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What Followers Can Learn from Their Leaders During Crisis Research Paper

Pages:10 (2861 words)




Document Type:Research Paper


Followers and what they need from Leaders during Crisis


A crisis is a serious event with the potential to disrupt an organization. The fact that a crisis can negatively affect a business is the reason why leaders need to prepare for and resolve crises when they occur (Carrington, Combe & Mumford, 2019). Perhaps one of the most important things leaders must do to resolve crises is to understand them thoroughly. This is because crises can have several obvious and hidden meanings and consequences. Upon thoroughly understanding crises, leaders can then form teams to plan on what to do. So leaders play an important role in resolving crises. This is the reason why when crises emerge, followers often seek direction/ guidance from their leaders. This paper investigates what exactly followers seek or need from their leaders during crises.

Methodology and results

This research involved the use of a qualitative design methodology to gather the data needed to answer the research question. The population from whom the data was gathered was only made up of followers/ subordinates from the Department of Justice. The data was gathered through interviewing the subordinates. The questions for the interviews were designed to find out what the subordinates wanted from their leaders in times of crisis. A total of 3 followers working in the United States Department of Justice participated in the study. The three included two Sheriff Deputies and a Marshall. The principal investigator conducted the interviews by sending the same questionnaire to the three followers via email and allocating a two-week return period. The interview data gathered was then coded to eliminate identifying information and then analyzed via thematic analysis.

Findings and discussion

Theme 1: Trust - Be predictable in an unpredictable time.

Crises such as the current coronavirus pandemic, create uncertainties, and make people worried about the future. The first step to resolving a crisis that hits an organization is for the organization's leaders to acknowledge the crisis and its potential effects. The need for leaders to acknowledge crises was highlighted by Int-1. In his response, Int-1 stated that during this coronavirus pandemic, he expected the leaders at his place of work to be selfless and to completely acknowledge the crisis and its impacts on businesses and the fact that it has made life very difficult for ordinary families. The virus and its negative effects have made things very uncertain, and the interviewee believed that selflessness and acknowledgment of the issue at hand was important.

The Int-1 also stated that he expected his leaders to conduct themselves ethically and humanely and to be transparent. This shows that workers need people who are honest, transparent, and trustworthy during crises. The interviewee also stated that he expected his leaders to adhere to the laws of the state and the Constitution (Int-1) strictly. Considering that the interviewee is a police officer, this is somewhat expected. But beyond this detail, the statement shows that followers expect their leaders to be competent or to continue following established rules during crises. This argument is emphasized by the answers provided by the second interviewee.

According to the interviewee, Int-2, leaders should be competent and confident. The second interviewee also states in his response that leaders ought to lead from the front, and while doing this, they should try to understand their followers and treat them with dignity and respect (Int-2).

What the first two interviews show is that they need certainty/ predictability. The current coronavirus pandemic crisis has made many things uncertain. It has made many things unpredictable. This is why followers look to their leaders for certainty. They also look to their leaders for competence and honesty. Research conducted last year (2019) indicated that only 13 percent of employees/ followers in the United States agreed that their leaders communicate effectively (Harter, 2019). This shows that leaders to overcome this crisis and future crises, they ought to communicate more effectively and clearly to build trust.

Theme 2: Compassion - Say it out loud and back it up with a policy.

When crises strike, leaders need to empathize with followers because this is one of the things followers need. This is according to one of the answers provided by the third respondent, who stated that during times of crisis, he expects his leaders to show empathy for the misfortunes and sufferings of others (Int-3). When leaders do not show empathy or compassion or understanding of their followers, there will be no close relationship between them and their followers, and this means that the followers will only be working because they have to; they won't be engaged in their work. So to build close relationships and to make employees feel cared for, there is a need for leaders to be empathetic. This is emphasized by the first interviewee, who states that leaders need to be empathetic, especially during crises. He states that during this coronavirus crisis, his leaders have been empathetic by understanding the risks involved in his line of work and providing him and his workmates with additional personal protective gear and making themselves more available to deal with any concerns he or his workmates may have (Int-1).

