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Connecting with Followers

Leaders are in an influential position. They can serve their followers and their organization with true and just intent and benevolent actions where everyone, including the leader, benefits. On the contrary, they could lead with only their self-interest driving their behavior to the detriment of their organization, their followers, and ultimately themselves. Whatever their predilections for leading, their beliefs and intentions are conveyed through a communication strategy. Their superiors, peers, subordinates, and customers will learn the leader’s style and motivations through communication.


The values, beliefs, and attitudes a leader projects outwardly must first come from within. Their communication strategy only delivers these elements to others. A leader with high self-awareness has a more accurate understanding of the memories, beliefs, and self-perceptions that underlie their communication. Low self-awareness in a leader indicates an internal conflict between what they believe of themselves and what they project onto others.[1] It is important that leaders properly identify their internal moral criteria, that which motivates them to act and lead. If their intentions are just and true, and they identify these motivations through reflection, these leaders will more likely convey the benevolence of their intentions.[2]


Selfish Leader Behavior Harms Followers

All employees, whether leaders or followers, serve at the behest of an organization and are subordinate to the goals that support the organization’s mission. So, in truth, a leader can only be so much of a servant to their followers. They must also serve the mission. The part of them that functions as a servant to their followers, however, must understand their needs and wants to better serve them. They must connect with followers to discover their perspectives, their hopes and dreams, and their strengths and weaknesses.[3]


A selfish leader can harm their followers through this connection. The Dark Triad, as described by Delroy Paulhaus and Kevin Williams, consists of Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy. Narcissism, exhibiting grandiosity, entitlement, and superiority, and psychopathy, showing high impulsivity and low empathy, are of less importance when discussing self-deceptive leaders as is Machiavellianism. A Machiavellianism personality is a manipulative one. This type of leader is more interested in self-promotion and duplicity as manifested through emotional coldness and aggressiveness.[4] A leader who successfully establishes a connection with followers but is motivated by dark intentions produces a potentially toxic environment for those who succumb to their will.


Manipulation

As discussed, a Machiavellian personality seeks to get the better of others through manipulation.[5] Malintent is the motivation, but this intent must be conveyed through a mechanism that successfully manipulates someone. To induce a follower, peer, or superior to accept the malicious leader’s desired state of affairs, that leader must induce them to accept their intentions as true and beneficial to all. The leader must invent a cover story to support the idea they wish their target to believe, all while hiding their true intention.[6]


The end goal of a manipulative strategy is to win converts and build a followership that believes what the leader wants them to believe. Such a leader may set out to court followers by fortifying already-held notions of great leadership that followers may already have. The end result of their strategy, if the leader plays this well, is people believing that the leader is responsible for the successes of the organization and not for its failures.[7]


Positive Connection Benefits Followers

On the other hand, a positive connection with a follower based on mutual trust and the desire to do good for the organization results in a win for everyone. A self-aware leader who is charismatic and benevolent will attract like-minded followers. These followers will reflect the leader’s high level of organizational commitment.[8] This connection between leaders and followers who value the organization they work for will strive to implement its vision and goals. This integrated leader-follower team will be high-functioning[9] and mutually beneficial.


A leader must connect with followers to advance the goals of an organization. A leader also connects with followers to build a group of supportive individuals. This team, if all are focused on the good of the organization and each other, can do great and positive things. A leader with the wrong intentions, those that better serve themselves, can do damage to the organizations and the people who rely on them.


Observations

  • a leader uses a communication strategy to convey their style and motivations to people inside and outside the organization

  • leaders must connect with followers to discover their followers’ needs and wants

  • leaders more interested in personal gain may manipulate others into believing their intentions are to serve the good of others

[1] Dierdorff et al. (2019) [2] Caldwell and Hayes (2016) [3] Taylor (2010) [4] Paulhus and Williams (2002) [5] Von Hippel and Trivers (2011) [6] Shulsky (2000) [7] Gray and Densten (2007) [8] Sosik (2001) [9] Rentsch and Klimoski (2001)

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