Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Science




Robertson, Jennifer L.

2nd Supervisor

Benson, Alex J.



The current study examined the effect of followership on leadership behaviours, and whether leaders’ responses to hostile followership varies as a function of individual differences. This study used a randomized controlled between-subjects experimental design. Participants were assigned to the role of either the “team leader” or a “team member”. As the focal manipulation, participants were assigned to a hostile followership condition or a control condition. In these two conditions, a confederate either antagonized and challenged the leader’s ideas (i.e., hostile followership) or engaged in neutral behaviours (i.e., control condition) throughout a virtually-mediated group decision-making task. Support was found for the moderating role of narcissistic rivalry on the relationship between experimental condition and leader incivility, such that narcissistic rivalry increased the leader’s uncivil reactions to hostile followership in the experimental condition. The results of this study enable insight into the interpersonal and organizational consequences of hostile followership.

Summary for Lay Audience

Followership behaviour is typically viewed as the biproduct of a single leader’s influence. As a result, the contribution of followers to leadership and organizational outcomes has traditionally been underestimated in the literature. The current study examines the reverse relationship, viewing leadership behaviours as the result of the actions of followers. Specifically, I examined leaders’ responses to hostile followership. Hostile followership is characterized by challenge-oriented behaviours aimed at the leader. Recognizing that leaders are likely to vary in how they perceive, process, and react to being challenged by one of their followers, this study also examined whether the leader’s attachment style and narcissism would buffer or exacerbate the effects of hostile followership.

To assess the influence of a challenging follower on the behaviour of their leader, I conducted an experiment using a group of student participants from The University of Western Ontario. Participants were instructed to use an online chatroom to work together on a group task. Within each group, there was one participant who was assigned to the role of the “team leader”, one participant who was a “team member”, and a third group member who was posing as a participant. In actuality, this third group member was part of the experiment (i.e., a confederate), acting as a hostile team member and challenging the team leader’s ability to lead the group. To assure the subsequent leadership behaviours were the result of the hostile followership manipulation, a control condition was used as a comparator. In this condition, the confederate behaved in a neutral manner, neither aggravating nor being overly helpful to the leader.

Overall, team leaders responded negatively to being challenged by one of their followers. When the confederate was hostile, leaders were rated as being more rude, condescending, and exclusionary towards their followers. These negative reactions to hostile followership were especially strong if the leader had high levels of antagonistic narcissism. This research contributes to the debunking of conventional knowledge that followers are merely passive recipients of the leader’s influence, demonstrating the ability of followers to influence both group outcomes and negative leadership behaviours.