘I think that my ideas are usually better than other peoples’
ideas’, and ‘I enjoy getting other people to do things my way’. Responses to these various
items were made on 7-point Likert scales (1 =strongly disagree, 7 =strongly agree).
Confirmatory factor analysis with recruits who completed the identity scales on Day 1
(N=216) indicated that the three-factor model provided an adequate fit for the data: LR
(11) =29.31, p=.002, RMSEA =.088 (95% CI: 0.0500.127), CFI =.95,
SRMR =.050. These scales were administered during scheduled classes on Day 1, Day
5, Day 15, Day 25, and Week 25 of training.
Troop commanders, who each took responsibility for up to 15 recruits, were asked to
rate recruit leadership and followership on two occasions: midway through the training
(Week 16) and again on its completion (Week 31). Leadership was measured with the
following two items (r=.80.88, p<.001): ‘This recruit has displayed leadership
qualities’ and ‘This recruit has leadership potential’. Followership was measured with the
following two items (r=.67.85, p<.001): ‘This recruit has responded well to the
leadership of others’ and ‘This recruit has the poten tial to respond well to the leadership of
others’. Responses were made on identical 7-point Likert scales (1 =strongly disagree,
7=strongly agree).
To measure peer evaluations of leadership, as part of the end-of-training voting for the
Commando Medal, each recruit was asked to rate each member of their troop according to
whether he ‘embodied the commando spirit’ (5-point Likert scales, 1 =not at all; 5 =very
much). The commando spirit encompasses the attributes of leadership, courage,
unselfishness, cheerfulness, and determination, and the Commando Medal is explicitly
awarded in recognition of these qualities (King, 2004; see Figure 1). As suggested by the
ordering of the attributes on the medal further borne out in our conversations with
training commanders this award is primarily understood as a recognition of leadership.
Descriptive analysis
Construct means, standard deviations, and correlations are summarized in Table 1. From
this, it can be seen that recruits were, on average, more likely to identify as a follower than
Figure 1. The Commando Medal.
6Kim Peters and S. Alexander Haslam
they were to identify as a leader, t(68) =10.71, p<.001. Troop commanders were
likewise more likely to report that their recruits were effective followers than that they
were effective leaders, both at training midpoint, t(68) =6.42, p<.001, and on training
completion, t(68) =6.80, p<.001. There was very little evidence that a recruit’s
identification as a leader came at the expense of his identification as a follower, as the
negative correlation between these measures was small and non-significant. In fact,
commanders perceived that the recruits who displayed more leadership were also those
who displayed more followership. Importantly, the more recruits endorsed leader or
follower identities, the more they were perceived to be better leaders at the end of their
Together, these findings suggest that the general assumption that leader and follower
identities (and behaviours) are antagonistic may be unwarranted and that both identities
may make positive contributions to a person’s leadership. In the analyses below, we first
examine the stability of recruits’ leader and follower identities before conducting formal
tests of our hypotheses.
Leader and follower identity stability
Role identities are considered to be at least somewhat stable within people over time,
thereby providing them with the ongoing motivation that is required to acquire a role and
succeed in it. The intraclass correlation coefficients showed that a sizeable amount of
variance in identity ratings (especially leader identity ratings) was due to differences
between (rather than within) recruits: leader identity ICC =.64; follower identity
ICC =.23. It is therefore plausible that these identity constructs could contribute to the
recruits’ leadership development over the course of their training.
Table 1. Means and correlations for recruit, commander, and peer ratings of leadership and
Construct Mean SD 1234567
Recruit identity measures
1. Leader identity
4.43 0.94
2. Follower identity
5.91 0.59 .04
3. Dominance
3.68 0.96 .32** .20
Commander ratings
4. Leadership
(training midpoint)
4.24 1.58 .10 .15 .16
5. Leadership
(training completion)
4.35 1.55 .32** .12 .13 .36**
6. Followership
(training midpoint)
5.59 1.21 .02 .03 .07 .24* .16
7. Followership
(training completion)
5.68 1.02 .14 .03 .06 .02 .27* .05
Peer rating
8. Commando spirit
3.27 0.60 .06 .24* .05 .04 .34** .17 .51***
Identity ratings aggregated across surveys.
