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Chapter 21: Method 18: Follower Self-Governance

Inner leaders have a goal of producing high performance. They also have the duty to create of their followers highly developed, self-led leaders who can exercise the necessary power to function more or less independently within the constraints of the values and vision set by the leader. The various traditional leadership theories each argued that their brand of leadership would result in enhanced productivity. They sought improved follower performance measured in physical (tangible) goal terms. The follower remains in each of these models subservient to the leader. These models essentially cast workers as tools to help achieve the leader's personal or institutional goals - in past theory they are targets of power rather than wielders of power in the work community.

Defining Self-Governance

The inner-leadership model is unique in its emphasis on improving the individual follower's capacity for self-directed action to accomplish shared goals. Both the context and specific methods of this power technique move the follower toward this result, along with performance improvement. Inner leader success is attaining both results. Failing this, leaders must alter or improve either the corporate culture or the techniques they employ in a given situation.

This double objective activates all facets of the leader's job. The open, self-guiding culture fostered by in-the-middle leaders aids in the realization of this outcome. The vision they create includes this outcome. So must the skills and techniques they use. All action by the leader needs to communicate this objective (along with all others) to followers. Inner leadership is changing lives - the leader's own and those of his work colleagues. The job is to create a climate and the conditions that foster follower autonomy and development. The direction of the follower life-change sought is toward a more empowered follower. It is a task of changing followers to help them be independent, free, and self-governing.

The Nature of Success

Inner leaders redefine success. As they share governance, this action has a tremendous impact on both workers and leaders. As the work done changes, leader and led change, as do their measures of success. Success, defined as being "in-charge," is the traditional norm and is as dependent on factors outside the individual's control - luck, the whims of others, office politics, and so on - as it is on personal capacity. Accepting this conventional definition of success is to lose much of the potential influence inner leaders may have over their destiny and the future they envision for themselves and for their followers and the work community they lead. Effective inner leaders resist allowing the terms of their success to be determined by others - by anything outside themselves.

Nonetheless, the traditional definition of success is a seductive lure. Our society is preoccupied with winning and personal prominence, and these can become accepted and expected outcomes of the leader's work. Certainly, they have come to be central in the conventional textbook definitions of leadership success. Once inner leaders accept the concept of shared governance, the definition of success necessarily changes. Instead of being successfully in charge, inner leaders come to think about success as a personal, intimate, feeling of satisfaction in seeing themselves, as well as their colleagues in the work community, put to use more of their whole selves at work.

Perceptive inner leaders define success not just in terms of being famous or anything else that comes from external sources. For them, success is defined by the scope of (1) workplace parameters they can influence and (2) " developed" followers. Thus, success is attained as inner leaders nurture followers' talents and let them practice those talents in a variety of satisfying ways and in different venues (Heenan and Bennis). It can be found in providing a designated service to a stakeholder or in a personal talent they strengthen. Success is also defined as achieving peace of mind and satisfaction - even fun - in seeing protegées fulfilling designated responsibilities.

Leading self-governing work communities requires a kind of leadership orientation particularly adapted to leadership in the middle: stewardship (Block). Block and others have effectively refocused attention on the nature of the relationship between leader and follower to one that can be conveniently encapsulated in the ideas of service and stewardship. Block defined stewardship as holding something in trust for another. Inner leaders are trustees ( stewards) as they see their organization as a shared community and each stakeholder as a coequal leader.

Methods Of Preparing Followers To Govern Themselves

Helping followers learn to accept shared governance is often hard. It asks inner leaders to change themselves and get followers also to change on several levels: attitude, skills, and philosophy. Each is critical to this kind of collaborative leadership. Conceivably, learning to accept the philosophy of shared governance is the most important phase of initial follower preparation to lead in the middle. Tradition suggests that leaders alone guide and focus the work community. This may be true in theory - not practice - for top leaders, but inner leaders are guided by an alternative value system, one that shares power - even the power to lead. They accept that a values foundation highlighting follower growth and development of their full capacities is implicit in this leadership model.

