AuthorKotsev, Emil
  1. Introduction

    Scholars' interest in followership has been steadily increasing since the beginning of the 21st century (Bligh, 2011). A growing number of academic and business publications recognize that without followers there can be no leaders (Collinson, 2006), and that it is the followers rather than the traditional leaders who make things happen in today's organizations (Mullen, 2016). However, research on followership still lags behind leadership studies: only 8% of all articles published in The Leadership Quarterly at the end of 2017 used the term 'follower' (or a derivative) in their title, compared to 83% that used the term 'leader' (Bastardoz and Van Vugt, 2019). According to Bligh (2011), the concept of followership is entering the second stage of conceptual development, one of evaluation, critical reviews, and augmentation (Reichers and Schneider, 1990).

    Another new and growing concept in management research is organizational resilience. In times of global pandemic and economic collapse research on opportunities that strengthen organizational capabilities to respond quickly and adapt to adverse changes in the external environment is becoming particularly relevant (Duchek, 2020). It is up to science to take the lead and to suggest new strategies and approaches to resource efficiency by trying to identify opportunities that organizations either do not recognize or underestimate. It is in this context that followership comes into play.

    Although there are some preliminary indications that followership can play an important role in the development of organizational resilience (e.g., Andersson, 2018; Eriksson, 2018; Andersson et al., 2019), the relationship between the two constructs remains unclear. Tengblad (2018, p. 39) stresses the importance of constructive followership as part of the organizational social resources, and states the 'need of taking a holistic perspective in decision-making and the ability to act swift, agile and imaginatively for preventing crises and to exploit opportunities'. Similarly, Cruickshank (2020) contends that employees need to be resilient and proactive to improve organizational resilience.

    Past research on employee resilience suffers from a lack of conceptual and methodological clarity (Britt et al., 2016). Most publications refer to employee resilience as an individual capacity (Luthans, 2002; Bonanno, 2004), trait (Fredrickson, 2003) or ability (Smith et al., 2008). Individual factors concerning mental and physical health reactions to stress after adverse external challenges are the preferred objects of research and analysis. The opportunities provided by the specifics of organizational subordination and interpersonal relationships are considered only from the point of view of the leader as a role model and a person responsible for strengthening follower resilience (e.g., Caniels and Hatak, 2019; Lin and Liao, 2020; Eliot, 2020; Rezaee et al., 2021). Concepts such as leadership (or leader) resilience and employee resilience are widely explored, while the construct of followership resilience remains not developed yet.

    The concept of resilience in all of its configurations can be applied in various bodies, but it is important to be recognized by local and state governments, particularly in times of disturbances and temporary perturbations. Unpredictable crises like the COVID-19 pandemic are expected to occur far more frequently than ever before and administrative structures will have to adapt quickly and effectively (Marks and Knassmuller, 2021). When surprised institutions are forced to act fast and decisively, they have to make use of all resources available. Among the most valuable, yet neglected social resources are subordinate employees.

    In an attempt to present a new perspective to the problem of developing organizational capabilities to respond and adapt, I argue that followership resilience is a holistic construct that goes well beyond the dimensions of mental and physical health at an individual level and plays an important role in the overall effectiveness of administrative structures. In the course of defending this thesis, the study provides an important contribution to the research in public administration performance management.

    The paper is organized into five sections. The next section explores the conceptual framework of the study. The third section describes the methods used in the study, while the fourth section is dedicated to empirical results and discussion. Finally, conclusions, limitations, and future research directions are outlined.

  2. Literature review and conceptual framework

    Management scholars have long known that followership is essential to organizational leadership (Uhl-Bien et al., 2014). Mary Parker Follett was among the first to recommend more research into a subject matter that she stated was 'of the utmost importance, but which has been far too little considered, and that's the part of followers ...' (Follett, 1949, p. 41). Sporadic attempts to study obedience (Milgram, 1965) and the influence of followers on leaders (Dansereau et al., 1975; Herold, 1977) have been made since her call, but for a long time, followership has remained out of the focus of researchers' attention. Among the provocateurs of increased interest are the Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) theory of Dienesch and Liden (1986), the theory of followership of Kelley (1992), and many other concepts (Gabarro and Kotter, 1980; Biggart and Hamilton, 1984; Schriesheim and Hinkin, 1990; Wayne and Ferris 1990) that gained popularity in the late twentieth century.

    Over the last two decades, the interest in followership has gradually begun to catch the attention paid to leadership (Baker, 2007; Kelley, 2008; Carsten et al., 2010; Sy, 2010). In parallel, researchers have changed their attitude towards the role of the follower, considering it 'a fundamental necessity for effective organizational functioning' (Lapierre and Carsten, 2014, p. 159). Most of them tend to agree with Kelley (1992) who contends that followers have more influence on organizational performance than leaders and that little can be accomplished without followers. Depending on the situation and the demands of the organization, leaders, and followers can change their roles (Townsend, 2002)--a capability that can prove invaluable in a highly turbulent environment.

    It is this interchangeability that reveals the true nature and importance of resilient followership as an organizational resource and a part of a dynamic system for reaction and adaptation to adverse events, whether they originate from the external or internal environment of the organization. Although contemporary scholarship has already acknowledged a relationship between employee resilience and organizational resilience, 'interventions aimed at developing employee resilience tend to use stress and well-being as proxy resilience indicators, focusing primarily on individual rehabilitation' (Kuntz et al., 2017, p. 223). In this sense, the concept of resilience is not limited to systems within an employee (or a follower) as a human being (e.g., stress-response system, immune system, cardiovascular system) or even to the whole person as a system (Masten and Narayan, 2012). Having in mind followers, Franken et al. (2020, p. 93) recognizes employee resilience as beneficial for organizations and describes it as 'the capacity to continuously adapt and flourish, even in the face of challenge'.

    Therefore, followership resilience is not only about the physical and psychological health of followers. Followership resilience is about the healthy readiness of followers to pursue organizational goals and achieve desired outcomes despite adversities. It can be thought of as a sub-system of administrative resilience, explained by Sarker et al. (2019, p. 717) as 'the ability of the administrative system to provide appropriate measures to uncertainties'.

    It is clear that dimensions affecting the ability of followers to minimize risks and adapt to uncertainties are more than what they appear on the surface. To better understand the multidimensional nature of followership resilience a more in-depth approach is needed. Drawing on the work of Hughes and Bushell (2013), at least five interrelated dimensions can be identified: physical and mental health, appropriate attitudes, innovation potential, contingency resources, and organizational support. The former four dimensions concern followers as individuals, while the latter dimension refers to organizational aspects such as communication and culture.

    As an organizational resource, followership resilience can be regarded as an essential element of the organizational resilience system as a whole. Building on the definition of Luthans (2002), I define followership resilience as the physical and psychological readiness and capacity of subordinates to rebound, to 'bounce back' from adversity, uncertainty, conflict, failure, or even positive change, progress, and increased responsibility.

    Research on followership reveals that subordinates can enact the role of the follower in very different ways--some may choose to stick to their superior's instructions by displaying a very passive style of followership, while others may support their manager's ideas or decisions by using a much more proactive approach (Carsten et al., 2010). Furthermore, some subordinates may prefer to trust superiors, while others may choose to trust their own judgment. Observation shows that different attitudes and intentions result in variations in the selection of the 'best' course of action in given conditions (Byrne, 2014), especially in times of stress and anxiety.

    It may be argued that diversity in followership resilience extends beyond proactivity and trust--scholars offer ample evidence for the relationship between resilience and other individual differences, including proficiency, adaptivity, optimism, self-efficacy, and assertiveness...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT