Study: Leadership and Followership in Startups

Did you know there is currently a gap in the research about how leadership and followership evolve as startups evolve?

According to the Small Business Administration, small businesses, including startups, account for 44% of U.S. economic activity. Additionally, they are responsible for creating two-thirds of net new jobs in the United States. They present an entirely different context to examine both leadership and followership, particularly how leader-follower exchange evolves, as the startup evolves. If you are a founder, CEO, manager, employee, or ‘not yet defined’ in or as part of a startup, you are invited to take part in a quick survey and interview about leadership and followership in startups to help us fill the gap in the research. 

Followership refers to the role and behaviors of individuals within a group or organization who align themselves with a leader and contribute to the achievement of common goals. While leadership often takes the spotlight, followership is an equally essential and dynamic component of any organizational structure. Followership is not a passive role; it involves active engagement, collaboration, and a sense of shared purpose. Successful organizations thrive when there is a balance between effective leadership and followership, with both roles contributing to the overall success and well-being of the group and organization.

There is currently a gap in the research about how leadership and followership evolve as startups evolve. The information collected in this study will be used to publish on the findings to fill this gap. This research will give startup founders useful insights on how employees grow into leadership and followership roles as startups evolve, along with practical tips for creating effective talent management processes.

  1. Click on the survey link below to participate in the study. 
    1. The first part of the survey explains the study and asks you for your consent to participate. If you wish to review the consent letter in its entirety before you begin the survey, click here.
    2. The second part of the survey includes 30 questions (mainly rapid-fire answers with some written responses).
    3. The last section of the survey asks if you could participate in a quick interview to elaborate on your responses.
    4. The last slide in the survey asks if you can recommend other potential participants.

For questions, please contact the researcher: Dr. Leah Sciabarrasi ([email protected] ).

Learn more about the study. (click to toggle)
Research Questions

The research questions are:

  • To what extent do leadership and followership practices evolve as startups transition from the early stage to later stages of growth and maturity?
  • How do power dynamics evolve in startups, and what are the implications for the relationship between leaders and followers as the organization grows and changes?
  • What are the communication and feedback mechanisms that leaders and followers employ in startups to foster a culture of collaboration, learning, and continuous improvement?
  • How do followers in startup culture perceive and respond to different leadership styles, and how does this influence their job satisfaction, motivation, and commitment?
  • How do external factors, such as funding rounds, market fluctuations, and competitive pressures, impact the leadership and followership dynamics within startups?

Here is the full set of survey questions that examine these research questions.

Q1: What is your current role in the startup? (Options: Founder, CEO, Manager, Employee, Other)

Q2: How long have you been associated with the startup (0-5 years, 6-10 years, 11-15 years, 16-20 years, 21+ years)?

Q3: What type of startup is it? (medical, ecommerce, fintech, retail, education, other: )

Q4: What stage would you say your company is in: (early stage, growth stage, mature stage)

 

Question Set 1: To what extent do leadership and followership practices evolve as startups transition from the early stage to later stages of growth and maturity?

(Participants will see the corresponding questions to their answer to Q3 above.)

Early Stage

  1. To what extent does leadership focus on innovation and risk-taking currently? (Scale: Not at all – To a great extent)
  2. How empowered do you feel in contributing ideas and suggestions? (Scale: Not empowered – Highly empowered)
  3. How would you describe the level of collaboration and teamwork among employees in the early stage? (Scale: Low – High)

Growth Stage

  1. To what extent has leadership style shifted towards stability and structure during the growth stage? (Scale: Not at all – To a great extent)
  2. To what extent do employees feel a sense of ownership in decision-making processes? (Scale: Not at all – To a great extent)
  3. How has the delegation of responsibilities changed as the startup has grown? (Options: More delegation, Less delegation, No significant change)

Mature Stage

  1. To what extent has leadership focused on maintaining an innovative culture despite being in a more mature stage? (Scale: Not at all – To a great extent)
  2. To what extent are employee ideas heard and considered? (Scale: Not at all – To a great extent)
  3. To what extent has the perception of job roles and responsibilities evolved among employees in the mature stage? (Scale: Not at all – To a great extent)

All

  1. How satisfied are you with the leadership practices in the current stage of the startup’s growth? (Scale: Very dissatisfied – Very satisfied)
  2. How satisfied are you with the followership practices in the current stage of the startup’s growth? (Scale: Very dissatisfied – Very satisfied)

Open ended: 

  1. What specific changes in leadership and followership practices have you observed as the startup has grown?

 

Question Set 2: How do power dynamics evolve in startups, and what are the implications for the relationship between leaders and followers as the organization grows and changes?

