British Journal of Psychology Study: I follow, therefore I lead

I follow, therefore I lead: A longitudinal study of leader and follower identity and leadership in the marines

Researchers Kim Peters and Alex Haslam published a study 22 May 2018 in the British Journal of Psychology – a longitudinal study on 218 male Royal Marines recruits embarked on an elite training program. The findings — followers made better leaders. According to the authors of the report in The Harvard Business Review:


Leadership is a process that emerges from a relationship between leaders and followers who are bound together by their understanding that they are members of the same social group. People will be more effective leaders when their behaviors indicate that they are one of us, because they share our values, concerns and experiences, and are doing it for us.


Recruits who considered themselves to be natural leaders were not able to convince their peers that this was the case.


Instead, it was the recruits who saw themselves (and were seen by commanders) as followers who ultimately emerged as leaders. In other words, it seems that those who want to lead are well served by first endeavoring to follow….This elevation of those who seek to distance themselves from their group may actually be a recipe for failure, not success. It encourages leaders to fall in love with their own image and to place themselves above and apart from followers. And that is the best way to get followers to fall out of love with the leader. Not only will this then undermine the leader’s capacity to lead but, more importantly, it will also stifle followers’ willingness to follow.


Summary: “This (study) suggests that what good leadership looks like is highly dependent on where evaluators are standing”  Who decides if you are a good leader, you or the audience? The study shows even with physical and psychological exceptionalism, you don’t decide if you are a great leader, they do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *