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What Is Everyday Leadership and Why Does It Matter?

Everyday leadership: When followers lead.

Key points

  • Although we focus primarily on leaders, followers also contribute to co-creating leadership.
  • Everyday leadership occurs when any individual, regardless of leadership positions, influences others to achieve shared goals.
  • Everyday leaders engage in behaviors such taking charge of a special project, planning an event, and coaching-mentoring others.

Ask anybody what leaders do, and they are likely to say that they lead. This just isn’t true. In actuality, it takes both leaders and followers to work together to enact leadership. Although leaders often engage in behaviors associated with leadership, sometimes followers do, too.

In our recent research, we have been looking at when followers engage in leader-like behaviors; we have labeled this everyday leadership. Everyday leadership occurs when an individual, regardless of their formal title and or level of authority, influences others to achieve shared objectives for the good of the collective. This means regular, everyday individuals who engage in leader-like behaviors.

Everyday leaders may or may not have a formal leadership position, they may be individual contributors or just followers who choose to be proactive and leads.

What Are Some Well-Known Examples of Everyday Leaders?

Consider some of the student survivors of the mass school shooting at Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida. Several of them took the lead by speaking out about the need for gun control—making appearances at media events and demonstrations, and lobbying legislators to enact stronger gun control measures. Or, consider the employees who are trying to unionize workers at Amazon, Starbucks, and Target. They don’t have positions of power or authority, but they are leading.

What Are Some Everyday Leader Behaviors?

Classic research on effective leadership behaviors focuses on task-oriented behaviors (planning, problem-solving, monitoring) and relationship-oriented behaviors (developing others, supporting them, empowering), as well as change-oriented behaviors (encouraging innovation, trying to change the direction of a collective). We typically associate these behaviors with leaders, but anyone can enact them.

How and Why We Measure Everyday Leadership Behaviors

Most research on leadership begins by identifying some group of individuals who are labeled leaders. These may be upper-level executives, middle managers, or MBA students. In our research, we are trying to look at the early roots of leadership by focusing on regular people and following them across their lives. Some of them, as teenagers, and later as adults, did take on formal leadership positions, but some of them did not. We created the construct of everyday leadership in an attempt to understand how people, regardless of whether they are in a formal leadership position or not, engage in leader-like behaviors.

We asked our participants to report behaviors that they might engage in at work, or in volunteer activities, including such things as taking charge of a special project, representing a team’s position to management (or other authorities), planning or coordinating an event, presenting the results of a project, or coaching-mentoring others. We also ask about their civic engagement behaviors, such as volunteering, taking part in political activities, working on neighborhood projects, and fundraising for charities.

What Are Some of Our Findings?

We have found that these everyday leadership behaviors do a good job of capturing leadership, regardless of whether the individual has an identifiable leadership position. Moreover, individuals who engage in more everyday leadership behaviors also appear to have greater leadership potential. In particular, they endorse ideas of exemplary leadership. They believe leaders should care about followers, consult with them, and develop them. There is also evidence that everyday leaders are more satisfied and engaged with their jobs and have a higher sense of well-being. What this line of leadership research does is shift the focus from leaders to examining the ways that followers also contribute to good leadership.

References

Riggio, R.E., Liu, Z., Reichard, R., & Walker, D.O.* (2021). Everyday leadership: Engaged followership at its finest. In Z. Jaser (Ed.), The connecting leader: Serving concurrently as a leader and a follower. (pp. 245-268). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Press.

Liu, Z., Riggio, R.E., Reichard, R.J., & Walker, D.O. (2022). Everyday leadership: The construct, its validation, and developmental antecedents. International Leadership Journal, 14(1), 3-35.

Oliver, P.H., Guerin, D.W., Gottfried, A.W., Gottfried, A.E., Reichard, R.J., & Riggio, R.E. (2011). Adolescent family environmental antecedents to leadership potential: A longitudinal mediational analysis. The Leadership Quarterly, 22(3), 535-544.

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