Inner leaders learn to master the skills of self-development. They learn to control their natural urges to accept that leadership gives them license to do what they want and instead come to understand that leadership is an opportunity to serve their followers - all stakeholders - and that their greatest satisfactions - and professional success - come when they submit themselves to the maturing capacities of their followers. Thus, a prime task in learning to lead self-governing followers is how to develop the leader's own time and skills appropriately. Another skill requires leaders to know their followers as they know themselves. As they do this, they come to trust in their followers' abilities. These leaders recognize that their own professional maturation is a lifelong learning process that includes among other things learning to sacrifice, serve, and sometimes follow their followers.

Both theory and practice suggest that only persons who possess certain tendencies practice this kind of joint leadership. Key among these is personal maturity (Metzger). Leaders are people of exceptional maturity. They accept experiences for what they are. The challenge of sharing leadership asks them to learn to know their personal role-fit within the work community, a significant part of which is that leaders are teachers of their followers.

Learning to lead in a shared governance situation involves leaders in increasing their skills in goal-directed action to enlarge their followers. It is a task of continual personal and follower learning and growth.

This technique of inner leadership asks leaders to be horizon thinkers - to encourage future-oriented thinking in increasingly self-governing followers. And it is helping followers to participate in defining and shaping their joint future. Inner leaders pay attention to what is important about tasks and values, both now and for the future, and encourage this kind of leadership behavior in followers.

Defining the Scope of Sharing

Sharing their authority and responsibility for corporate governance and stakeholder development asks leaders in the middle of the corporate hierarchy to become expert in a variety of skills and techniques not often covered in traditional top leader development programs. Facilitating this technique of shared governance is the fact that inner leaders occupy positions within the corporate system where their strengths can both produce corporate results and assist them in improvement of their own personal goals and capacities - and make this happen for their followers as well. Inner leaders are engaged in a quest for follower development toward self-governance that includes at least the kinds of activity described in the following sections.

Correcting Bad Habits

One essential self-governance technique is that of helping to rectify followers' unfavorable habits - the things they do or fail to do that inhibit their effectiveness and performance (Bennis and Townsend). Inner leaders try to get followers to waste as little effort as possible on unproductive values, attitudes, and actions. They assess followers' personal traits, determine those that have potential of helping secure community goals and those that have low potential. Then they work on the helpful, but unperfected, traits and largely ignore those with low potential for assisting them in attaining their goals. Their energy, resources, and time go instead to maximizing follower competencies.

Using Their Talents Wisely

Inner leaders try to help followers position themselves where they can make the greatest contribution. This entails intimate understanding of follower capacities. It also requires leaders to time follower changes and learn how and when to encourage change in the way they work - even the work they do. Inner leaders teach followers how to place themselves where they can make the greatest contribution.

Practicing Self-Control

Most people have to learn to manage themselves (Drucker). Effective inner leaders have already done so, and they try to help followers do likewise. Self-managed people are relatively rare in work communities. They are so unusual, in fact, that both their talents and their accomplishments are often considered to be outside the boundaries of customary human conduct. For leaders who seek to share leadership with their followers, helping them discipline their work lives may be an even more important issue than assessing their personal and professional assets.

To be able to govern themselves, followers also have to deal with their personal sets of values. This is not merely a question of ethics. Ethics are only part of a person's value system. To work in a situation where the value system is unacceptable or incompatible with his or her own condemns that follower both to frustration and to underperformance. To be effective in the corporation, followers' personal values must be (or come to be) compatible with the work community's values. Otherwise, followers will not only be frustrated but also will not produce needed results. The inner leader's task is to facilitate values displacement and thus encourage ethical follower responses.

Developing Personal Self-Confidence

Self-confidence is a sense of personal identity (Deal and Kennedy) that includes the ideas of esteem and control. Developing that confidence takes directed personal effort. For inner leaders, the task is to encourage followers to develop self-confidence, to be centered, to have the ability to sustain balance, even in the midst of action. Being centered means not being subject to passing whims or sudden excitements. Centered followers know where they stand and what they stand for. They have a sense of stability and a confident sense of self. Warren Bennis says there is no greater teacher about self than responsibility. Good leaders learn that when followers are aware of their true feelings about working with others they are most effective. Thus, they develop sources of feedback.

