Followers Can Fix the Damage of Leadership Incompetence - Ideas for Leaders
Idea #854

Followers Can Fix the Damage of Leadership Incompetence

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Statue of Don Quijote and Sancho Panza in Brussels (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Statue of Don Quijote and Sancho Panza in Brussels (Source: Wikimedia Commons)


Restorative behavior by followers can restore damaged relationships and lost value caused by leadership incompetence.


Leadership involves a dynamic relationship between leader and follower to which both parties contribute. The study of “followership,” focuses on the vital role that followers play in the leader-follower relationship and, consequently, the role that followers play in the success of the organization. For example, poor followership, such as blindly following an incompetent or unethical leader, can be as damaging to an organization as poor leadership.

Two scholars of African leadership and followership offer a unique perspective on the role of followership when dealing with “bad” leaders a perspective based on the concept of restorative behavior.

Restorative behavior refers to the actions and reactions of followers attempting to restore relationships whose values have been damaged by the negative actions of their leaders. Effective relationships between an organizational leader and his or her followers lead to value creation for the organization; this value is lost when the relationship is undermined by the leader.

The research of Baniyelme Zoogah of Xavier University’s Williams College of Business and James Abugre of the University of Ghana Business School focused on poor leadership in terms of incompetence, defined as the inability to influence followers through effective communication and engagement. Specifically, incompetent leaders fail to involve followers in decision-making, fail to communicate with transparency and fail to ask for information or to act on information and suggestions offered by followers.

Through a series of surveys conducted with groups and dyads of supervisors and followers, Zoogah and Abugre found that:

  1. Incompetent leadership induced followers to undertake restorative behaviors to undo the harm of the incompetence restorative behaviors included discerning the causes and outcomes of the leader’s incompetence; a willingness to hold the leader accountable; a willingness to express concerns to the leader; and, finally, taking actions to restore the value of the relationship, including offering potential solutions to improve communication and participative decision-making.
  • Whether followers enacted restorative behaviors was linked to some extent to whether the followers were actively engaged that is, whether they cared about and were invested in the relationship with their leaders and the value that emanated from those relationships. The research suggested that leader incompetence would push followers to become more actively engaged.
  • At the same time, the research showed that follower-leader value fit that is, how closely the values of the leaders were aligned with the values of the followers acted as a substitute for active engagement in spurring followers to action. In other words, when the leader-follower value fit was high, active engagement was less important in prompting followers to take action. However, when the leader-follower fit was low, high active engagement was key to followers taking the initiative to engage in restorative behaviors.
  • Finally, in general, the research shows that restorative behavior led to restorative value in other words, the value created out of the relationship between the leaders and followers could be restored. To the surprise of the researchers, however, discernment, accountability, and voice did not have the same impact on restorative value as restorative repair.


This research was based in Africa, which at the national level has a history of restorative behaviour in response to leadership incompetence or malfeasance. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa may be the most famous example of the application of restorative behaviour, but it is not the only one.

This research reveals the effectiveness of restorative behaviour at the organisational level and implies certain steps organisations can take to encourage restorative behaviour by followers, including:

  • Giving followers the psychological safety to engage in restorative behaviour.
  • Ensuring that there is a value fit between leaders and their followers.
  • Encouraging a community of healing by helping leaders and followers to interact when leadership behaviour has damaged their relationships. This community of healing should be based on a “respect for all” culture that focuses on harms and needs, addresses obligations, and promotes collaboration and inclusiveness.
  • Inducing the active engagement of followers with systems and processes that enable this engagement.



Baniyelme D. Zoogah’s profile at LinkedIn

James B. Abugre’s profile at University of Ghana Business School


Restorative followership in Africa: Antecedents, moderators, and consequences. Baniyelme D. Zoogah and James B. Abugre. Africa Journal of Management (July 2020).

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Idea conceived

July 3, 2020

Idea posted

Jun 2023
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