Commando Spirit rated on a 5-point Likert scale (all others rated on 7-point scales).
*p<.05; **p<.01; ***p<.001.
Leading by following 7
To understand whether participating in the training affected recruits’ identification as
leader or follower, we regressed the identity ratings onto the measurement time point
using ordinary least squares method (OLS). We controlled for the repeated nature of these
ratings by clustering standard errors at the level of the recruit (Wooldridge, 2003). Table 2
summarizes recruits’ mean levels of identity endorsement at each of the five measurement
points. This analysis did not provide any evidence that ratings of leader identity varied over
time, R
=.00, F(1, 67) =2.29, p=.135. However, there was evidence that recruits’
endorsement of a follower identity did vary, at least to a small extent, R
=.02, F(1,
67) =4.60, p=.036. In particular, recruits were more likely to endorse a follower
identity earlier in their training, b=0.07, t(67) =2.15, p=.036. When we repeated
this analysis for recruits’ dominance, we also found evidence of temporal variation,
=.04, F(1, 67) =15.10, p<.001, with recruits’ ratings of interpersonal dominance
increasing over time, b=0.14, t(67) =3.89, p<.001. Therefore, while progressing
through commando training appeared to have little impact on recruits’ identification with
a leader role, it may weaken their identification as a follower and boost their dominance
(albeit to a small degree).
Commander leadership and followership ratings
As a first test of our hypotheses, we assessed the association between recruits’ leader and
follower identities and commanders’ end-of-training perceptions of their leadership, using
hierarchical OLS regression and clustering standard errors at the level of the participant to
account for the nested structure of the data (Wooldridge, 2003). All recruit self-report
measures were centred at the scale mean. To enable a consideration of temporal effects,
we calculated the two-way interactions between the three centred self-report variables
and the measurement time point (coded: Day 1 =2, Day 5 =1, Day 15 =0, Day
25 =1, Week 25 =2). Table 3 contains the unstandardized regression coefficients from
this analysis.
In Step 1, we regressed leadership perceptions onto the identity and dominance
ratings (see Figure 2). This step accounted for a marginal amount of variance in leadership
ratings, F(3, 67) =2.66, p=.055. In line with H1, recruits who identified more with the
leader identity were ultimately perceived to be better leaders by their commanders. In
contrast, and contra H2, there was no evidence that identifying as a follower conferred any
leadership benefits.
In Step 2, we included the leadership and followership ratings that commanders
provided halfway through the training programme. This allowed us to ascertain whether
identity accounted for changes in leadership recognition over the second half of the
Table 2. Means and 95% confidence intervals for recruit identity endorsement over time
Construct Leader identity Follower identity Dominance
Day 1 4.56 (4.244.88)
6.06 (5.886.24)
3.49 (3.173.81)
Day 5 4.49 (4.204.79)
6.01 (5.846.18)
3.38 (3.093.68)
Day 15 4.33 (4.014.64)
6.04 (5.826.26)
3.59 (3.233.96)
Day 25 4.34 (4.064.62)
5.73 (5.436.04)
3.62 (3.333.90)
Week 25 4.34 (4.084.60)
5.77 (5.486.06)
4.12 (3.814.43)
Note. Column means with superscripts containing no common letters differ at p<.05.
8Kim Peters and S. Alexander Haslam
training course. This step resulted in a significant improvement in model fit, Wald F(2,
67) =9.00, p<.001, and the overall model was significant, F(5, 67) =7.07, p<.001.
Importantly, leader identity was a significant positive predictor over-and-above midpoint
leadership perceptions, suggesting that leader identity continues to contribute positively
to recruit leadership recognition over time. Interestingly, recruits who were initially
perceived by their commanders to be good followers were perceived to be marginally
poorer leaders at the end of training.
In Step 3, we included measurement time point and the three-two-way interactions
between time point and the recruit self-report measures. This did not significantly
Figure 2. Plot of best fit relationship between recruit follower or leader identity endorsement and
leadership evaluations by commanders (right) and peers (left).
Notes. Best fit lines plot the impact of variations in focal identity at mean values of non-focal identity;
Commander and peer leadership ratings are standardized to allow comparability of scales.
