Stuck in a state of power imbalance? Unpacking the answers on why, when, and how followers challenge the state of power-dependence with their leaders

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Power imbalance exists in most leader-follower dyads. Because of their advantageous organizational positions, leaders generally have more power over their followers. The dominant perspective suggests that the follower is “stuck” in this state of power imbalance and is resigned to its negative consequences. However, research also suggests that power can shift from one party to another in today’s workplace. This perspective advocates for a dynamic view of power among individuals in the workplace. Unfortunately, this phenomenon of power in the leader-follower dyad has not been examined in greater detail, specifically in terms of when and how the less powerful party, the follower, may influence the power balance with the leader. With the goal to reconcile the conflicting narrative on the nature of power, my dissertation comprises of three interrelated essays to examine this dynamic perspective of power in the leader-follower dyad.

In Essay 1, I answer the theoretical question of why the follower is motivated to change the state of power imbalance in the dyad by proposing a dependency-risk appraisal model. I then address when and how the follower resolves the tension between follower’s self-protection and connectedness concerns. In addition, I develop a typology of coping strategies, labeled as balancing operations, for the follower to influence the power dynamics. In Essay 2, I test the effects of balancing operations on interpersonal dynamics using a three-wave panel field design. Specifically, I highlight how certain types of balancing operations will empower the follower to break the spiral of abusive behaviors over time and encourage the leader’s effort to seek reconciliation. In Essay 3, I answer when the success of coalition formation is enhanced. Through two high-involvement laboratory studies, I explain why follower’s political skill is a critical personal attribute that enhances the efficacy of balancing operations.