You want to be a great leader? Then learn how to follow.

Leadership is a dynamic interplay between leader and follower, yet it is the follower who determines the success of leadership: change happens only when followers follow. But what if the change leader in question is also a follower who is expected to lead, who should lead, who must lead, and yet who does not want to lead through change? In most cases, organizational change is not solely brought about proactively; external factors influence and lead to managerial actions, or more precisely reactions to these external factors On common reaction to changing external factors on a corporate level is profound organizational change. This change is a corporate top-down process initiated by the board or CEO. This calls all other leaders in the organization to process that change and translate it further down the hierarchy. In this common scenario, all leaders below the top are followers and are required to process the change in order to accept it, possibly against their will.

The focus is on the leader who feels caught in the middle, one who is not directly involved in initiating the change yet is expected to buy into the change and lead others to buy in as well. For a manager, it might be enough that he “ought to” or “has to” manage and execute.

Leadership without “want to” seems impossible.

Hardy and Clegg (1996) describe power as “the ability to get others to do what you want them to do, if necessary against their will, or to get them to do something they otherwise would not do”. In their article on commitment to change, Ning and Jing (2012) state that “employees can feel bound to support a change because they want to, ought to, and/or have to”. How difficult is it to get others to do what you want them to do? In particular, how difficult is leadership for the leaders if they are still processing their own anxiety and anger and their own resistance and (non-)acceptance of the change?

What is the “bandwidth” of these leaders, or what is their „response ability“? How can intermediate leaders get others to want what they do not even want, or rather what they should want? How can intermediate leaders make others buy into a change, a change they did not buy into in the first place?

How do these leaders accept the new reality and assume responsibility? Karl Weick illustrates the ideal response ability when he quotes Jill Hawk, a former park ranger of Mount Rainier National Park, who describes how rangers should respond to difficult situations by telling themselves: “It is what it is, it is in front of me, and I have to deal with it” (Weick 2009).

How do intermediate leaders process the change internally and how they intend to deal with their internal processes toward their corporate environment. There are  three conflicting internal forces that enable intermediate leaders to adapt to change: defense structures, emotions, and perception of (the) self. I intend to illustrate the inner theater of intermediate leaders: the emotions, will, and relational identity that intermediate leaders feel, choose, and adopt in a difficult challenging environment—a profound organizational change that is not considered a fair process in the sense of Kim and Mauborgne (2003). In a fair process, people are informed and involved and are able to understand the rationale behind the change-related decisions. Moreover, they understand what is expected of them and how they could engage actively. In short, a fair process is a change where people are respected and treated fairly.

“It is what it is, it is in front of me, and I have to deal with it”

Response Abilities of Intermediate Leaders (Christian Baudisch)

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