(Participants will see the corresponding questions to their answer to Q3 above.)

 

Early Stage

  1. How would you describe the distribution of power within the startup in its early stages? (Scale: Centralized – Decentralized)
  2. How have decision-making processes evolved as the startup has grown? (Options: More centralized, More decentralized, No significant change)
  3. To what extent do you feel empowered to make decisions in the early stages of the startup? (Scale: Not at all – To a great extent)

 

Growth Stage

  1. To what extent do you believe power is distributed more equally among team members now compared to the early stages? (Scale: Much less equally – Much more equally)
  2. How have decision-making processes evolved as the startup has grown? (Options: More centralized, More decentralized, No significant change)
  3. To what extent does leadership focus on fostering a collaborative and inclusive environment in the growth stage? (Scale: Not at all – To a great extent)

 

Mature Stage

  1. How would you characterize the distribution of power within the current mature stage of the startup? (Options: Hierarchical, Flat, Collaborative, Other)
  2. To what extent has the role of decision-making authority shifted in the mature stage? (Scale: Significantly decreased – Significantly increased)
  3. How would you characterize the leadership style in the current mature stage of the startup? (Options: Transformational, Transactional, Servant, Adaptive)

All

  1. How would you rate the overall effectiveness of power dynamics in contributing to positive relationships between leaders and followers in the startup’s current stage? (Scale: Ineffective – Highly effective)

Open ended: 

  1. Are there specific power dynamics that have had a particularly positive or negative impact on team collaboration and relationships?

 

Question Set 3: What are the communication and feedback mechanisms that leaders and followers employ in startups to foster a culture of collaboration, learning, and continuous improvement?

(Participants will see the corresponding questions to their answer to Q3 above.)

 

Early Stage

  1. How would you describe the communication channels used by leaders and team members in the early stages of the startup? (Options: Direct, Hierarchical, Open-door policy, Other)
  2. How was feedback typically given and received in the early stages of the startup? (Options: Formal performance reviews, Informal discussions, Regular team feedback sessions)
  3. To what extent did leaders encourage open communication and idea-sharing in the early stage? (Scale: Not at all – To a great extent)


Growth Stage

  1. How have communication channels evolved as the startup has grown? (Options: More formal, More informal, No significant change)
  2. Have there been changes in the formal feedback processes as the startup has grown? (Options: More structured, Less structured, No significant change)
  3. To what extent do leaders use feedback mechanisms to drive organizational learning during the growth stage? (Scale: Not at all – To a great extent)


Mature Stage

  1. How would you characterize the communication culture in the current mature stage of the startup? (Options: Collaborative, Hierarchical, Informal, Formal)
  2. How has the feedback culture evolved in the current mature stage of the startup? (Options: Emphasizing continuous improvement, Focused on performance evaluation, Other)
  3. To what extent is feedback incorporated into decision-making processes in the mature stage? (Scale: Rarely – Frequently)

All

  1. How would you rate the effectiveness of communication and feedback mechanisms in fostering a culture of collaboration, learning, and continuous improvement in the startup? (Scale: Ineffective – Highly effective)

Open Ended

  1. Are there specific communication or feedback practices that have been particularly successful in promoting collaboration and continuous improvement?

 

Question Set 4: How do followers in startup culture perceive and respond to different leadership styles, and how does this influence their job satisfaction, motivation, and commitment?

(Participants will see the corresponding questions to their answer to Q3 above.)

