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Leadership Is Reciprocal, Both Good and Bad


Leadership Is Reciprocal, Both Good and Bad
Leadership is made up of reciprocal relationships. There are, at least, two aspects of reciprocal relationships, one positive and one negative. Reciprocal relationships are positive for both leaders and contributors when they are mutual and cooperative.

The first positive aspect of reciprocal leadership relationships occurs when all participants benefit. An example occurs in nature with a flock of geese flying in a "V" formation as they migrate south before the winter. The lead goose helps break the force of the head winds and makes it easier for the geese following to not expend as much effort. A side by side aspect of leadership is that a rotation occurs for the front position in the "V" formation. It is mutual because all of the geese in the flock benefit with this structured cooperation.

The second aspect of reciprocal leadership is when the follower's behavior is inverse and opposite of the leaders in overall performance. When a leader does all of the problem-solving for his or her followers, the followers gradually do lose the ability to solve problems for themselves. Many authoritarian leaders who micro-managed the decision making of their employees complained to me that their employees behaved like children and lacked discipline for doing even the simplest of tasks.

The truth was that employees did behave like children. They under-performed as a part of their inverse and opposite role in the reciprocal relationship with their leader. Top-down leaders are more likely to create the under-functioning, dependency role than side by side leaders. An inverse relationship is like the part of the puzzle piece that awkwardly protrudes and needs the corresponding empty space in another puzzle piece to fit into. Leadership emotional systems are like puzzle pieces that fit together.

One benefit of a systems model of leadership is there are more entry points to improve the results of the system. In the above case, leaders have the new option of not only considering the under performance of their followers, they can begin observing and experimenting with how their over performing behavior is contributing to that under performance.

When individuals are promoted to management positions, there is a tendency to select the hardest working and smartest person for the job. Unfortunately, the leader who is the hardest working may have a tendency to do other people's work and thinking for them. One group of leaders that I consulted with consistently worked late into the night and complained as the workers trampled over them to get out of the office at 4:59 pm. The knowledge of the inverse reciprocal relationships of leadership solves the mystery of why the work units of the smartest and hardest working bosses sometimes have the lowest performance and profits.

The table below shows some of the inverse follower behaviors when leaders behave top-down. All of us as leaders behave top-down during some part of the workweek, even when it is appropriate for us to make the final decision in an area where we have the most knowledge. The table below presents the warning that there are consequences every time we play the top-down card, even when it is necessary.

Leadership Practice
Top-Down Behavior
Inverse and Opposite
Follower Behavior
1. One Way Communication


Does all of the talking.

Listens only to debate own viewpoint.


Does not share information, knowledge, or new ideas.

Gradually stops thinking when around the top-down leader.
2. Authoritarian Decision-Making Makes all of the decisions, even ones related to workers own responsibilities
Does not deviate from leader's decisions.

Does not make decisions even to improve work.
3. Competitive behavior with subordinates verus Cooperation Does not help others.

Mostly delegates and asks others for help.
Does not offer to help leader when a problem is noticed.

Works the minimal amount of hours.

Does not offer to help co workers.
4. Identifying and solving problems

Solves problems for others.

Usually views problems as someone else's fault.

Blames or triangles others.

Problem solving is reactive and not systematic or creative.

Comes to leader with problems.

Does not share problems when they are observed for fear of being blamed and perhaps even fired.

Does not think of or present creative solutions for fear of criticism.
From Side by Side Leadership® by Dennis A. Romig, Ph.D.

In my next article, I will be discussing the inverse and reciprocal behaviors of leaders who lead side by side. Please continue e-mailing your comments and questions, brief or lengthy.

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