Exploring Distance in Leader-Follower Relationships: When Near is Far and Far is Near

Human Resource Management International Digest

ISSN: 0967-0734

Article publication date: 7 October 2014



Rao, M.S. (2014), "Exploring Distance in Leader-Follower Relationships: When Near is Far and Far is Near", Human Resource Management International Digest, Vol. 22 No. 7. https://doi.org/10.1108/HRMID.04422gaa.004



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Exploring Distance in Leader-Follower Relationships: When Near is Far and Far is Near

Article Type: Suggested reading From: Human Resource Management International Digest, Volume 22, Issue 7

Michelle C. Bligh and Ronald E. Riggio, Routledge, 2012, ISBN: 9781848726024

Michelle C. Bligh and Ronald E. Riggio’s edited book Exploring Distance in Leader-Follower Relationships: When Near is Far and Far is Near is based on a conference in which scholars of leadership from three continents discussed the latest psychological research on interpersonal leader–follower relations. It tackles the impact of distance – physical, interpersonal and social – on organizations, governments and societies.

The leader behaviors that affect the followers are likely to differ, at least partially, between close and distant leadership situations. Close leaders can more easily influence their followers by their observable behaviors. For instance, as close leaders are directly observed by followers, we can hypothesize that role modeling, an important influence mechanism, is more important in proximal than in distance leadership. In addition, proximal leaders can more easily influence their followers by their behavior toward them. They can train and coach their subordinates more easily, show consideration and support, touch them, hug them, shout at them and show their satisfaction and dissatisfaction by their non-verbal behavior.

Distant leaders, in contrast, have to rely more on oral and written messages and on symbolic behaviors and gestures.

The authors point out that followers who have accepted the leader on the basis of direct experiences with him or her may be more immune to the effects of a single failure or a single behavior that seems to deviate from their image of the leader.

Followers and potential followers of proximal leaders are more likely to form attitudes toward the leader on the basis of the answers he or she gives to “how” questions, namely, on the basis of the feasibility of the leader’s suggestions and directions. Leaders can decrease distance by involving distant followers in discussions and decisions.

A person may work in the same room with a leader, observe him or her for many hours each day and interact frequently, and yet feel very distant from the leader. On the other hand, a person may feel very close to a leader he or she has never seen or heard, someone in a far-away country or even a fictional character.

Organizations, say the authors, are increasingly knowledge-orientated, with manufacturing and production of tangible goods becoming less important than the production of knowledge and innovation.

Most Americans prize the equality of opportunity that allows ambitious women to rise, but many do not want to have a woman in authority over them. The reservations that many people have about female leaders mean that women have a longer and more difficult route to travel to reach positions of power and authority. Even in female-dominated organizations and professions, men ascend to leadership roles faster than women – a phenomenon known as the “glass escalator.” Women tend to adopt a more democratic or participative style than the men.

Corporate officers and military generals, claim the authors, have considerably more communication within the leadership elite than they do with those outside it, even when their offices are located on the same floor or in the same building as their followers.

The book considers the leadership style of a great US president, Abraham Lincoln. He was controversial at the bitter time leading up to and during the Civil War (1861-1865), yet he is recognized now for his ability to rally support for his great attainments, not least ending slavery. The qualities that made Lincoln stand out, according to historian James Oakes, were his capacity for growth, political skill and way with words to communicate and persuade.

This book emphasizes the importance of social media in leading and communicating with others. It is useful for students, leaders, learners and leadership scholars.

Reviewed by Professor M.S. Rao, MSR Leadership Consultants India, Hyderabad, India, available at: www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A16SKI0396UBRP, msrlctrg@gmail.com

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