Mending Relationships with Followers

If followers have a negative view of leadership, it can make it very difficult for a leader to serve followers and make sufficient change for an organization. It is the personal experience of this writer that a negative view from followers of leadership stems from a few different issues: members misunderstanding decisions due to a lack of perspective, members having personal issues with leadership/authority as an institution rather than the particular leader, or the leader has justifiably given followers reason to have a negative perspective. Regardless of the reason though, since leadership is preemptive to the reality of human existence, (McCabe, 2008, p. 32) the opportunity for change lies with the leader.

Central to any strong relationship is a sense of trust. Leaders who exercise servant leadership find their followers have significantly higher trust levels compared with leaders who operate in low levels of servant leadership. (Sendjaya, 2010, p. 643) In Greenleaf’s (2012) definition, he stresses servant leadership begins with the “natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first”, which naturally fosters a good relationship between followers and leadership.

Something that may also remedy a strained leader/follower relationship is to use stories in vision casting, instruction, and even personal conversations with followers. Research shows that when leaders use stories, it conveys to followers feelings of understanding as well as the meaning of relationships and experiences to leaders. (Weber, 1987, p. 50) The use of stories, particularly personal stories, can create relational connection points between followers and leaders that draw followers in.

Unfortunately, there are some circumstances that cannot be helped with servant leadership or storytelling. In such cases, as a very last resort, the wisest thing for the health of the follower, leader, and the organization may be to invite the follower to be successful somewhere else.


Greenleaf, R. (2012). The Servant as Leader. The Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.

McCabe, L. (2008). Jesus As Agent of Change: Tranformational and Authentic Leadership in John 21. Journal of Biblical Perspectives in Leadership, Volume 2(No. 1), 32–43.

Sendjaya, S., & Pekerti, A. (2010). Servant leadership as antecedent of trust in organizations. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 31(7), 643–663.


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