Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Zaleznik's Follower Typology

Today we travel back to 1965, to one of the earliest contemporary models of followership. Abraham Zaleznik, a professor at Havard, proposed the model in an article titled The Dynamics of Subordinacy in the HBR. The title itself speaks volumes about the thinking of the time. The concept of the subordinate is not something that is entertained easily these days and any leader that referred to their followers / employees as 'subordinates' would likely be seen as 'old hat' at the charitable end of reactions.

This model owes much to a freudian view of the world which itself is also somewhat out of fashion these days and as a result the model is now rarely seen as credible. It tends to be included in curricula as an exercise in academic criticism.

Ahead of it's time however, this is an early 2 x 2 model, which is again indicative of the type thinking being used by Zaleznik at the time. On a personal note I do find my self a little suspicious of models that fit neatly into a 2 x 2 matrix, as many models do. My question is:
Is it likely that (and this is a challenge to all of these 'neat' models) the data really determined the model? Or has the data has been somehow squished into a matrix and made to fit, or were they filtered (either during collection or analysis) through bi-dimensional (x vs y) thinking? If my suspicions have any foundation then the validity of these type of models should be questioned.
As a side note I find Zaleznik's later leadership writings simlarly interesting in that he describes leaders as 'charismatics' and managers as 'non-charismatics'.

However regardless of these issues the model introduces interesting dimensions worthy of consideration. Zaleznik makes a comparison based on the dimensions of activity and control.
The four quadrants of this model are:

  1. Impulsive followers (High Dominance / Actitive) who's defining characteristic is that they try to lead or influence others and their leader whilst being a follower them self. These are active and controlling people who try to dominate others and frequently (as the name suggests) act impulsively tending to move into areas that others wouldn't, sometimes seen as courageous and sometimes ill advised.
  2. Compulsive followers (High Dominance / Passive) are more passive than their impulsive colleagues. The rationale here is that these people would like to dominate their leaders and others but hold back out of guilt (Freudian).
  3. Masochistic followers (Submissive / Active) on the other hand want to submit and be controlled by authority. These people get pleasure from the pain of active submission. They submit (follow) willingly and enthusiastically, blindly following.
  4. Withdrawn followers are passive submissives. They will do the minimum required but will not engage actively in the direction of the the organisation or make any decisions. They tend to care little for their work or workplace.
You can see the Freudian basis of the model which often makes it uncomfortable for contemporary scholars, which is one reason why Zaleznik's work is popularly criticised. However when viewed in terms of behaviour, rather than the level of psychological or motivational explanation, this model is worthy of consideration.

Zaleznik, A. (1965), The Dynamics of Subordinacy, Harvard Business Review, May-Jun 1965

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