Being Goal-Directed

The essence of success in any kind of leadership is having all involved direct their energies toward common goals and high personal performance. This requires some system of control and accountability. The primary mechanism inner leaders use for assuring goal-implementation and application, however, is not in the authority mechanism that top leaders typically use but in the attitude and behavior of the inner leader. Inner leaders focus their need and capacities upon future outcomes that are also consistent with those of their followers. The task of conforming work-community values and actions with the leader's horizon goals is a critical, if simple, process of defining goals and prioritizing values that support goal-accomplishment. While simple, it is not always an easy task. Nor is it always easy to induce followers to think and behave similarly.

Developing Follower Skills

Program success depends on the skill and knowledge of workers, especially if the leader intends for them to share governance of the common work. A key responsibility of inner leadership, therefore, is in ensuring that all followers are aware of and competent in doing needed work. This is a task of informing and training all work-community members in their duties and, in doing their work, to use their personal and corporate resources effectively to bring about preset goals. This information transfer is accomplished in the normal ways and particularly in the behavior of leaders as they model desired behavior. On the principle that you cannot teach what you do not know, leaders have to portray desired behavior before they can expect followers to behave that way. They reflect common values, methods, and outcomes in everything they do and say, both formally and in informal settings. For inner leaders, staff development becomes a mutual process of growth and change toward independent action.

Thinking Strategically

Leaders pay attention not so much to what is important today as to what will be significant tomorrow. They seek to discern the future through research, planning, and taking actions today that are intended to create a future that corresponds with their present goals and aspirations. In reality, nothing can be done today to affect the past. Understanding this, inner leaders spend their time on preparing their followers to ensure the work community functions effectively in the future, a place where they will spend the rest of their productive work lives.

Techniques Supporting Self-Governance

In the past, most work-community members were told what to do, and their energies were dictated either by the work itself or by a supervisor. Today, most workers are knowledge workers - people who perform work using words and numbers and producing products consisting of words and numbers. And these tasks are typically unique and cannot be easily proscribed by another person. The question for leaders today is how can they help followers ensure that their work helps them become better persons, better workers, better corporate citizens? How can leaders make it meaningful to them on their own terms? Inner leaders understand the need to have a follower perspective and take steps to help followers be fully functioning, self-directed contributors to the common good while also helping themselves realize their personal aims.

The following sections may further elucidate the inner leader's task in the twenty-first century.

Stimulating Leadership Behavior

Leading in the middle of the corporation asks leaders to prepare their followers to share in that leadership. Leaders take every opportunity to let followers take the lead in parts of the work community's functions. Thus, followers may be asked to head a task force or committee. They may substitute for the leader in his or her absence. Followers' advice may be solicited about possible plans, decisions that need to be made, or alternative programs under consideration. Each helps the follower develop the skill to lead.

It is sometimes stressful to the inner leader to do this. There 1s a risk inherent in letting someone else perform tasks and take responsibility for functions the inner leader normally assumes. The leader's most difficult task sometimes is to train followers to lead and then sit back and let them lead. There is a risk that the work will not be done, or it will not be done as well as the leader would have done it. Sometimes, even more frightening, inner leaders risk that the work will be done better than they could have done it. Preparing followers for self-governance is mostly a task of preparing the leader's mind to accept that the work will be done but be done differently - maybe better - than it otherwise would have been done.


Getting followers to accept their goals and values is not so much an exercise of the inner leader's personal power as it is of follower empowerment (Bennis and Nanus; Adair). The idea of increasing the self-control and self-direction of coworkers is a substantial part of self-governing community building. McGregor asked leaders to discover and make use of the unrealized potential in workers by letting them act independently. Burns suggests that we can lift people out of mediocrity to fulfill their better selves through transforming them (and empowerment idea). Bennis and Nanus say empowering followers also enhances and strengthens them. Inner leaders recognize this and change their behavior to share power with coworkers. Empowerment works because it supports deep psychological needs of people in work communities. People want to make a difference; and if the leader lets them and teaches them to do it, they become committed and productive followers.