 

Early Stage

  1. How would you describe the extent to which leaders inspired and motivated you with a clear vision in the early stages? (Scale: Not at all – To a great extent)
  2. How often did leaders provide individualized support and encouragement in the early stage? (Scale: Rarely – Frequently)
  3. To what extent is an innovative and creative environment fostered in the early stage? (Scale: Not at all – To a great extent)


Growth Stage

  1. How would you describe the extent to which leaders inspire and motivate you with a clear vision in the growth stage? (Scale: Not at all – To a great extent)
  2. How often do leaders provide individualized support and encouragement in the growth stage? (Scale: Rarely – Frequently
  3. To what extent do leaders foster an innovative and creative environment in the growth stage? (Scale: Not at all – To a great extent)


Mature Stage

  1. How would you describe the extent to which leaders inspire and motivate you with a clear vision in the mature stage? (Scale: Not at all – To a great extent)
  2. How often do leaders provide individualized support and encouragement in the mature stage? (Scale: Rarely – Frequently)
  3. To what extent do leaders foster an innovative and creative environment in the mature stage? (Scale: Not at all – To a great extent)

All

  1. To what extent do you believe that the leadership styles in the startup contribute to a positive work environment and team collaboration? (Scale: Not at all – To a great extent)

Open Ended

  1. From your perspective, what specific leadership practices contribute to a positive and engaging work environment?

 

Question Set 5: How do external factors, such as funding rounds, market fluctuations, and competitive pressures, impact the leadership and followership dynamics within startups?

(Participants will see the corresponding questions to their answer to Q3 above.)

 

Early Stage

  1. To what extent do you believe recent funding rounds have influenced the leadership and decision-making processes in the early stage? (Scale: Not at all – To a great extent)
  2. To what extent has the leadership adapted to competitive pressures in the industry during the early stage? (Scale: Not at all – To a great extent)
  3. To what extent do external factors influence the level of collaboration and support among team members in the early stage? (Scale: Negatively – Positively)

Growth Stage

  1. To what extent do you believe recent funding rounds have influenced the leadership and decision-making processes in the growth stage? (Scale: Not at all – To a great extent)
  2. To what extent has the leadership adapted to competitive pressures in the industry during the growth stage? (Scale: Not at all – To a great extent)
  3. To what extent do external factors influence the level of collaboration and support among team members in the growth stage? (Scale: Negatively – Positively)

Mature Stage

  1. To what extent do you believe recent funding rounds have influenced the leadership and decision-making processes in the mature stage? (Scale: Not at all – To a great extent)
  2. To what extent has the leadership adapted to competitive pressures in the industry during the mature stage? (Scale: Not at all – To a great extent)
  3. To what extent do external factors influence the level of collaboration and support among team members in the mature stage? (Scale: Negatively – Positively)

All

  1. ​​How would you rate the overall effectiveness of leadership and followership dynamics in navigating challenges posed by external factors? (Scale: Ineffective – Highly effective)

Open-Ended

  1. In your opinion, what strategies could be implemented to enhance leadership and followership effectiveness in navigating external pressures?
Interview Questions Examples

The interview questions are open-ended and largely pre-determined to keep the information and responses focused. The survey responses will be regularly reviewed to add on to/edit the pre-determined interview questions to allow interviewees to comment on or elaborate on particular research questions. Because participants can schedule an interview slot immediately after they complete the survey, there may not be a lot of time in between the survey and interview to fully tweak the questions. In addition, it won’t be possible to match survey responses to interviewees.

  1. The purpose of this study is to provide a comprehensive understanding of the dynamics within startup organizations as they progress through different stages of growth and maturity, including the role of leadership, followership, power dynamics, communication, and external factors in shaping these dynamics. It’s worth stating that followership refers to the role and behaviors of individuals within a group or organization who align themselves with a leader and contribute to the achievement of common goals. The informed consent letter that you previously signed covers this portion of the study, as well. Do you have any questions about it?
  2. The session will be recorded using a Livescribe pen and the recording will only be used by me, the researcher, to recall specific language. Is that OK with you?
  3. In your opinion, what are the most significant factors influencing the evolution of leadership and followership in the different stages of the startup’s growth?
  4. In your opinion, what strategies could be implemented to navigate power dynamics effectively as the startup continues to evolve?
  5. In your opinion, what challenges exist in the current communication and feedback mechanisms, and how can they be addressed?
  6. In your experience, how has the leadership style within the startup positively or negatively influenced your day-to-day work and interactions with colleagues? 
  7. Are there specific leadership or followership practices that have stood out to you in the face of recent external challenges?
  8. Is there anything else you’d like to share regarding how leadership and followership practices evolve as startups evolve?

The session will be recorded using a Livescribe pen and the recording will only be used by me, the researcher, to recall specific language. 

Demographic information collected

No names or names of startups will be collected or reported on as part of the process, only job titles and demographic data.