Crises usually result in uncertainties, problems, and fears. For this reason, followers usually need to hear their leaders saying that they understand the crisis and its effects and that they are doing their best to find solutions that will be beneficial for everyone. Since such a statement will make them feel compassion and compassion and empathy are not the only things that followers need from their leaders, they also need leaders to act through making new policies or changes that show they are truly empathetic. This is captured in the response given by the second respondent, who states that one of the actions his leaders took at the start of the current coronavirus pandemic was to redistribute him and his workmates to support emergency operation centers and nursing homes throughout his state (Int-2).

Crises affect many people in different ways. For example, the current coronavirus crisis has affected almost everyone financially because it has reduced economic activities significantly. The crisis has also affected many people mentally because it has led to stay at home orders and advisories in many places across the country and the globe. The stay at home orders and advisories have also reduced socialization. The leaders who are expressing compassion and are showing that they understand what is happening are preferred during this situation (Skeet, 2020). Similarly, according to Kranke et al. (2020), during crises, followers frequently prefer leaders who express genuine compassion. Therefore, the findings from this study are consistent with those from previous findings.

Theme 3: Stability - Provide psychological safety and avoid tunnel vision.

During crises, followers need leaders who provide both psychological and practical stability. Ensuring that employees/ followers have the equipment they require to do their job in situations that are rapidly changing provides practical stability. It enables followers to play their roles in resolving crises. This is echoed by the third respondent, who gives an example of how New York Governor, Cuomo, has handled the situation. He states that the governor has played an important role in providing emotional support and in offering what is needed for his followers to play their roles in resolving the current coronavirus pandemic (Int-3).

Practical stability is important. But what is even more important is psychological stability or security, according to the third respondent. Leaders need to communicate with their followers to clearly show their followers what they are going to consider during decision-making and when they are going to provide much-needed answers. The third interviewee states that when crises or conflicts happen, it is up to leaders to communicate clearly about the situation and to make it known that they are going to make the best ethical decisions to resolve the crises or conflicts that have occurred (Int-3).

Part of providing psychological security is to make things feel normal. Leaders need to do this by providing updates and making everything that can reasonably continue happening the same way as before to continue happening. Leaders who do this make things feel normal and promote psychological stability. All three respondents state in their responses that their leaders provide regular updates and meet with them regularly to ensure work continues as normal. According to the first one, his captain speaks to him regularly and provides him with both formal and informal feedback, and this is helping him a lot (Int-1). The second respondent also says that he meets with his workmates and leaders at least once every seven days, and this helps him to continue working during this crisis (Int-2). Lastly, the third respondent states that he continues to receive feedback, and this is helping him correct himself and improve himself (Int-3).

The finding that both psychological and practical stability are needed during crises is similar to what…

Sample Source(s) Used


Birnbaum, T., & Friedman, H. H. (2014). Ezra and Nehemiah: Lessons in Moral and Spiritual Leadership. Available at SSRN 2390230.

Carrington, D. J., Combe, I. A., & Mumford, M. D. (2019). Cognitive shifts within leader and follower teams: Where consensus develops in mental models during an organizational crisis. The Leadership Quarterly, 30(3), 335-350.

Harter, J. (2019). Why Some Leaders Have Their Employees' Trust, and Some Don't. Workplace. Gallup.

Hofmeyr, K., Cook, J., & Richardson, A. (2011). How leaders generate hope in their followers. South African Journal of Labour Relations, 35(2), 47-66.

Kranke, D., Gin, J., Der-Martirosian, C., Weiss, E. L., & Dobalian, A. (2020). VA social work leadership and compassion fatigue during the 2017 hurricane season. Social Work in Mental Health, 18(2), 188-199.

Patton, C. (2017). What made Nehemiah an effective leader?. Journal of Applied Christian Leadership, 1(1), 8-14.

Rogers, A. P., & Barber, L. K. (2019). Workplace intrusions and employee strain: the interactive effects of extraversion and emotional stability. Anxiety, Stress, & Coping, 32(3), 312-328.

Skeet, A. (2020, April 4). Ethical Followership in Times of Crisis. Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Santa Clara University.

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