Antecedents and Consequences of Leaders’ Implicit Followership Theories
Cognitive categorization of organizational members, such as leaders and followers, has a direct influence on the leadership process (Lord, Foti, & Phillips, 1984; Lord & Maher, 1991). While schemas about characteristics and behaviors of leaders, or implicit leadership theories (ILTs), have been well researched (e.g. Epitropaki & Martin, 2004; Keller, 1999; Keller, 2003; Lord, Foti, and De Vader, 1982; Lord & Maher, 1991), schemas about followership, or leaders’ implicit followership theories (LIFTs), remain under-explored (Sy, 2010; Whiteley, Sy, & Johnson, 2012). Specifically, there is a dearth or research detailing both the development and impact of leaders’ assumptions of followers’ traits and behaviors, or LIFTs, despite evidence that how leaders conceptualize followers directly impacts the behavior of these individuals and subsequent performance (Whiteley et al., 2012; Sy, 2010). By studying antecedents as well as outcomes of LIFT’s in the context of the same study, we increase our understanding of the role of follower categorization in the leadership process.
The purpose of the present study is to examine follower personality and behaviors as antecedents of LIFTs, as well as how LIFTs affect followers’ judgment of effort to perform and, in turn, followers’ performance (Figure 1). While antecedents have been examined for followers’ conceptions of leaders (ILTs; Keller, 1999; Keller, 2003; Kruse & Sy, 2013) there is lack of published studies examining antecedents of LIFTs (Sy, 2010). As such, we answer the call put forth by researchers for research investigating antecedents of implicit theories (Epitropaki, Sy, Martin, Tram-Quon, & Topakas, 2013; Whiteley et al., 2012).
LIFTs and Recognition Based Categorization Theory
Implicit followership theories (IFTs) develop around prototypes (Rosch, 1978; Sy, 2010). These prototypes are composites of characteristics that represent members of a given category (e.g. followers), and help us in economical information processing (Lord, Foti, & De Vader, 1984; Lord & Maher, 1991). Sy (2010) supported a 6-factor model of IFTs (industrious, enthusiastic and a good citizen as positive dimensions of followers, and incompetent, conformist, and insubordinate as negative dimensions of followers). Stimuli from the environment activate schemas and help to process information. Shondrick and Lord (2010) explained this phenomena by proposing recognition based categorization. Salient traits and behaviors displayed by followers could cue leaders to search for relevant LIFTs to make sense of situation (Shondrick & Lord, 2010). We expect certain follower personality traits and behaviors could be potential stimuli that could activate LIFTs. Research suggests a positive connection between followers’ personality characteristics and leaders’ positive assumptions of followers (e.g. activation of their LIFTs; Barrick & Mount, 1991; Goldberg, 1992). Keller (1999) demonstrated personality traits such as agreeableness, conscientiousness, extroversion, openness, had positive relationship with positive ILTs. Extraversion was found to be positively related to positive LIFTs (Duong, 2010; Kruse Sy, Tram, 2012). Keller (1999; 2003) also found that neuroticism had negative relationship with ILTs and proposed follower attachment style such as secure, anxious-ambivalent and avoidant could influence their ILTs. Therefore, personality traits of extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and intellect will be positively related to positive LIFTs. In addition, leaders’ negative assumptions of followers will be negatively related to these five personality traits.
H1a: Follower personality is positively related to positive LIFTs
H1b: Follower personality is negatively related to negative LIFTs.
Kelley (1992) made the distinction between two specific behaviors of followers that could impact the leadership process (active engagement, which involves taking initiative, assuming ownership, responsibility, and producing high-quality work, and independent thinking, which involves followers who think for themselves, are innovative, creative, and give constructive criticism). Prior research suggests that followers who display certain personality traits are likely to also display these behaviors (Fleeson, 2007; Funder & Colvin, 1991; Ozner & Benet-Martinez, 2006; Sherman, Nave & Funder, 2000). For example, Johnson, Morgeson, and Hekman (2012) study found conscientiousness is positively related to proactive behavior and conscientiousness on task proficiency, which requires actively engaging in the task. Furthermore, extraversion is related to organizational involvement and citizenship behaviors, while agreeableness and conscientiousness negatively related to counterproductive work behaviors, which require independent thinking (Johnson, et al., 2012; Oh, Charlier, Mount, & Berry, 2014). Thus, individuals with high levels of personality traits such as agreeableness, conscientiousness, extroversion, intellect are likely to display behaviors such as active engagement and independent thinking.
Observations of these two follower behaviors could activate LIFTs (Shondrick & Lord, 2010). For example, a leader who has experience with followers who actively take initiative, involve themselves in the leadership process, and demonstrate high levels of responsibility and ownership may activate positive followership schema. Furthermore, leaders who have experience working with followers who think critically, are non-conformists and act independently about organizational processes and goals may associate these behaviors with negative LIFTs. It is, therefore, possible that some leaders might perceive these behaviors as being insubordinate (Sy, 2010).