Table 3. OLS regression unstandardized coefficients predicting commander leadership and follower-
ship ratings at completion of training
Leadership Followership
Step 1 Step 2 Step 3 Step 1 Step 2 Step 3
Recruit identity measures
Leader identity .39* .37** .36** .12 .12 .13
Follower identity .19 .14 .08 .05 .04 .03
Dominance .04 .00 .01 .06 .06 .07
Commander ratings
Leadership (training midpoint) .40*** .40*** .01 .01
Followership (training midpoint) .35
.01 .02
Time effects
.00 .01
Leader identity 9time .01 .01
Follower identity 9time .07 .02
Dominance 9time .02 .05*
Constant 4.38*** 4.62*** 4.59*** 5.69*** 5.56*** 5.52***
.27*** .28*** .02 .02 .04
Notes.N=68, observations =304; Standard errors clustered at the participant level.
Time coded on 5-point scale (Day 1 =2, Day 5 =1, Day 15 =0, Day 25 =1, Week 25 =2).
p<.10; *p<.05; **p<.01; ***p<.001.
Leading by following 9
improve model fit, Wald F(4, 67) =0.67, p=.616, which suggests that the relationship
between identity and leadership is stable over time.
In order to ascertain whether recruits’ leader and follower identities also have
implications for commanders’ ultimate perceptions of their followership, we repeated the
above analysis for followership evaluations. This time, none of the hierarchical regression
steps was able to account for a significant amount of variance in followership ratings: Step
1F(3, 67) =0.62, p=.608, Step 2 F(5, 67) =0.41, p=.843, and Step 3 F(9, 67) =1.10,
p=.374. An examination of Table 3 reveals that, if anything, recruits who initially
reported higher levels of interpersonal dominance were ultimately perceived to be less
effective as followers.
Peer leadership ratings
As a second test of our hypotheses, we assessed the association between recruits’ leader
and follower identities and peer leadership evaluations in the form of ratings of
commando spirit. We followed the hierarchical regression approach described above,
with one exception: In Step 2, we also included commander’s end-of-course leadership
and followership evaluations. By doing this, we were able to assess how recruits’
leadership and followership behaviours (evaluated at two time points by commanders)
related to peer evaluations of their leadership. The unstandardized regression coefficients
from this analysis are provided in Table 4.
Step 1, which included the three self-report measures, did not account for a significant
amount of variance in leadership ratings, F(3, 67) =1.09, p=.358. While there was no
evidence that a leader identity positively affected peer leadership perceptions (contra
H1), there was weak evidence in support of H2, as recrui ts who endorsed higher levels of a
Table 4. OLS unstandardized regression coefficients predicting peer leadership ratings
Commando spirit
Step 1 Step 2 Step 3
Recruit identity measures
Leader identity .01 .05 .05
Follower identity .08
.11* .11*
Dominance .01 .01 .01
Commander ratings
Leadership (training midpoint) .01 .01
Leadership (training completion) .10
Followership (training midpoint) .09* .09*
Followership (training completion) .23** .23**
Time effects
Leader identity 9time .00
Follower identity 9time .00
Dominance 9time .01
Constant 3.29*** 2.10*** 2.10***
.02 .34*** .34***
Notes.N=68, observations = 304; Standard errors clustered at the participant level.
Time coded on 5-point scale (Day 1 =2, Day 5 =1, Day 15 =0, Day 25 =1, Week 25 =2).
p<.10; *p<.05; **p<.01; ***p<.001.
10 Kim Peters and S. Alexander Haslam
follower identity received marginally higher ratings from their peers. Figure 2 graphically
represents the impact of each identity on leadership ratings.
Step 2, which included the commander leadership and followership perceptions, led
to a significant improvement in model fit, Wald F(4, 67) =6.16, p<.001. While there was
again no support for H1, there was further support for H2. Specifically, recruits who
endorsed higher levels of a follower identity received significantly higher leadership
ratings. Interestingly, commander’s ultimate evaluations of recruits’ followership (but not
their earlier evaluations) also significantly predicted peer leadership evaluations, and
recruits who were seen as effective followers were perceived by their peers to be more
effective leaders. Weaker evidence also emerged of a similar association between
commanders’ ultimate evaluations of recruit leadership and those of their peers.