Here are the demographic questions:

Q1: What is your current role in the startup? (Options: Founder, CEO, Manager, Employee, Other)

Q2: How long have you been associated with the startup?

Q3: What type of startup is it? (medical, ecommerce, fintech, retail, education, other: )

Q4: What stage would you say your company is in: (early stage, growth stage, mature stage)

Flowchart of Research Design

Flowchart of Research Design

Phase 1

Informed Consent Letter & Survey

The Informed Consent Letter is hosted on Typeform >> at the beginning of the survey. It is presented here for you to read through in its entirety. No participant names will be collected or reported on. The survey will contain background information about the study, leadership, and followership to assist survey takers in making informed choices. For each submission, the participant’s job title will be collected. No participant names will be collected or reported on. 

 
Phase 2

Interviews

The researcher will interview select participants for clarification and more information. These interviews will be conducted using Zoom. They will be recorded and later coded for findings. No participant names will be reported on. 

 
Definitions (click to toggle)
Early Stage
  • Definition: The early stage refers to the initial phase of development or existence, typically characterized by the formation and establishment of a new business, product, or project.
  • Key Features:
    • High uncertainty and risk.
    • Limited market presence.
    • Focus on product development, market validation, and building a foundation.
Growth Stage
  • Definition: The growth stage signifies a period of rapid expansion and increasing market acceptance. During this stage, businesses or products often experience a surge in sales and customer adoption.
  • Key Features:
    • Increasing market share.
    • Scaling operations and production.
    • Enhanced profitability and growing customer base.
    • Intensified competition.
Mature Stage
  • Definition: The mature stage is characterized by a stable and established position in the market. The focus shifts from rapid growth to maintaining market share, optimizing operations, and sustaining profitability.
  • Key Features:
    • Market saturation with steady sales.
    • Established brand reputation.
    • Emphasis on cost control, efficiency, and product/service differentiation.
    • Potential diversification or innovation to stay competitive.
Followership
  • Definition: Followership refers to the role and behaviors of individuals within a group or organization who align themselves with a leader and contribute to the achievement of common goals. While leadership often takes the spotlight, followership is an equally essential and dynamic component of any organizational structure. Followership is not a passive role; it involves active engagement, collaboration, and a sense of shared purpose. Successful organizations thrive when there is a balance between effective leadership and followership, with both roles contributing to the overall success and well-being of the group or organization.
Open and Transparent Communication
  • Definition: A communication style characterized by honesty, clarity, and a willingness to share information openly. It fosters trust and encourages free exchange of ideas and feedback.
Hierarchical Communication
  • Definition: A communication style structured according to levels of authority and power within an organization. Information flows through established channels from top to bottom or vice versa.
Directive Communication
  • Definition: A communication style where information is conveyed with clear instructions and guidance. It is characterized by a more authoritative approach, often involving specific directions and expectations for the recipients.
Collaborative Communication
  • Definition: A communication style emphasizing teamwork, shared decision-making, and active participation among individuals or groups. It encourages open dialogue and the pooling of diverse perspectives to achieve common goals.
Flat Power Structure
  • Definition: A power structure characterized by a minimal number of hierarchical levels. Decision-making is often decentralized, and there is a more equal distribution of power among team members or organizational members.
Hierarchical Power Structure
  • Definition: A type of power structure in which authority and decision-making are organized in a top-down fashion, with a clear chain of command. Individuals at higher levels have more power and control.
Collaborative Power
  • Definition: A power dynamic based on shared decision-making and cooperation. In a collaborative power structure, individuals or teams work together, contributing their expertise and insights, with the goal of achieving common objectives. Power is distributed among participants, and influence is more diffuse.
Formal Performance Reviews
  • Definition: Structured evaluations conducted periodically (usually annually or semi-annually) by managers or supervisors. Formal performance reviews assess an individual’s performance against predetermined goals and may include discussions about strengths, areas for improvement, and career development.
Informal Discussions
  • Definition: Casual and spontaneous conversations between individuals, often initiated to provide feedback on specific tasks, projects, or behaviors. Informal discussions can occur more frequently than formal reviews and may focus on day-to-day work performance or ongoing projects.
Regular Team Feedback Sessions
  • Definition: Scheduled meetings or sessions within a team or group where members provide and receive feedback from one another. These sessions are designed to foster open communication, collaboration, and continuous improvement within the team, addressing both individual and collective performance.
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