Hey, Leader – Turn Around! Is Anyone Following You?

leader and followers

I can’t help but laugh when I recall the scene in the movie, Old School, where Will Farrell’s character enthusiastically attemps to lead everyone streaking through the center of campus.  Eventually, he looks back and realizes (at the same time he is “busted”) that nobody has actually followed him.  It begs the question, are you really leading, if nobody is following?

As a leader, you should have an element of magnetism to your style.  What do I mean by that?  I mean that people should be drawn to you; they should want to be around you (by choice, that is…not because it’s their job to take your direction.)  The greatest leaders have a natural following of people that are pointed in the same direction; people that want to accomplish the same goals; people that want to be on YOUR bus!

If you are leading others and you’re lonely, then you’re not doing it right.  Think about it. If you’re all alone, that means nobody is following you.  And if nobody is following you, then you’re not really leading. ~John Maxwell

Of course, I’m not suggesting that you need to win a popularity contest.  You don’t need to be everyone’s “BFF” or the life of the party, but it’s certainly beneficial if people want to follow and accomplish your same goals.  Here are some tips that will help you increase your magnetic pull:

Tell the Truth, The Whole Truth and Nothing but The Truth

Consider the closest relationships you have.  I’ll bet you know those people pretty well….warts, flaws and mistakes included…and yet, you still love them.  Heck, it’s likely that you love them even more, because they’re human – like you – they’re not perfect, and sometimes they need help…and they’ll admit it.

These relational principals apply across the board.  Just because you’re in a leadership position doesn’t mean that you’ve attained perfection.  You’re human; you’re going to make mistakes; you’re going to have questions, and people will respect you more for owning that.  Your transparency and honesty opens the doors for you to engage others and rely on their strengths and expertise.  Your team will feel needed and valued by you, and they’ll likely jump into help compensate for your weaknesses.

In addition to being authentic about yourself, leaders should realize the importance of being open and honest about the state of their organization, current and future.  Leaders should be clear and candid in their communication to give everyone an accurate assessment of what’s going on and what’s needed to improve.  This openness and authenticity creates understanding and direction, and it minimizes the chaos of uncertainty.

The cultures that are most toxic are those where nobody knows the truth – or where nobody is talking about it. ~Warren Bennis

 Be Inspirational and Visionary

The truth of the matter is that we can’t all be the leader in charge.  In fact, many people don’t even want to be that person!  (I’ve often said that I wouldn’t be President of the United States for all the money in the world! I can’t imagine the challenges of that position, and I don’t want to!) 

The end result is that many people want to be led.  They need someone who can be visionary and inspirational.  I’ve written before about The Hopeful Leader, and many of those concepts apply here as well.  People want, and often need, someone to give them a brighter picture of their future.

In the book, Leading at a Higher Level, a study of more than 500 leaders showed that leaders who demonstrated strong visionary leadership had the highest performing teams.  Leaders with good management skills but without vision had average team performance.  Leaders who were identified as weak in vision and management skills had poor performing teams.  So, why is it so important to have a clear vision?  Because…

…leadership is about going somewhere.  If you and your people don’t know where you’re going, your leadership doesn’t matter. ~Jess Stoner, Ken Blanchard, Drea Zigarmi

CNN compiled a list of the most inspirational leaders of 2008.  Consider what they all had in common: a vision, purpose, something they believed in, felt passionate about and could engage others in.  Notice that they also had a genuine concern for people as well, which leads me to the next point… 

Care For Your People’s Needs

At the end of the day, we’re all people…and people have basic needs that need to be met.  As a leader, do you really need to address some of the “softer” needs?  According to Tom Rath and Barry Conchie, coauthors of Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow, if you ask followers what they need from leaders, the clear answer is trust, compassion, stability, and hope. These four basic needs are the result of Rath, Conchie, and a Gallup research team asking more than 10,000 followers what the most influential leaders contribute to their lives.

Perhaps there is some overlap with this and some of the other points already mentioned, but I thought it was important to say it in this particular way.  The reason for that is because this puts the focus on understanding what your people need.  To do this, you must get to know your people.  You have to ask questions, listen and engage.  This is a critical component to understanding people and meeting their needs.

In this article from Gallup Management Journal, Rath and Conchie explain through a series of questions and answers why these particular needs are critical.

 Share the Wealth

Wealth, in this case, takes on multiple meanings.  Magnetic leaders are generous in sharing things that will benefit those around them.

If you’re more experienced, you should share the wisdom of that experience with others.  Don’t ask people to reinvent the wheel. Share knowledge, and allow them to benefit from your lessons learned.  Give your time to others and build into them.  Your investment in them will have great payout in the future.

When a milestone is met, a project completed or an important discovery is made, give credit, praise and accolades to the appropriate people.  Not only does this reward them properly for a job well done, but it incents them for future performance.