Finally, Step 3, which accounted for temporal variations in the relationship with
identity, did not significantly improve model fit, Wald F(4, 67) =0.23, p=.918,
suggesting that the observed relationships were stable over time.
This study was designed to explore the relationship between recruits’ leader and follower
identities and their leadership emergence, as assessed both by their commanders and their
peers. Together, the pattern of results that we describe in this study provides partial
support for our hypotheses. First, in line with H1, there was evidence that recruits who
saw themselves as leaders were more likely to be seen as such by the commanders who
oversaw their training. This pattern did not change significantly over time. Second, in line
with H2, there was evidence that recruits who saw themselves as followers (and were
seen as followers by their commanders) were more likely to be seen as leaders by their
peers. Again, this pattern did not change significantly over time.
These findings support previous claims that a person’s identity plays an important role
in their emergence as a leader over time; they also point to the import ance of considering a
broader array of identities beyond a person’s tendency to see him or herself as a leader. In
particular, our finding that a leader identity predicts subsequent leadership is in line with
the possibility that this identity motivates people to behave in ways that are consistent
with the leader prototype and to seek out leadership opportunities and positions (e.g.,
Day & Sin, 2011). At the same time, our finding that a follower identity is also predictive of
subsequent leadership is consistent with the possibility that this identity motivates people
to act as one with and on behalf of the group, creating the sense of shared identity that is
required for social influence (e.g., Haslam et al., 2011).
However, while our findings support the contention that leader and follower identities
do not come at the expense of one another (in this sample, they appear to be largely
orthogonal constructs) and therefore can both exert positive effects on a person’s
leadership, we did not find evidence of general complementarity. That is, the leadership of
recruits who adopted a leader identity was most clearly recognized by those outside of
their group (the commanders who oversaw their training), while the leadership of recruits
who adopted a follower identity tended to be appreciated only by their fellow ingroup
members. This raises the possibility of a more nuanced relationship between leadership
role identities and leadership emergence, where the important question is less whether
leader and follower identities matter and more when and to whom they matter.
Our findings suggest that one important moderator of the relationship between
leadership role identities and leader emergence is the structural position of the person
Leading by following 11
doing the evaluating. The responses of evaluators who were external, and superior, to the
group that provides the context for leadership (i.e., commanders) were different to the
responses of evaluators who were located within the group (i.e., peers). There are at least
three explanations of why structural position may affect leadership evaluations in the way
that we observed: (1) involvement in the leadership process, (2) sensitivity to impression
management, and (3) notions of leadership potential.
The first of these concerns the personal involvement of the evaluator in the leadership
process that they are evaluating. Where peers are likely to have personal experience of a
recruit’s capacity to influence them in ways that facilitate the achievement of their group’s
goals, commanders are not. This means that consistent with the predictions derived from
a social identity approach, peers (especially those who highly identify with their group)
will recognize and respond to the leadership of group members who are commited to and
represent the group (Haslam et al., 2011; Platow & van Knippenberg, 2001; van Dijke &
De Cremer, 2010; Van Knippenberg & Hogg, 2003). In contrast, commanders, who lack
the experience of being led by a given recruit, may attend to the extent to which a recruit
behaves in ways they believe a leader should (e.g., Epitropaki & Martin, 2004; Epitropaki
et al., 2017; Lord & Hall, 2005; Smith & Foti, 1998).
However, other explanations are possible too. The second explanation concerns the
involvement of the evaluator in a recruit’s impression management attempts. This time it
is more likely that a recruit who is seeking material advantage and advancement will direct
their impression management behaviours upwards, towards the evaluator with greater
structural power, rather than horizontally, towards ingroup members. Peers, for their
part, may be sensitive to, and suspicious of, a recruit’s impression management efforts
(e.g., in the form of ingratiation; Varma, Min Toh, & Pichler, 2006). If a leader identity
promotes such impression management behaviour, then our findings may reflect the fact
that superiors are more susceptible to them than equal-ranking ingroup members. The
final explanation concerns the possibility that people in different structural positions have
different notions of leadership potential, and that while commanders are not recognizing
those recruits who are effective leaders of their peers, they may be attendin g to behaviours
that are predictive of leadership emergence in non-training contexts and across a career.
