When followers become toxic.Harv Bus Rev. 2004 Jan; 82(1):54-60, 113.HB
Leaders are vulnerable, too. That is, they can be led astray just as their followers can--actually, by their followers. This happens in a variety of ways. Sometimes, good leaders end up making poor decisions because well-meaning followers are united and persuasive about a course of action. This is a particular problem for leaders who attract and empower strong followers. These executives need to become more skeptical of the majority view and push followers to examine their opinions more closely. At other times, leaders get into trouble because they are surrounded by followers who fool them with flattery and isolate them from uncomfortable realities. Charismatic leaders, who are most susceptible to this problem, need to make an extra effort to unearth disagreement and to find followers who are not afraid to pose hard questions. Organizational mechanisms like 360-degree feedback and executive coaching can help these leaders get at the truth within their companies. Finally, unscrupulous and ambitious followers may end up encroaching on the authority of the leader to such an extent that the leader becomes little more than a figurehead who has responsibility but no power. There's not much leaders can do to completely guard against a determined corporate lago, but those who communicate and live by a positive set of values will find themselves better protected. And since followers tend to model themselves after their leaders, the straightforward leader is less likely to have manipulative followers. In this article, George Washington University professor Lynn Offermann explores each of these dynamics in depth, arguing that leaders need to stir debate, look for friends who can deliver bad news, and communicate and act on a solid set of values.