Providing Participative Structures

The degree of sharing possible in a work community is dependent on the needs and preparedness of each follower. Formal decision committees and councils are helpful tools inner leaders use in this connection. They provide a necessary structural framework for dissemination of authority and responsibility throughout the work force. New structural enhancements and procedures and processes can also be introduced into the work community to formalize shared responsibilities. These can take the form of task forces, standing committees, or operating councils of workers and leaders. Such joint councils take responsibility for discussing obligations, developing policies, operating processes, and supervising job tasks. They form a distinct self-governance culture that supports both leader and led. An example of such a structure is stewardship.

Practicing Stewardship

The idea of stewardship depends for success on a special kind of organizational restructure aiding self-governance. Introducing stewardship ideas is, in fact, to propose a revolution in leader–follower relationship. Stewardship is not a single guiding principle but a compound of empowerment and partnership, as well as stewardship. Stewardship brings accountability while partnership balances responsibility among participants (Moxley). It is a sharing of the governance system so that each member holds control and responsibility in trust for the work community as a team. It is a relationship system (Crosby) based on mutual accountability. Stewardship operates at the whole-person - spiritual - level of existence and interrelationship.

Stewardship systems ask inner leaders to identify and articulate shared values and empowerment principles and to share leadership. Stewardship formats drive the work community beyond the bottom line, positively affecting both work and work-life satisfaction. In doing this, inner leaders capture the spirit, values, and principles of the work community and individual members.

Several elements of the idea of the leader as steward are discernable. Inner leaders use stewardship principles to unite them with stakeholders in the common enterprise. They free stakeholders to accept a personal stewardship responsibility toward those principles and to their vision. They force followers to be accountable to the group vision and to each other (Covey). They help followers take ownership of the common work. And they foster interdependence.

At its core, shared governance is a long-term, transformational approach to life and work. It is a way of behaving that has the potential for creating fundamental and positive change in followers (Spears). Stewardship emphasizes the trust that exists between the inner leader and independent stakeholders so together they can blend long-term socioeconomic, human, and environmental growth (Petrick, Scherer, Brodzinski, Quinn, and Ainina). Stewardship structures are based on the assumption that a successful corporation links individual knowledge workers in a manner that elicits a level of corporate commitment (or creativity, or loyalty, or integrity, etc.) that is greater than the sum of each individual's creativity.

Application of Self-Governance at Work

Service to stakeholders has always been part of the underlying infrastructure of inner leadership. However, few researchers have integrated service values into the technique of self-governing leadership structures. Nor have they done much to instruct the novice leader in the mechanics of this task. Yet inner leaders rely on a set of leadership competencies useful in selecting, developing, and guiding them and all stakeholders as they set up a self-governing structure in their work community where each member is, or may become, a coleader over parts of the total enterprise (Dunn).

According to Dunn, the following are among those most obvious in this connection. Inner leaders establish standards for follower performance, including descriptions of acceptable and proficient performance. They also translate their expectations of their followers into a framework of task competencies and skill-sets necessary to accomplish the followers' specific part of overall corporate goals. Then they release power to individual followers as they internalize these expectations as demonstrated in their action. They also ensure that building these competencies is incorporated into individual development planning for the work community via training. Inner leaders also reinforce desired behaviors and encourage sharing of successes. They facilitate follower actions to learn and implement these skills at every opportunity, including rewarding excellent performance. They institute awards, bonuses, and other rewards to recognize proficiency in and commitment to work community competencies and skills.

Discussion Issues And Questions


  1. Inner leadership is changing lives, the leader's own and that of his or her work colleagues to facilitate follower self-governance.

  2. Learning to lead in a shared governance situation involves leaders in increasing follower skills in goal-directed action. It is a task of continual follower learning and growth.

