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NOTE: Effective January 1, 2017, I will no longer post new articles since I am now fully retired.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

To Understand Leadership, Understand Followers

People want to be led and not controlled. Anyone involved in managing people should be a leader. This is what your people are looking for. You can start by communicating the direction for others to follow with an emphasis on delegating and supporting their efforts.  You want people to be motivated and productive, reaching their full potential in the work place. This requires staying out of the way and not being a micro-manager, but still holding people accountable for performance. 

You want good employees to become great employees. Your job is not to tell people what to do, but to show them how to do it.  Leaders guide and direct people, keeping them on a path of excellence aligned to the goals of the company. Leaders listen and learn, connecting with others so they operate within a zone of reality. The key to becoming an effective leader is tapping into the feedback of your followers. Encourage them to speak up – ask them what they think. Decisions should be participatory since people want to have a say in how they go about doing their job. The leader and the follower respect one another in a joint effort.

Given the fact that we now have over 5,000 books written on leadership, there should be no doubt that the discipline of management has been replaced by the discipline of leadership. However, one thing that has not gotten much attention is the Follower. Instead of focusing so much attention on what it takes to be a great leader, what really matters is how you can bind others into your vision through an understanding of what followers are looking for. According to Gallup, there are several needs that followers are looking for from their leaders:

1.       Trust – If you expect to be a leader, you must absolutely be as trust worthy as possible. Never make a promise that you cannot deliver on.
2.       Integrity - You must be reliable and open in how you deal with people. Your character is on the line, being watched by others. People will size you up based on how you make decisions – did you make the right decision?
3.       Caring – You should have an authentic concern for others who you work with – if you expect people to trust you, you have to have their best interest in mind and not just your own.
4.       Stability – People are human and they have a basic set of needs that you must meet. They want a sense of place and security for the future. If you can’t provide this, then you will have a hard time getting people to commit to your direction and vision.
5.       Hope – We all want to be optimistic about the future and when people have hope about what is to come, they will follow and commit to the challenges ahead.  You have to go way beyond the day to day and give people a sense of how the organization and everyone has a future.

If you expect to become a leader, then you better know how to connect with others. This requires an openness whereby others can provide feedback to Managers without any adverse consequences. In order to make this process work, you should consider some form of anonymous evaluation of your managers. There are several models to make the process relatively easy to implement. One such example is the Leadership Practices Inventory Model, developed by Barry Posner and James M. Kouzes. This model relies on observation by followers, up to ten participants who complete an assessment of the leader. You need to have a well-defined process in place whereby the leader has objective and honest feedback enabling awareness of how to become highly effective with followers.

“Self-discovery and self-awareness are essential to developing our capacity to lead.  And a core component in that process includes personal reflection and analysis of our own behaviors as leaders. Equally as valuable is insight and feedback from those around us who know us well, who have experience of us in our role as a leader, and who are committed in their support of our personal development to provide honest input into the behaviors we exhibit to others. Combined, these essential perspectives provide invaluable insight into how we view ourselves as a leader, how others view us, and what actions we can take to improve our effectiveness.” – Leadership Practices Inventory by Barry Posner and James M. Kouzes 

Becoming a leader should be every Manager’s mandate and this requires a commitment to meeting the needs of your workers. Because there is a wealth of tools, templates and other leadership development materials now available, there is no excuse why every company should not be doing this – developing your leadership capabilities.


  1. Thanks so much for sharing this Matt!

  2. I liked the article easy to understand .
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