Followership and Glass Ceilings

Author’s note: This final post regarding leadership in a team made of people unique and diverse characteristics helps us understand how a follower can impact a leader’s life and leadership. Stay tuned for more blogs that will be less academic in nature.

Followership and Glass Ceilings

Followers are important people in a leader’s life. Followership is defined by how a person interacts with a pronounced leader (Crossman & Crossman, 2011). Followers can affect how leaders behave and respond, and perhaps even have influence on a leader. Followers can be active or passive and have specific traits that benefit the group (Crossman & Crossman, 2011). A leader who understands the traits of the followers can better lead the team, blending the types and using them as strengths can bring a new level of sophistication to a team (Begeç, 2013; Crossman & Crossman, 2011).

For example, understanding a minority follower who seems to behave in a passive manner could be a reflection of intolerance. Scholars have described the situation when a follower feels there is a limit to their potential as a “glass ceiling” (DeFrank-Cole, Latimer, Reed, & Wheatly, 2014; Ehrich, 1995; Morrison, 1992; Terri, 2005; Wilson, 2014). A lack of tolerance or inclusion can create a glass ceiling to those with potential to reach higher levels within an organization (Morrison, 1992). The situation hampers the minority group from being part of a diverse team because the organization lacks innovation on how to include diverse individuals within higher ranks (Crossman & Crossman, 2011). Leaders who are mindful of followers’ diversity and the effects it has on the broader organization can help break the glass ceiling.

Wilson (2014) decided it is wise for minorities to make an individual plan to break the glass ceiling into executive roles. Wilson (2014) also suggests organizations to meet minorities half way to achieve their plans. Leaders can encourage followers through organization channels. Gilbert et al. (1999) give the example of how the organization Xerox embraces minority followers and meets them half way. The organization includes training and focus groups where minority groups can speak directly to senior leadership. Even during times of layoffs, Xerox kept diversity a focus (Gilbert et al., 1999). Followers were the source of information, and Xerox made a point to make sure tolerance of diversity was acceptable (Gilbert et al., 1999). Tolerance helps inclusion of diverse followers.

It is the leader’s responsibility to help his or her followers work through conflicts that may arise because of a diversity issue (Begeç, 2013). A leader can bring a follower to be loyal to the organization by including others in the decision-making process and promoting team spirit (Begeç, 2013). This helps the individuals think beyond themselves, and focus the followers on the greater good (Begeç, 2013). The recommendation by Begeç (2013) is to have tolerance at every level by everyone of each other. Inclusivity can create solidarity among the followers.

As Kearney and Gebert (2009) state, leaders create a bond with the team members. The leader thinks of the team before themselves (Sendjaya & Sarros, 2010). The relationship between the leader and the followers becomes stronger. Followership effects opinions of diversity on a team (Ospina & Foldy, 2009). The actions, culture, and the situation often reflect the behaviors of other people (McGregor, 1944). A good leader will find a connection with a follower, beyond culture, age, gender, race, or other distinguishing characteristics. Keeping the follower at the center of the leader’s focus creates positive momentum for the follower and the leader.


Begeç, S. (2013). Effective diversity management initiatives.International Review of Management and Marketing, 3(2), 63.

Crossman, B., & Crossman, J. (2011). Conceptualising followership – a review of the literature. Leadership, 7, 481-497.

DeFrank-Cole, L., Latimer, M., Reed, M., & Wheatly, M. (2014). The women’s leadership initiative: One university’s attempt to empower females on campus. Journal of Leadership, Accountability and Ethics, 11(1), 50-63.

Ehrich, L. C. (1995). Professional mentorship for women educators in government schools.Journal of Educational Administration, 33(2), 69.

Kearney, E., & Gebert, D. (2009). Managing diversity and enhancing team outcomes: The promise of transformational leadership. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94, 77-89.

McGregor, D. (1944). Conditions of effective leadership in the industrial organization. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 8(2), 55-63. doi: 10.1037:h0056439

Morrison, A. M. (1992). New solutions to the same old glass ceiling.Women in Management Review, 7(4), 15.

Ospina, S., & Foldy, E. (2009). A critical review of race and ethnicity in the leadership literature: Surfacing context, power and the collective dimensions of leadership. The Leadership Quarterly, 20, (876-896).

Sendjaya, S., & Sarros, J. C. (2002). Servant leadership: It’s origin, development, and application in organizations.Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 9(2), 57-64.

Terri, M. B. (2005). Mentorship and the female college president. Sex Roles, 52(9-10), 659-666. doi:10.1007/s11199-005-3733-7

Wilson, E., M.A. (2014). Diversity, culture and the glass ceiling. Journal of Cultural Diversity, 21(3), 83-89.

© 2020, Mollie Bond

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