Gaining evidence of the validity of these alternative explanations is an important agenda
for future investigation.
While our findings point towards a more nuanced understanding of the impact of role
identities on leadership emergence, they also point to important structural barriers which
limit the capacity for individuals who are recognized as effective leaders by their peers to
attain formal leadership positions. In particular, our results suggest that commanders not
only rewarded those recruits who identified (and behaved) as leaders by recognizing their
leadership, they also (marginally) denied recognition to recruits who they perceived as
having the potential to be good followers. On the face of it, this is a recipe for establishing
ineffective leadership structures and increasing team dysfunction. Organizations that
utilize democratic processes for the selection of formal leaders (i.e., processes that tap
into team member experiences of leadership within their team) may well benefit from
doing so.
While there are a number of strengths to this study (including the multisource
longitudinal nature of the data set and relevance of the training context to leadership),
there are also a number of limitations, not least the relatively small size of the sample. Also,
although there was no evidence that recruits who completed their training in the time
frame that we were able to capture differed in their endorsement of leader and follower
identities from those who did not (either because they opted out of training, or were
12 Kim Peters and S. Alexander Haslam
injured and entered rehabilitation), we cannot eliminate the possibility that our final
sample differed from our original one in their baseline leadership and followership
capabilities. Relatedly, though longitudinal, the correlational nature of this study means
that it is not possible to make any claims about the causal impact of a leader or follower
identity on leadership emergence. In future work, it is therefore important to address
these limitations (perhaps using experimental methodologies) so as to provide stronger
tests of our claim that the seeds of a person’s leadership may lie not only in their taking on
of the identity of a leader but also in their willingness to assume the identity of a follower
(Hollander & Webb, 1955).
When asked how they approached the task of developing the leadership of their
students, staff at the prestigious West Point Military Academy said: ‘We begin by
teaching them to be followers’ (Litzinger & Schaefer, 1982). From the perspective of
the existing literature, this would seem to be a rather paradoxical approach, because
in encouraging students to see themselves as followers the academy is failing to
promote the leader identity that motivates the acquisition of leadership skills and
positions. However, considered in light of our current findings, West Point trainers
are not wasting their time. In particular, while effective leadership does to some
extent rest on having the right skills and a willingness to assume positions of
responsibility, it cannot be reduced to them. And consistent with the possibility that
a follower identity motivates group-serving behaviours, we found that recruits who
identified as followers and who engaged in followership were more likely to be seen
as leaders by their peers. Accordingly, organizations that wish to develop leadership
capacity may be well served by promoting their members’ identities as followers, not
just as leaders.
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Received 18 October 2017; revised version received 29 March 2018
16 Kim Peters and S. Alexander Haslam
... For example, in a study of peer nominations for roles of leadership and followership among naval cadets, Hollander and Webb (1955) found evidence that those nominated by their peers as good leaders also tended to be considered as good followers, suggesting some similarities in perceptions associated with the two roles. In a recent longitudinal study, Peters and Haslam (2018) compared self-nomination for leadership and followership among a sample of marine recruits with attributions of leadership and followership, as rated by both their commanders and by their peers. They found that while commanders' attributions were largely congruent with self-reports, peers tended to perceive those who had identified themselves primarily as followers, as leaders. ...
... This observation seems partly congruent with Kalimuddin's (2017, p. 2) description of the "effective follower" in the military as a person who can "rise to the challenge of exercising disciplined initiative," rather than as "a sheep." Thus, despite the hierarchical context and emphasis on leadership over followership discourse in training programs, the literature reviewed above suggests that the conceptualization of these roles as clearly distinct may not be an accurate reflection of how they play out in practice, and, in particular, in the military context (e.g., Hollander & Webb, 1955;Peters & Haslam, 2018). ...
