Ethical Conflict

Followers at all levels face tough decisions that impact their character and reputation. The follower’s values, assumptions, beliefs, and expectations influence those decisions. Followers don’t want to be put in positions in which they are asked to lie or break the rules on behalf of the leader or the organization. While working as a senior manager in a government contracting firm years ago, I was informed of a situation in which our contractors were directed to purchase items such as cell phones for the government customer and then to submit expense reports for those items, expense reports that the government customer approved. This action was done in such a way that we could not determine if the expenses were justified or not. Everything looked good on paper. But the employees knew. The government customer, in a leadership position, put the contractors— their followers—in a precarious position in which they had to make a choice: follow the direction of the government customer or risk being removed from the contract and losing their jobs. We experienced turnover, understandably. The contract ended and we did not win the renewal. While we missed having the business, I did not miss having to interact with an unethical customer.

If followers do not want to follow a leader, if they do not buy into the leader’s vision, they will not be fulfilled, and they should follow someone else.

Influencing the Team

Followers working together as a team have a shared purpose—a purpose that the leader defines. The major influences on a team are team goals, team atmosphere, team communications, and team maturity.

Leaders must effectively communicate their goals to their team in order for the team to be productive. The team needs the ability to measure its progress toward reaching the defined goals.

Followers react to each other in accordance with their perception of the reaction of the rest of the team. This team atmosphere governs whether or not team members feel free to contribute to team activities that lead to attainment of team goals. The more freedom they have to participate in a democratic and inclusive manner, the higher the team motivation and morale are for both leaders and followers.

IT leaders need the courage to overcome any introverted tendencies and to find the assertiveness necessary to communicate. IT followers face the same issues. Leaders need followers to openly express themselves so that the leader has the information he or she needs to achieve the desired project outcome.

Followers need to feel they are receiving the information they need to perform as contributing members of the team. Leaders need to engage in face-toface dialogue with followers whenever possible in order to facilitate authentic communications and to foster commitment for the individual. Followers need to see the body language of the leader. They need to connect both verbally and nonverbally so that they understand both the leader’s stated intention and the spirit of his or her intention. They need the freedom to express to their leader how they feel, so that when the leader asks why the team member feels the way he or she feels, the leader will discover ground truth. They need to have this communication with others on the team as well, building relationships and trust, comparing and contrasting each other’s values, assumptions, beliefs, and expectations, as discussed in Chapter 2. The stronger the communications network among the team members, the more productive the team and the greater the likelihood that the leader can obtain the vital information he or she needs when needed. Table 5-1 lists follower behaviors that gain the leader’s trust.

Table 5-1 Gaining the Leader’s Trust

Followers Gain Their Leader’s Trust By:

  • • Demonstrating complete loyalty and respect for the leader
  • • Demonstrating professionalism in performance and emotional maturity in their approach to satisfying project and organization requirements
  • • Demonstrating support for the leader when publicly representing the project and the organization
  • • Demonstrating commitment to delivering on the leader’s final decision regardless of any disagreements experienced during the decision-making process
  • • Demonstrating professional accountability for themselves, their growth, and their behavior
  • • Demonstrating the same concern and care for the leader as a person as the follower expects from the leader

Data derived from Maley and Varner, 1994. Leadership: The Leader and the Group. Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University Press.

Followers who exhibit these qualities are worthy of their leader’s trust. Leaders can delegate tasks to these followers, empowering them with the authority to carry out assignments on the leader’s behalf.

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