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Dissertation Abstract

Leader-Follower Communication in the 21st Century:
How Distractions Can Influence Relationships

William J. Shirey
April 2007

As communication technology advances at an exponential rate, there is evidence to suggest that leader-follower relationships are sometimes compromised when attention is diverted by the same instruments that keep workers connected. The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the extent to which leaders and followers perceive that their relationships are compromised when one’s attention is diverted by instruments associated with advanced communication technology (ACT), and if applicable, determine what factors were perceived to influence the compromise. Theories applicable to communication and leadership were examined. Phenomenological methods were used to investigate the effect of ACT on the leader-follower relationship. The study concluded that within the Department of Defense sample examined, leaders and followers often perceived their relationships were compromised due to ACT-related distractions. Study participants cited lack of respect and commitment as primary reasons for relationship compromise. When the leader-follower relationship was compromised, a lack of psychological closeness was perceived. Social presence factors such as body language, age, and personality were considered by participants to be most significantly related to distractions leading to relationship compromise. Busyness, or workload, emerged as a contributing factor related to commitment, body language, and relationship compromise. Advanced communication technology will likely continue to expand at exponential rates, and promises to improve our connectivity and the quality of our lives. However, based on the conclusions of this study, one might pause to consider that persistent connectivity also has the potential to negatively affect relationships. Although progress in communication technology has provided unprecedented affluence, connectivity, and opportunity, healthy relationships are threatened today because many workers live overloaded lives characterized by fatigue, anxiety, and stress. It will be increasingly important for leaders and researchers to consider how such progress affects the quality of relationships, and how quality relationships influence organizational effectiveness and efficiency.