... This may initially seem somewhat paradoxical, in the context of an organization known for its emphasis on hierarchy and obedience, represented in the uniforms that members wear (which include symbols that communicate the members' rank to others; e.g., Wong et al., 2003) and the way in which the organization is structured. Yet our main findings, which centered around perceptions of leadership and followership as one and the importance of bridging the distance, highlight the significance of these attitudes and behaviors for the members of our sample, and confirm prior suggestions that leadership and followership in the military may be more closely intertwined than usually thought (e.g., Hollander & Webb, 1955;Peters & Haslam, 2018). ...
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... Leader endorsement can be influenced by factors on the individual side such as follower's self-uncertainty regarding their identity (Rast, Gaffney, Hogg, & Crisp, 2012), follower cognitive needs (Rast, Hogg, & Tomory, 2015), and how far follower identify leader (Rast, Hackett, Alabastro, & Hogg, 2015) and group In leadership studies, leader endorsement has several important roles. Peters and Haslam's (2018) states that although an individual displayed leader-like behavior, without subordinates' endorsements they will not be viewed positively as leaders. This is because subordinates will give supports and approvals only when the leader characteristics represent the organization's values (Peters & Haslam, 2018). ...
... Peters and Haslam's (2018) states that although an individual displayed leader-like behavior, without subordinates' endorsements they will not be viewed positively as leaders. This is because subordinates will give supports and approvals only when the leader characteristics represent the organization's values (Peters & Haslam, 2018). Endorsement given to a leader will also form a positive leader identity (Derue & Ashford, 2010) so that leaders could assert their influence. ...
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Leadership occurs when the individuals claimed capable of leading, received endorsements from their subordinates. Without endorsements (i.e., subordinates’ willingness to support and be directed by the leader), no leader will be able to direct and influence their subordinates. Using the Social Identity Theory of leadership, this research aimed to investigate the factors influencing leader endorsement. Through an online survey with good internal consistency (i.e., coefficient reliability ranging from .7 to .9), this study was able to collect data from 186 private employees across Indonesia. The moderated multiple regression analysis showed 1) subordinates tend to endorse prototypical leaders; 2) organizational identification is positively related to leader endorsement; and 3) leader effectiveness weakens the positive relationship between leader prototypicality and leader endorsement. This study contributes to the social identity theory of leadership by demonstrating that low prototypical leaders may still get endorsed, as long as they are showing effective behavior. This new finding sheds light on what kind of leadership behaviors may win the endorsement from their subordinates.
... Instead, leaders-in particular NCOs and corps-commissioned officers-have a central role in the development of cohesion by providing meaning, moderating differences, setting standards, and thus defining what it means to be part of the team. This described role of NCOs is evocative of the Social Identity Model of Leadership that argues that leadership is based on four characteristics: (1) "one of us," (2) working in the collective interest, (3) embodying prototypicality, and (4) providing meaning (Gleibs & Haslam, 2016;Jansen & Delahaij, 2019;Peters & Haslam, 2018;Reicher et al., 2007;Smith et al., 2018;Steffens et al., 2014). The descriptions in this study also support recent work in the U.S. Army, which highlighted the relationship between NCOs experience, length of service, and conduct with retention among junior soldiers (Wenger et al., 2018), as well as work in a Dutch infantry platoon on the importance of group processes for leadership (Jansen & Delahaij, 2019), suggesting that leadership's role for cohesion is resonant of these four characteristics. ...
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Military unit cohesion has been associated with team performance, combat motivation, and positive mental health outcomes. Scholarship of military cohesion has been dominated by the Standard Model of Cohesion and the Task Cohesion Approach. Recent shifts in the character of conflict alongside a range of sociopolitical changes require these models to be reevaluated. This article aims to empirically compare these models using a deductive exploratory approach to assess their utility for present-day military formations. Seven construct variables were operationalized as deductive themes, coded against 26 focus groups with personnel from three military formations. Thematic analysis was supplemented by graph modeling, allowing to visualize interactions of constructs. Findings show that military formations develop cohesion in different ways. Teams low in occupational similarity emphasized leadership and shared experiences, while those with high levels emphasized professional competence. This novel approach provided a powerful tool to analyze, visualize, and model qualitative data about cohesion.
