The interplay of follower and leader ethics: a case study of the film "The Wave"

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The ubiquitous Hitler debate in leadership ethics is portrayed with fresh eyes through a case study of Becker and Gansel’s 2008 film The Wave (Die Welle) from the perspective of followership ethics. Set in a post-Berlin-wall German high school, this dramatization of school teacher Ron Jones’ experiment in 1960s California depicts the subtle yet strong undercurrent of destructive followership and exposes the tendency to underestimate follower power, presenting a poignant argument for the need to address followership ethics to students and practitioners of leadership across contexts. Numerous followership scholars taking a critical perspective of leadership have noted the lack of emphasis on followership ethics in organizational literature and argued that exploring followership ethics is imperative to advancing leadership theory and improving leadership practice. The present paper takes a somewhat different approach to organizational case study, using a motion picture as the basis for analysis and commentary to illustrate the relation between misguided follower motivations and ethical leadership failure.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFollowership in Action
Subtitle of host publicationCases and Commentaries
EditorsRob Koonce, Michelle C. Bligh, Melissa K. Carsten, Marc Hurwitz
Place of PublicationLondon, UK
PublisherEmerald Publishing Limited
Number of pages9
ISBN (Electronic)9781785609473
ISBN (Print)9781785609480
Publication statusPublished - 24 Nov 2016


  • Leadership
  • film analysis
  • Ethics
  • follower ethics
  • followership


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