• Why should anyone be led by you?

    Years ago, I asked this question to a leader. Here was her response:

    “Look, I sit in the corner office and am in charge. If they don’t like it, there’s the door.”

    Today that response and $3 might get you a Starbucks latte but not much else. Position may give you authority, but it doesn’t ensure that today’s worker will respect you as a leader. Authority may get you compliance and not much else.

    Employees have a choice in how they work with the managers above them in an organization. They can choose to follow because they “want to” or because they “have to.” It’s that simple.

    Wanting to Follow

    If your employees see the value of your leadership and willingly support you, they accept responsibility and accountability for tasks that support your success. In these situations, your direct reports are disappointed if you fail. Employees want to be inspired and motivated by their leaders: they may resonate with you as a person. In other cases, the employees will be aligned with your agenda: they’re working to achieve a shared and desired outcome. However, none of these responses is automatic.

    Being in the “want to follow” state is never permanent. Rather it must be earned, renewed and re-earned, if lost. Employees will question their leaders, sometimes in public, but most often, privately. You need to take the “pulse” of the relationship.

    You should know the answers to these five questions:

    • Do your direct reports trust and respect you?
    • Do they tell you the truth? Are they “straight” with you?
    • Do they feel that you support them?
    • Are they willing to go the extra mile because they want to?
    • Are their objectives aligned with yours? Are your objectives aligned with theirs?

    If you don’t know where your direct reports stand, they’re probably following you in silent compliance.

    Having to Follow

    Unfortunately, more and more leaders find themselves with employees who will do what is expected of them and little more. Their “hands” may be in it; sometimes their “mind” will follow but seldom their “heart.” Many will appear onboard, but in reality they’re going through the motions. They may have questions about you as a leader or the goals you’re trying to achieve. They often keep their thoughts private for fear of losing their jobs. Some may believe that making suggestions is futile. Others may think that they could lead better than you.

    Here are five symptoms that you should look for:

    • Do your direct reports tend to agree with your position even around controversial issues?
    • Do your direct reports often say, “Just tell me what you want me to do”?
    • Is there often silence in team meetings?
    • Do you have trouble finding volunteers for new projects?
    • Do your direct reports seek opportunities in other departments?

    Why Should Anyone Be Led by You?

    You can’t get much done without followers, and in these “empowered” times, willing followers are hard to find. Today qualities such as integrity, trust, authenticity and competence are the price of admission for leaders. My experience indicates three additional leadership qualities must be present to attract followers with their hearts, minds and spirits. You will need to look inside to determine if others see these qualities in you.

    • Reveal your vulnerabilities

    Exposing weaknesses establishes trust. If executives communicate that they’re perfect at everything, there will be no need for followers to help them. We all have weaknesses. If you don’t show some weaknesses, then followers will invent one for you. I’m not saying let it all “hang out.” You don’t need to expose weaknesses that may be seen as fatal flaws, jeopardizing your professional role. Rather reveal vulnerabilities that show you’re human and need the help and support of others.

    • Make sense of circumstances

    Followers want their leaders to be “in the know.” Yet knowing what’s going on is necessary but not sufficient. Followers want their leaders to explain why actions are taken and interrupt what these actions mean for them. If they can’t get “sense-making” from you, they’ll seek it from others.

    • Care about others

    There’s an old adage – “I don’t care what you know until I know that you care.” Followers want their leaders to care authentically about those they direct. In many cases, this caring shows up as institutional support – “I got you back.” Followers also want their leaders to care about their careers, be straight with them, appreciate their work and respect them. When leaders care about their employees, they demonstrate that they’re doing more than just playing a role. Followers want their leaders to care passionately about the people and their work just as much as they do.

    Pushing the Edge of Your Thinking

    1. Do you have willing followers? How do you know?
    2. Are you a willing follower of your leader? Do you think they know? Will you tell them?
    3. What would it take to improve respect and trust – up and down the hierarchy?

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