... While leaders may be identified because of their achievements in certain qualities, such as communication skills, charisma, technical knowledge, wisdom, moral authority, discipline, and perseverance, they could not lead independent of the followers. A recent longitudinal study by Peters and Haslam (2018) investigated how individual identity plays an important role in a person's leadership development. The study requires recruit commandos in the Royal Marines to rate their own identification with either leader or follower roles over a 32-week period. ...
Servant leadership transforms the relationship between leaders and followers through a conscious choice to focus on the followers: understanding their motivations, capabilities, and development potentials. It emphasizes a genuine care of common interest and shared vision. While there is ample research on what is servant leadership, further research is required to illustrate how servant leadership could be implemented and sustained. This chapter offers a Buddhist perspective on servant leadership. It first expounds the Buddhist teachings on the doctrine of dependent arising (paṭiccasamuppāda) and selflessness (anatta) through which the nature and identity of the leader and the servant, and hence servant leadership could be understood through different lens. These teachings could contribute to the philosophical foundations required to dismantle the barriers between these identities and resolve the dilemma of a servant leader—being both a servant and a leader, allowing for the full manifestation of the servant leadership ideals. This chapter further looks into the exemplary servant leaders in Mahāyāna Buddhism, the Buddha-s and Bodhisattva-s, who are the embodiment of profound compassion and wisdom in their selfless mission and unrelenting effort to teach and heal all sentient beings. The chapter draws upon some critical insights from the Heart Sūtra and the Diamond Sūtra to inspire a possible enhanced and sustainable servant leadership model of ‘Interdependent Leadership’ based on Buddhist philosophies, teachings, and practices. In particular, this enhanced model could help sustain servant leadership in social entrepreneurship and other professions demanding persistent and deep emotional and intellectual strengths. The chapter concludes with further discussions on how servant leaders could benefit from Buddhist teachings by going beyond any fixation on identities of the leader and the follower.
This chapter considers what it means to be a follower and addresses the responsibilities and characteristics of followers. Followership is a relational role in which followers have the ability to influence leaders and contribute to the improvement and attainment of group and organisational objectives. Followers’ responsibilities are no less important than those of leaders, as it is followers who enable good leadership to flourish. Good followers do not withhold or avoid difficult options or decisions. Good followers need to be courageous. Effective leadership is an active process that is affected by the characteristics of, and interaction among, the leader, the follower and the context. Followership and leadership are uniquely and inextricably linked in a symbiotic relationship. Leaders that promote and encourage the ‘yessayer’ follower are far more dangerous and far less likely to apply a morally sound or ethically appropriate approach in their leadership or dealings with followers.
Leader identity theory posits that, in addition to being positional, leadership is also a malleable state of mind. This means that even employees holding positions of authority within their organization may be nudged to identify more strongly with their leader role on some days versus others. The leadership literature, however, is silent about predictors that may prime leader identity day-to-day. We draw from leader identity theory and research on expressive writing to propose that leader identity can be activated daily via positive leader self-reflection (e.g., reflecting and writing about qualities that make one a good leader) in ways that are beneficial for the leader both at work and at home. We tested our theoretical expectations in two field experiments. In the first study, as expected, we find that leaders reported higher activated leader identity and more goal progress on intervention (vs. control) days. In turn, activated leader identity and goal progress enhanced leader well-being measured in the evening at home. Surprisingly, and contrary to expectations, the well-being enhancing effects of positive leader self-reflection were weaker for leaders who were higher (vs. lower) in identity fusion with their followers. In the second study, we demonstrate the malleable nature of leader identity by showing not only that positive leader self-reflection activates leader identity, but also that negative leader self-reflection diminishes its activation.
This conceptual paper challenges assumptions about the primacy of leaders and leading over followers and following in the leadership process. Leadership cannot be holistically understood unless followership and leadership are researched as they are enacted—in tandem. To move toward a more complete understanding of leadership, we introduce a leadership system which involves a co-created leadership process, unfolds over time, and accounts for stability and change in partners’ expectations and behaviors. Drawing on role theory and implicit leadership (ILTs) and followership (IFTs) theories, we suggest how expectations of self and other influence leading and following behaviors and the leadership process. Personal learning acquired through the experience of leadership results in stability or change in one’s future expectations. Our framework explains how stability and change in each dyad partners’ leadership and followership expectations comes about through constructionist and constructivist mechanisms. These mechanisms occur across two timelines: The first is the microadjustments made to expectations and behaviors within a particular leadership occurrence. The second is the loop between personal learning and the expectations each member carries into future leadership occurrences and relationships. Practical implications arising from this new framework include considerations for leadership and followership development and a contribution to leadership forecasting.
