What might our organizations look like, or accomplish for that matter, if they were constructed around the concept that leadership is not the purview of the few nor followership the purview of the many? Increasingly leadership is seen as interpretive and a property of the perceptual relationship between leaders and “others” within a context, or community of practice (Rickards & Moger, 2006). Who these “others” might be has changed over the decades as employees have moved from simple subordinates, to human capital, then to followers and now perhaps finally partners. Partnerships connote productive relationships in which the initiatives of followers are just as important as those of their leaders (Potter, Rosenbach & Pittman, 2001). In addition, constructive and helpful relations enable people to share their insights and freely discuss their concerns. Good relationships purge a knowledge creation process of distrust, fear and dissatisfaction, and allow organizational members to feel safe enough to explore the unknown territories of new markets, customers (Von Krogh, Ichijo & Nonaka, 2000) or ideas.
Developing positive relationships requires the current follower to have enough initiative so as to pursue creative and innovative endeavors and for the current leader to assume a coach or mentor role. For the follower initiative indicates “self-management;” the desire and ability to determine one’s own goals within a larger context, to take control of one’s own development, and to decide what role to take at any given time (Deis & Sullivan, 1998). The leader who works in partnership with followers is one who can accept the initiative of followers and act in ways that encourage followers to continue to take initiative (Potter, Rosenbach & Pittman, 2001). In this context the role of the leader changes beyond even creative enabler, knowledge enhancer, or innovation facilitator to that of trusted mentor whose purpose is to build-up their partner.
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Potter, E. H., Rosenbach, W. E., & Pittman, T. S. (2001). Followers for the times: Engaging employees in a winning partnership. Contemporary issues in leadership, 5.
Rickards, T., & Moger, S. (2006). Creative leaders: a decade of contributions from Creativity and Innovation Management Journal. Creativity and Innovation Management, 15(1), 4-18.
Von Krogh, G., Ichijo, K., & Nonaka, I. (2000). Enabling knowledge creation: How to unlock the mystery of tacit knowledge and release the power of innovation. Oxford university press.