The Leader-Follower Dyad: A Critical Focus for Leadership in Change?

Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand


Higher education faces significant challenges as complex shifts in the political, economic and social landscape compound. Managerial accountability for performance objectives and national and global competitiveness have increased pressure on those who hold senior leadership positions. In turn their executive directives need the support of effective 'middle-leadership' to ensure appropriate translation throughout organisational structures. Middlehurst's (2010) framework of institutional responses to changing circumstances calls for 're-generative' leadership where leaders "shape and inspire the actions of others to drive better performance" (p.85). Such actions involve both leaders and 'followers'. This relational dyad is viewed as a crucial component for leading and implementing change within higher education. Despite the potential influence of followers through 'leading upwards', there is little empirical evidence on the influence of followership. An exploratory study undertaken in New Zealand identifies that leadership in a higher education institution is dependent on those whom leaders lead. Working within a social constructionist framework, narrative inquiry framed data collection. Teaching academics were invited to write a narrative that explored a teaching/ learning situation involving interaction with a formal (appointed) leader. These narratives were subjected to inductive analysis. The paper's conclusions resonate with claims by Carsten, Uhl-Bien, West, Patera, and McGregor (2010) that follower actions are identified on a continuum of passive to proactive individual agency which impacts on leadership. The study findings contribute to understanding leadership, identify organisational implications for sustainable follower engagement and conclude that further research into the social constructions of followership is warranted.

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