Leadership in the complex and multidifferentiated interior world of the corporation brings the inner leader into intimate association with many constituencies other than the traditional core of immediate followers implied in traditional leadership theory. Leaders must relate to and satisfy the needs of all the work communities and individuals who have a stake in the success of the inner leader's work community. These stakeholders, not merely that part of the corporate structure formally assigned to them, define the scope of the inner leader's concern. Leadership in the middle regions of the corporation encompasses a complex array of interests, forces, attitudes, actions, pressures, and values (Suzaki, 2002). Leading from the middle asks the leader to acquire different skills, knowledge, and abilities, and capacities that in effect redefine leadership in that relationshipful venue.
Inner leaders accept the notion that they need to be concerned with all the communities that affect their activities. This is a new idea in leadership and is specific to the role of inner leaders. Several forces drive inner leaders toward a stakeholder concept of leadership. For one thing, the driving value in many corporations today is service. And, rapid technological change and the shift to global markets result in short product life-cycles and increased risk of erosion of competitive advantage.
Inner leaders, focusing as they do on work community values, show a commitment to build relationships (Crosby, 1996) in both their internal and the larger corporate contexts for the long-term benefit of all stakeholders, including themselves. These leaders find it easier to gain the support they need from their constituents if they build intimate personal long-term relationships with them. Followers vested in such relationships who know they will share fairly will be more willing to sacrifice to insure the work community's survival and prosperity. Stakeholders who have evidence that affirms that the leader views relationships with them as long term and responsive to their evolving needs develop greater loyalty and are willing to provide support during periods of economic, social, or environmental adjustment.
Gardner (1990) sees leadership as a relationship characterized by a process of persuasion and example by which leaders induce community members to collective action in accordance with the community's purposes. Undoubtedly, inner leadership is a people-oriented task. Understanding the needs of both parties in this relationship is essential to success. Inner leaders can no longer (if they ever did) be content to learn only about their side of the equation.
Implicit in the leader–follower relationship is the idea of trust. Mutual interactive trust is vital to any work-community action. It bonds all parts of the work community—and individual members—and lets them relate to each other smoothly. Workers want to trust their leaders and inner leaders rely on the good will of workers to do what is needed. Force, authority, formal structural roles, and sanction systems cannot substitute for relationships based on mutual trust. Inner leaders, more than top leaders, are called upon to develop trust relationships with their followers, for that is the only kind of relationship that can maintain itself intact over time and against the attacks of stress, change, and technological encroachments. Such trust relationships are built on many things, among them are the need to articulate clear goals, sound policies, and a basic respect for others. Trust takes place in relationships supportive of factors like these, factors that are sensitive to the needs of both the followers and the leader (Yearout, Miles, and Koonce, 2001).
Affiliating with their coworkers in relationships engages inner leaders in more than system, structure, and strategy formation. It involves them also in shaping the social, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of interpersonal work alliances. These latter aspects of work life are more significant and far more susceptible to orchestration by leaders to the benefit of both leaders and followers and to realize goals of the work community they lead.