Updated: Mar 2, 2021
Leadership is a proposition centered around one simple concept: influence. The approach leaders take to gain influence will vary greatly from one person to the next, but ultimately the goal is to convince others to follow. It is logical then, to measure the success of a leader by focusing on the perspective of followers, specifically, to examine the attributes that followers ascribe to those in a leadership role. It is through this approach that we can definitively say some methods are more effective than others are. Motivated, inspired people are more likely to commit to the leader’s direction and vision; people who feel understood and respected are far more likely to offer their followership in return, because that distinction was earned.
In a recent study published in the Journal Human Relations, Bruce Avolio and his colleagues collected data from 1587 U.S. Army soldiers deployed in Iraq. This multi-level study examined numerous factors between soldiers and their squad leaders, to identify what can cause some squad leaders to be rated high in effective leadership influence (i.e. transformational leadership), and others to be rated lower. One of the most interesting findings as it relates to Meaningful Alignment, was the relationship between affect congruence between leader-follower, and effective leadership ratings ascribed by the soldiers in their squad. This concept of the “congruence” of positive and negative feelings, is the foundation of the Meaningful Alignment program, and quite frankly, the basis behind ability-based emotional intelligence. Leadership influence requires the ability of the leader to co-regulate the emotions that are exchanged between themselves and their followers. The more aligned the emotion, especially positive emotion, the more commitment the leader will receive in return.
This is true not only for deployed soldiers, but in all types of workplace environments. Too often, managers focus on obtaining agreement from employees in a transactional manner, prior to focusing on the person first.
We often see the negative effect of incongruence on display through social media exchanges. Once agreement cannot be realized between parties, the most common result is conflict, either through avoidance or direct confrontation, with little hope for resolution. The reality is that alignment is far more powerful than agreement. Alignment leads to deeper levels of understanding and respect, regardless of agreement. People rarely remember what you said, but they always remember how you made them feel.
Avolio, B. J., Keng-Highberger, F. T., Lord, R. G., Hannah, S. T., Schaubroeck, J. M., & Kozlowski, S. W. (2020). How leader and follower prototypical and antitypical attributes influence ratings of transformational leadership in an extreme context. Human Relations. https://doi.org/10.1177/0018726720958040