Research exploring the powerful links between leadership and identity has burgeoned in recent years but cohered around two distinct approaches. Research on identity leadership, the main focus of this special issue, sees leadership as a group process that centers on leaders’ ability to represent, advance, create and embed a social identity that they share with the collectives they lead—a sense of “us as a group”. Research on leader identity sees leadership as a process that is advanced by individuals who have a well-developed personal understanding of themselves as leaders—a sense of “me as a leader”. This article explores the nature and implications of these divergent approaches, focusing on their specification of profiles, processes, pathways, products, and philosophies that have distinct implications for theory and practice. We formalize our observations in a series of propositions and also outline a dual-identity framework with the potential to integrate the two approaches.
This chapter focuses on notions of identity and followership, and presents a process for follower identity development. As areas separately seeing growth in academic popularity over the years, the author is keen to bring them together in the hope of further enabling students to connect with their own followership identities, much in the way that they are supported to become aware of and to develop their leadership identities.
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Objectives: An emerging body of evidence indicates that, in addition to the coach, athlete leaders within a team are vital for a sports team's success. Sports teams are therefore keen to know which attributes are distinctly characteristic of high-quality leaders on and off the field. The present study aims to shed more light on this question. Method: A wide variety of traits and leadership behaviors was assessed in a sample of 776 athletes, stratified across gender, competitive level, and four sports. The leadership quality of each of the athletes (i.e., as task, motivational, social, and external leader) was determined on the basis of the perceptions of teammates using social network analysis. Results: Findings revealed that leadership behaviors outweighed personality traits in distinguishing high-quality leaders from others on and off the field. Providing identity leadership that created, embodied, advanced, and embedded a collective sense of 'us' in their teams was found to be a particularly important leadership behavior that characterized high-quality leaders both on and off the field. Conclusion: The fact that leadership behaviors were important predictors of high-quality athlete leadership (and more important predictors than traits) suggests that leaders are not just born, but can also be made. Our findings therefore highlight the clear need for leadership development programs to target the behaviors that we identified as important predictors of leadership.
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A growing body of leadership literature focuses on leader and follower identity dynamics, levels, processes of development and outcomes. Despite the importance of the phenomena, there has been surprising little effort to systematically review the widely dispersed literature on leader and follower identity. In this review we map existing studies on a multi-level framework that integrates levels-of-the self (individual, relational and collective) with the levels-of-analysis (intrapersonal, interpersonal and group) on which leader or follower identity work takes place. We also synthesize work from multiple research paradigms, such as social psychology experimental studies, narrative accounts of leaders’ identity work and field studies on antecedents, outcomes, mediating mechanisms and boundary conditions. Finally, we outline implications for leadership development and call attention to key themes we see ripe for future research.
According to John Adair, the most important word in the leader's vocabulary is "we" and the least important word is "I". But if this is true, it raises one important question: why do psychological analyses of leadership always focus on the leader as an individual - as the great "I"? One answer is that theorists and practitioners have never properly understood the psychology of "we-ness". This book fills this gap by presenting a new psychology of leadership that is the result of two decades of research inspired by social identity and self-categorization theories. The book argues that to succeed, leaders need to create, champion, and embed a group identity in order to cultivate an understanding of 'us' of which they themselves are representative. It also shows how, by doing this, they can make a material difference to the groups, organizations, and societies that they lead. Written in an accessible and engaging style, the book examines a range of central theoretical and practical issues, including the nature of group identity, the basis of authority and legitimacy, the dynamics of justice and fairness, the determinants of followership and charisma, and the practice and politics of leadership. The book will appeal to academics, practitioners and students in social and organizational psychology, sociology, political science and anyone interested in leadership, influence and power.