  3. Inner leaders know that their role is an opportunity to serve their followers and that their greatest satisfaction comes when they submit themselves to the evolving capacities of their followers.

  4. Inner leaders encourage followers to pay attention to what is important about tasks and values both now and for the future.

  5. Shared governance in the work community changes the definition of leader success. Instead of being successfully in charge, inner leaders see success as a personal feeling of satisfaction in seeing their colleagues exercise more of their whole talents at work.

  6. At its core, shared governance is a long-term, transformational approach to life and work, a way of behaving that has the potential for creating fundamental and positive change.

  7. Leading self-governing work communities requires a kind of leadership orientation particularly adapted to leadership in the middle, one that prioritizes the idea of service and stewardship.

  8. Stewardship emphasizes the trust that exists between the inner leader and independent stakeholders so together they can blend long-term socioeconomic, human, and environmental growth.


  1. Do I take every opportunity to delegate to followers to the maximum degree of their competence? Why? Why not?

  2. What is there in the act of delegation that might redound to my detriment and undermine my place in the firm? Are these unfounded fears or potential risks to my status? Explain.

  3. Do I accept the fact that I may not have all the answers to work-related questions and may increase both my personal and the work community's success potential by involving my coworkers in key decisions, plans, and programs? Briefly describe a recent situation where you did (did not do) this.

  4. Do I see my employees as extensions of my ideas, skills, capacities, and expertise; or do I see them as almost coequal partners with me in doing the work community's work?

Self-Governance Learning Activities

Activity 1: Delegation for Self-Governance

Introduction. A key to self-governance is the leader's ability to delegate parts of the leadership tasks to followers. The task is more a psychological exercise than the procedural one.

  1. Using the following scale rate yourself to indicate how much you agree with the following items:








    Neither agree
    nor disagree



    _____ 1. I can do most jobs better and faster than my coworkers.

    _____ 2. Most of my tasks cannot be delegated to my coworkers.

    _____ 3. Most of my coworkers do not have the appropriate skill levels to do the tasks that I could delegate to them.

    _____ 4. I feel uncomfortable delegating many of my tasks to my coworkers.

    _____ 5. I am responsible for my coworkers' mistakes, so I might as well do the task myself.

    _____ 6. If my coworkers do too many of my tasks, I may not be needed any longer.

    _____ 7. Explaining things to coworkers and training them often takes too much time.

    _____ 8. My coworkers already have too much work to do; they can't handle any more.

    _____ 9. If my coworkers do the tasks, I will lose touch and be out of the loop.

    _____ 10. I need to know all the details of a task before I can delegate to my coworkers.

    _______ Total

    Scoring key. Your total score should be between 10 and 50. The higher your score, the less inclined you are to encourage self-governance, since you agree with many of the common excuses used by managers to not delegate tasks to their coworkers.

  2. If feasible, compare your raw score with that of others of your colleagues.

  3. What conclusions can you draw from this comparison about your capacity to promote self-governance within your work community?

  4. What are some of the most important elements of delegation for selfgovernance?

Activity 2: Images of Self-Governance Leadership

Introduction. One way to clarify our assumptions about shared governance leadership is to use images to describe our ideal leader. Through the use of pictures, diagrams, or other physical representations, we can visualize this concept as a way to help us understand our views of the role of leaders in self-governing work communities. Making a pictorial image also helps us solidify our expectations and image of leadership generally and self-governance leadership in particular. These images reflect our personal theories of self-governing leadership. For example, viewing leaders as facilitators presents a very different image from viewing them as parents. Thinking of our role as an inner leader as being "in charge" conjures up ideas far different than thinking of our leadership in service terms.

  1. Choose an image to represent your ideal self-governing leader. List the characteristics of that image.

  2. Using any available art form, draw a picture or diagram of your preferred image of a leader.

  3. Think about the image you have just drawn. Share your image with others as a way to clarify its implication about your view of self-governing leadership.

  4. Discuss implications of various images on

    Your leadership style.

    The impact on your work community culture and structure.

    Your compatibility with current or past leaders in your work community.

    Potential shortcomings of each image.

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