A New Look at Old Leadership Questions
Chapter 4: What Goes on in the Relationship between Leaders and Followers?
There is a circle of the touched and the touching, the touched takes hold of the touching; there is a circle of the visible and the seeing, the seeing is not without visible existence . . . Maurice Merleau-Ponty The Visible and Invisible (1968, p. 143) The last three chapters have addressed some of the broader questions perennially asked about the nature of leadership itself. This chapter acts as a pivot point between those ontologically-based concerns and more specific questions about how leadership gets accomplished by attending to the dynamic at the heart of leader-follower interactions. In it, I introduce ideas developed by the French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty in order to construct a radical way of conceptualizing this relationship. Although much of the literature assumes ‘followers’ and ‘leaders’ to be distinct modes of operating, there are also hints that separating the two roles in real life may not be completely straightforward. You will recall the work of Cecil Gibb and Peter Gronn introduced in Chapter 3 which highlighted the way in which leadership, as indicated by level of influence, flowed amongst group members rather than being situated solely with one person. Their research indicated the difficulties associated with clearly identifying who might be following and who might be leading during any period of collective activity. The apparent ambiguity inherent between ‘leaders’ and ‘followers’ has been noted and developed into more relationally-oriented leadership theories. Scholars such as the ‘father of transformational leadership’, Bernard Bass, have urged us to go beyond equating ‘leadership’ with ‘leaders’,...
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