The Reciprocity Principle: Followers and Leaders

Employee engagement includes creating a resonant workplace environment that promotes better professional relationships. At a recent workshop on employee engagement in New York City , Bob Kelleher, author of Louder than Words: 10 Practical Employee Engagement Steps that Drive Results, noted that first line leaders were the best source of addressing employee engagement, inspiring loyalty, and increasing commitment. Bob’s focus on first line leaders and their power to shape employee engagement reminded me of how important our work around emotional intelligence, resonant leadership, followership, and teams is in creating work cultures that support people to be and do their best.

Because first line leaders supervise employees and monitor work performance in the interest of achieving desired business results, they are the primary source of feedback for most employees, thus it is through them that the organizational vision, values, and culture are communicated. It stands to reason, then, that the more positive a working relationship they establish with their direct reports, the healthier the work environment and the more employees develop a sense of commitment and collective accountability to their work teams and to the company.

But it’s about so much more than accountability, performance or results. Employee engagement is also about creating conditions that lead to working relationships that makes people look forward to getting up every day and going to their jobs—and a sense of feeling valued for their contributions. And it often comes down to our individual actions, small actions that make a big difference. I recall one person I was coaching who remarked that one day his new boss said, “Good morning!” to him. He had been working at his job for 5 years, and no one had ever said that to him—not even a nod or a wink! From that exchange, my client was filled with energy and saw his new boss differently. The exchanges continued: “He will stop sometimes to ask how I am and will ask about my family.” You can’t place monetary value on how someone feels to be acknowledged in this way. Leading through connecting is what lies at the core of creating a cadre of resonant environments and consists of Resonant Leaders and Resonant Followers.

Resonant leaderspositively engage with people, authentically, on a human-to-human level. Resonant leaders are the most important influence in the creation of a positive work environment. Resonant Followers engage proactively to take responsibility for each other’s behavior in promoting the creation of a better work environment. It includes managing relationships—up, across and within the various functional levels in  an organization  in such a way that people feel supported, empowered and at their best to lead or be led. Resonant Followers are active, not passive.

Resonant leaders and followers are in a reciprocal relationship, each positively influencing and being influenced by the other. Just as a leader has the power to hire, fire, reward, and punish employees, followers have the power to authorize or withhold authorization of leaders to lead, as well as to create bottlenecks in the systems that can impede anything from flow of information to modeling effective work habits. We see people across North Africa and the Middle-East currently exercising their followership by rejecting leaders’ authority.

AS both leaders and followers, we must stay mindful that our relationships with the people we work for and who work for us need nurturing if they are to grow and remain strong.  We shouldn’t need a crisis to be reminded to care and to create resonance. The leader who asks after my client’s family  understands that a little kindness can create a tremendous amount of positive energy, create a meaningful difference in the lives of those around him, and ultimately, support the organization as a whole in meeting its strategic goals and aspirations.


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2 Responses to The Reciprocity Principle: Followers and Leaders

  1. Aw, this was a really good post. Taking the time and actual effort
    to produce a good article… but what can I say… I put things off a whole lot and
    don’t manage to get nearly anything done.

    • Eddy Mwelwa says:

      I connect with what you state about putting things off. I consider myself as skilled in procrastination! But my procrastination is also my creative process. At least that is how I reframe it for myself into positive rather than negative energy. I put things off for so long that my frustration builds to a point where I act, that is, write in this case in order to manage or let go my frustration. A question is that when you put things off do you then forget about it or do you still have a nagging feeling about something you have left undone?

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