Of course, when it’s possible, be generous with the financial sense of the term wealth.  Don’t be ‘that leader’ that takes a huge bonus while your people are getting pay cuts.  Be fair and consider how much of your success depends on what other people produce…then, be as generous as you’re able to with promotions, pay increases and bonuses.

Of course, the key to every single one of these recommendations begins with taking that scary look behind you and being honest with yourself.  Is anyone following you because they want to?

What does your magnetic field look like?  Are you pulling people toward you as a leader?  What benefit do you provide your followers?  (hint…it’s not enough to that they get to keep their jobs!)

Erin Schreyer is President of Sagestone Partners, LLC.  She is passionate about leadership and helping both people and companies reach their greatest potential.  Please visit www.sagestone-partners for more information or feel free to e-mail Erin at eschreyer@sagestone-partners.com.

Join The Conversation

Latest Comments

Benita   |   29 October 2009   |   Reply

“…leadership is about going somewhere. If you and your people don’t know where you’re going, your leadership doesn’t matter.”

So true. When leaders lack vision, they have nothing to focus on. Instead everyone connected ends up being tossed by every wind that blows and going in circles with real no end in sight.

Bridget Haymond   |   29 October 2009   |   Reply

You make a great point about the balancing act every leader faces. It all goes back to people leading with their head and their heart.

Thanks for these terrific insights on leadership!

Deb Hamacher   |   29 October 2009   |   Reply

Erin ~
Great topic and one that I have tremendous passion around too. I see you like quotes as do I so I’m sharing one of my favorites on this same topic…

“It is a terrible thing to look over your shoulder when you are trying to lead…and find no one there.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Thanks for sharing your knowledge and perspective…write on!

Wally Bock   |   29 October 2009   |   Reply

There are several good things here, Erin, but let me highlight two I liked a lot.

If you don’t have followers, then you’re not a leader. You may want to be a leader. You may hope or dream or plan to be a leader. You may know everything about leadership. But until people follow you, you’re not a leader.

And, “leadership is about going someplace.” So obvious and so often forgotten. It’s a good idea to know where you want to go, too.

David Porter   |   29 October 2009   |   Reply

Erin –

Wonderful post. Sometimes all of us get so focused on running the race, we forget to look back and make sure folks are following us. Well done.


Andy Warner   |   29 October 2009   |   Reply

Erin, Well done and a great thought-provoking post. I think the one thing you forgot to mention (and possibly another post) is leading when others are not looking. I think all leaders, regardless of tribe size are leading people they are not cognizant are following them. Thus, there is a duty for a leader to always be ready to serve and guide whether they are ready and willing or not.

koerberwalker   |   29 October 2009   |   Reply

Great Post Erin – especially the points about Tell the Truth, The Whole Truth and Nothing but The Truth. Just this week I watched in dismay as a critical deal for a great company fell apart because the leadership failed to tell the whole truth. Some times the truth may be hard to share, but hiding it always backfires!

Marja   |   30 October 2009   |   Reply

Hi Erin, great article!

Someone once said that if you think you’re leading but no-one is following, then you are just walking.

Thanks for sharing your powerful insights about attributes of a true leader. It is so spot-on!

Looking forward to some more great articles.

Have a splendid weekend!

Rodricus Kirby   |   30 October 2009   |   Reply

Very good article, Erin, “having a vision” resonated with me because if you don’t have one then you’re not going anywhere fast. Vision also implies that you have a sense of passion. If you’re passionate about where you’re going (vision) then there’s NOTHING that will stop you from getting there. And when you adobt that mindset it pulls people toward you, grabs a hold of their imagination, and makes them want to follow you.

Good job, again!


Bill Bliss   |   30 October 2009   |   Reply

Erin, as always, a great post with a lot to take in. I like how you have provides links to more resources about these topics as well. I plan to look at the Gallup stuff.

I was just looking at the Warren Bennis quote this morning about the “cultures that are the most toxic are those where nobody knows the truth or is talking about it.” He also advises that cultures be built on candor. That requires the leader to be transparent, insist on transparency of others and be an open and willing listener to what others have to say.

The part about telling the truth leads to an environment of trust. As John Townsend has said, “Trust is created when leaders are an open book.” They are the first ones to admit mistakes or say they were wrong.

Keep up the great and inspiring posts Erin, they are well worth printing out and re-reading as good reminders.

Cullen Habel (@CullenOfAdelaid)   |   11 November 2011   |   Reply

Brilliant post. Searched on the “look behind you” phrase, found this and had to link to it. (http://cullenofadelaid.blogspot.com/2011/11/him-anywhere-what-boss.html)
What a find, this blog.

Erin Schreyer   |   11 November 2011   |   Reply

Thanks so much, Cullen!! I appreciate your kind words and am glad you found value! Hope to see you around here again soon!