Would I choose to follow you?
Leaders do not exist without followers.
A definition often used to differentiate between managers and leaders is to say that managers rely on positional power, while leaders attract followers. I often use a simple mental exercise when listening to people: I ask myself, would I want to work for that person. It is a powerful and revealing test. I would encourage you to try this for example, when listening to presentations or participating in larger group discussions.
Who would you choose to follow and who not? After the first intuitive categorization I start asking myself why. I’ve noticed that among other facts and values-based criteria, there is one that tends to determine who I would choose to follow. It has nothing to do with title, service years or age.
Great leaders make us want to grow.
We have all worked for and come across many brilliant managers. They can be incredibly smart, their ability to absorb and digest information is exceptional, they have huge tolerance for pressure, and a relentless drive for results. One can only admire their exceptional capabilities. But would we choose to follow them?
My answer tends to boil down to how they make me feel. Do I feel diminished in their presence, or do they make me want to grow? Does their brilliance dim the light in others, or do they radiate a sense of greatness around them?
Mark Twain has captured the importance of inspiring for greatness by writing: “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”
A perfect leader?
Years ago, in a corporate event I was again going through the mental exercise while listening to senior executives giving their presentations. I then asked from a colleague sitting next to me who he would choose to follow among the presenters. It turned out the number one choice for each of us represented very different leadership styles. One was leading from the front, taking risks and showing example, and the other was more focused on creating an environment where people could excel while having their back.
I learned a valuable lesson: different leaders, different strengths and different leadership styles are needed to lead different people at different times. My view on leadership was not the only view. What a relief: there is no “perfect leader prototype” everyone should strive for.
But my colleague and I were unanimous on who we would not follow. Even though the leadership style and other preferences may have varied, we shared one same criterion: the leaders we would choose to follow made us believe in ourselves and want to be great too. One of my favorite definitions for leadership is by Stephen Covey: “Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it in themselves.”
I choose to follow leaders, who make me want to grow. How do great leaders do that? It is a skill-set that can be developed. The coaching leader has the skills to develop and improve the performance and competences of his people – and will attract followers. If you’d be interested in discussing more about developing coaching leadership skills and attracting followers, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.