Tuesday, June 17, 2008

How to successfully build your leadership with willing followers

For years experts have said that leadership was intangible and not measurable. However there is a basic measure - leaders are determined by their followers. No followers, no leader. Most influential leaders no matter what title they have or role they play are those with willing followers.

The whole point of leadership is to get whole hearted followers for a given course of action. However most potential leaders ignore followership and instead focus on being more engaging, interesting or convincing. At times they may rely on their positional power and end up, not with committed followers but with agreements at best, compliance at worst and marginal results.

The term whole hearted implies leaders have engaged their followers both in the heart and head in other words emotionally and intellectually. It also implies that the follower decides to whether or not to give his or her commitment.

So how do you gain whole hearted commitments and willing followers? The first step starts with the conversation
you have with a potential follower. Here you express your decision goals, and you include three critical decision goal elements:

1) a confident statement of the goal which has value or benefits to the potential followers
2) an invitation for followers to look at or listen to the goal and strategy and
3) an acknowledgement that the potential followers are decision-makers.

Take for example the following interaction: I believe we can reach our target of cost reduction by making a few changes to our process. Let's discuss this approach and you decide if it something that you can support. By putting forth your ideas with the confidence that others can decide on and treating followers as fellow decision makers, you have a greater chance of being heard and with an open mind and gaining credibility.

Planning and logic alone will not guarantee commitment. Commitments are whole hearted decisions and that means engaging the heart and head. Not everyone sees information the same way because emotions shape logic.

Opening a conversation with a well stated decision goal establishes rapport, openness and trust; it also lets followers know they are decision makers and so feel safer talking and revealing their true attitudes toward a plan.

A follower’s potential attitude can be positive, negative or neutral and can vary from moment to moment. Exceptional leaders are able to intuitively recognise intuitively recognize momentary changes in attitudes or points of view in a conversation. They focus more on how something is said, and by that, what is said makes more sense. Recognising and adapting to what is said is what enables leaders to influence others.

Let's look at an example of what this looks like - when you give someone directions to your home, you first determine where the other person is starting from. The directions you then give vary based on where the person is at that moment in time. In the same way if a potential follower considers your goal or strategy difficult to execute then you must simplify it. If a follower sees a plan as being to risky you then reduce the risk. Since followers vary in their attitudes you will need a range of responses that make sense to followers.

Regardless of a potential follower’s response, you must treat followers seriously so they talk openly and consider your goals and strategies. Acknowledging their point of view and taking them seriously are easier to do with the following:

1. Give them your total attention: Prove you care by suspending all other activities, suspend your point of view and show interest in what the other person is saying.

2. Respond: Responses can be verbal or nonverbal (nods, expressing interest). the key is to show that the message was received and had an impact.

3. Prove understanding: Saying I understand is not enough. You need to prove understanding by occasionally restating the gist of the idea or asking questions which prove you know the main idea. This is different from proving that you are listening and transmits a different message when people are communicating.

4. Prove respect: Take others’ views seriously. Telling someone, I appreciate your position, or I know how you feel, does not help. Such responses are usually followed by the word “but” and your viewpoint. Instead, show respect for the other person’s view by communicating at their level of understanding and attitude. An adjustment in tone of voice, rate of speech, and choice of words shows you are imagining being where the other person is at the moment.


When others sense they are being taken seriously; they in turn will take you seriously as their leader. Understanding that successful leaders are great followers first will assist you in becoming a better, more effective leader.

1 comment:

Joan said...

This is an excellent post. The 4 areas in this post regarding attitudes of leaders
1.Give them your total attention
2 Respond
3 Prove Understanding
4 Prove Respect

are all areas involving empathy and engaging the "follower" on a personal, emotional level. You are right that not only engaging intellectually is needed, but more so is the ability or willingness to engage with "emotional intelligence". Personal maturity is also needed to be aware of one's own capacity for this relational ability. I don't hear too much about the idea of "maturity" as it is involved with leadership, but I believe the two go hand in hand. Self awareness in this manner, I believe, coincides with personal maturity. How does one assess one's own level of "personal maturity" or one's level of self awareness?
From Joan