Leader-Follower Interactions in Times of Increasing Distance: Implications for Followers on the Task Level and the Relational Level

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URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10900/151131
Dokumentart: PhDThesis
Date: 2025-12-20
Language: English
Faculty: 7 Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Fakultät
Department: Psychologie
Advisor: Scholl, Annika (PD Dr.)
Day of Oral Examination: 2023-12-20
DDC Classifikation: 150 - Psychology
Other Keywords:
frequency of leader-follower interaction
digitalization of leader-follower interaction
perceived construal of power
License: http://tobias-lib.uni-tuebingen.de/doku/lic_ohne_pod.php?la=de http://tobias-lib.uni-tuebingen.de/doku/lic_ohne_pod.php?la=en
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Die Dissertation ist gesperrt bis zum 20. Dezember 2025 !


The contemporary work environment is constantly evolving—nowadays, it comprises a variety of new working models, such as work-from-home arrangements, flexible working hours, and virtual teams. These developments have been further expedited by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a consequence, leaders and followers work increasingly often at different locations, which implies an incresaing physical distance between them (Antonakis & Atwater, 2002; Bell & Kozlowski, 2002; Rudolph et al., 2021). The decreasing frequency and increasing digitalization of leader-follower interaction resulting from this physical distance (Brunelle, 2013; Kahai, 2013; Kelley & Kelloway, 2012) likely entail uncertainty for followers—regarding what they are expected to do and how to do it (i.e., on a task level), and regarding the way their leader feels about them (i.e., on a relational level). This uncertainty might ultimately threaten followers’ performance in the sense of assuming responsibility for and engaging in their tasks (e.g., Hu & Liden, 2011; Locke & Latham, 1990; Maier & Brunstein, 2001; Martin et al., 2016). Therefore, understanding how the frequency and digitalization of leader-follower interaction are linked to outcomes on the task level and the relational level is crucial—so that leaders and followers can manage effective collaboration, despite the major changes they experience in today’s work environment. The current dissertation targeted this issue by investigating how followers might be affected by the frequency and digitalization of interaction with their leader (1) on a task level and (2) on a relational level. Finally, it investigated how the relational level and the task level relate to each other. This research question was investigated in several empirical field studies with followers across organizational contexts. The findings indicate that the frequency, but not the digitalization with which leaders and followers interact with each other is linked to better outcomes on a task level (i.e., more follower goal clarity, norm clarity, and perceived task responsibility). Regarding the relational level, however, the findings suggest that the frequency constitutes the outcome rather than the predictor: how followers perceive their leader in their working relationship (i.e., how many opportunities the leader sees in pursuing goals in their role) predicted the frequency of their interactions, as well as more follower engagement. Taken together, the findings of the current dissertation contribute to an understanding of how effective leader-follower collaboration can be ensured despite an (on average) increasing distance between them. They suggest that better outcomes on a task level might be achieved if leaders and followers manage to stay in frequent touch with each other, regardless of whether this contact happens digitalized or face-to-face—which entails a positive message for flexible work models. Furthermore, the findings suggest that followers’ leader perception (i.e., perceived leader opportunity) might be an underlying relational factor that contributes to better outcomes on the task level (i.e., more engangement) and a higher frequency of interaction—rendering it a potential factor for facilitating frequent leader-follower interaction and ensuring better task outcomes.

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