Leaders need followers. They can’t do their job without people who follow their indications or help them achieve their goals. Leaders thus seek to have people contribute in a way they asked for as leaders. It’s the leader’s responsibility to make others do what they, as leaders, told them to achieve.
It’s within their authority to ask for it. Leaders fail if they don’t exercise the power that comes with their authority.
How they go about it, is what makes it suitable for them and their teams. It involves paying attention to how leaders relate with others and vice versa.
An expectation heard frequently, is that it is important to build a relation allowing people to collaborate. It is built on the idea that people easily relate with others and choose an attitude allowing them to use their power “with” others. This may happen if they don’t see any risk in doing so. However, sharing often is only accessible from a position of well-being and self-confidence. When threats appear people will often switch to a different mode of using their power.
That is when the question becomes if their natural movement towards their team is one of competing with others, one of using the power they have over others, one of retreating and thus letting them do, or is it one of avoiding others and thus leaving them alone with the work.
These four ways we’ll use to relate with others are all based on some form of symbiosis. This means a relationship where one of both has some power over the other. Or said differently, these are all relationships we may remember from our past. It is as Manfred Kets de Vries describes it, there is no relationship that is a new relationship. Every relationship we have today is called by previous relationships. In relating with people today we reiterate what we remember from past relationships. If being competitive with others helped us in the past, we’ll easily go back to that behavior when we can. The only thing we need is an invitation to step in.
That invitation is how a leader’s follower dynamics can come about automatically and mostly outside of awareness.
Psychoanalysts call that invitation transference. What it does, is add some confusion to the relationship. That’s because transference involves mixing past relationships with current relationships. Instead of being a relationship between the leader and his team member it has become a relationship also involving a person from the past. That’s for example the case when the team member finds himself reminded of his mother by his leader. In that moment he will start to project his mother’s perceptions and expectations onto the leader. And if this leads to stepping into a competitive mode as he experienced it with his mother, he will relate similarly with his leader.
Depending on how much power this gives to the leader or how much it contributes to him feeling good, he will accept the drawback that comes with it. That is the obligation that results from such a symbiotic relationship. There is nothing wrong with it. It requires that both remain willing to relate in such a way while enabling respective expectations to be fulfilled. This is for example the case when such a follower leader dynamic eases a team members learning and ability to perform.
Things are different whenever the mode used to relate with others creates discomfort. Even more so when it invites people to react without really knowing why they did what they did.
That’s when the ability to name the movement used by people to relate with one another eases their ability to describe the discomfort. Giving the way they relate with one another a name establishes the possibility to choose a different approach.
Sometimes shifting to a collaborative mode is as simple as being able to describe who people remind each other of. And sometimes it needs to switch back to a habitual way to relate to one another and do so for long enough to reestablish a sense of ease, that is one of knowing how to do things. Going back to trying something new requires some sense of ease.
There is no fixed rule. Only the idea that different situations will require different ways to relate with one another.