The Loyal Employee: The Role of Leader’s Consideration for the Follower

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Men are typically raised to be tough and to never show emotion. But I remember several years ago, tears rolled down my eyes as I read a passage from a biography of Ernest Shackleton – the leader of an Antarctic Expedition who, along with 27 of his men, survived a two-year ordeal in one of the most hostile environments on earth. My tears weren’t from the horrific descriptions of the hardship endured by the men; rather, they came from a line that one of the men wrote in his diary about Shackleton. It goes something like this: He had a way of watching out for his men as if they were his own children. He was a man of such heroic mind and self-sacrificing nature that he would undertake the most dangerous and difficult task himself. Knowing that he would lay his own life for his men, there was not a single crewman who would not have given his life for him. This passage affected me in a profound way, perhaps because I was, at the time, working with someone that I would call the “anti-Shackleton” and was yearning for a different type of a leader. At that time, each waking moment that I interacted with this individual was agonizingly painful.

Fast-forward a few years. I had the good fortune to work with a leader who was more like Shackleton. What a difference. I worked 14- to 16-hour days and still had energy to push myself farther. In looking back, the difference between the two leaders is clear: The former did not care at all about my well-being while the latter clearly did. The consequence of his consideration for me was that I became engaged; I wanted to do my very best for him and took tremendous pleasure in making him look good. This idea has empirical support too. In one of the largest behavior-based leadership studies ever conducted, Stogdill reduced over 1000 dimensions related to effective leader behaviors down to just two: Initiating structure and consideration.

I’m not claiming that all organizations need leaders like Shackleton to engage their employees. People are motivated by and become engaged for many reasons. Effective leadership – with consideration as a key element – is just one; albeit powerful. Sadly, what I’ve seen over the years is that managers at all levels tend to underestimate the power of human motivation or more broadly, engagement. Walter Borman, a well-known organizational researcher described this idea nicely when he claimed that what a person “can” do is dramatically different from what he/she “will” do. The latter is what most managers get from their workers/employees. The former is what great leaders are able to inspire from their crew.

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