For decades, experts have said that leadership is intangible and unmeasurable. But great leadership is clearly measurable. Leaders are determined by their followers. No followers. No leader.
In business, leadership occurs at all levels—from the executive suite to the shop floor—and at every level in between. Influential leaders, no matter what title they have or role they play, are those with willing followers.
Leadership is getting wholehearted followers for a given course of action. Unfortunately, many potential leaders ignore followership and focus instead on being more engaging, convincing, or interesting. Or, sometimes, they rely on their positional power and end up, not with committed followers, but with agreements at best, compliance at worst, and marginal business results.
Whole-hearted implies leaders have engaged their followers emotionally and intellectually—both in the heart and head. Whole-hearted also implies that the follower decides whether or not to give his or her commitment.
Most people start their leadership interactions by establishing a common goal. Leaders understand the difference between goals and strategies. Goals are outcome-oriented, starting with the end in mind. Strategies are plans for reaching a goal.
The first step starts with the conversation you have with a potential follower. Here you express that goal, and you include three critical elements to make it a common goal: 1) a confident statement of the goal which has value or benefit to the potential followers; 2) an invitation for followers to look at or listen to the goal and strategy; and 3) an acknowledgment that the potential followers are decision-makers.
Take this conversation opener as an example: “I believe we can reach our target of expense reduction by making a few changes to our process. Let’s discuss this approach, and you decide if it is something you can support.”
In this statement you see the decision elements at work. By stating your confidence when you put forth an idea for others to decide on and treating followers as decision-makers, you have a greater chance of being heard with an open mind and gaining credibility.
Unfortunately, planning and logic alone can’t guarantee that a plan or strategy will result in commitment. Commitments are wholehearted decisions, and that means engaging the heart (emotions) as well as the head (logic.) Not everyone sees the same information the same way. Because emotions shape logic, the way we look at information is different if we are fearful than if we are interested.
Opening conversations with a well-stated decision goal establishes rapport, openness, and trust. Also, this lets your followers know they are the decision-makers so they feel safer talking and revealing their true attitude toward a plan.
A follower’s potential attitudes are positive, negative, or neutral. However, since attitudes are situational, they can change moment-to-moment. So, when we talk about attitudes, we mean attitudes in the moment. Exceptional leaders 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.
Recognizing and adapting is what enables leaders to influence others. For example, when you give someone directions to your home or office, you first determine the other person’s starting point. The directions you then give vary based on where the other person is at that moment in time. The same is true for leadership interactions.
If a potential follower considers your goal and strategy difficult to execute, then you must simplify both. If a follower sees a plan as risky, you mitigate or eliminate the risk. If a follower is skeptical, you provide proof. Because followers have different attitudes, you need a range of responses that make sense to potential followers. The key to finding the right response is to have followers share their points of view and how they see a situation. You then know from your follower’s perceptive what is difficult, risky or unbelievable and can response appropriately.
Regardless of a potential follower’s response, you must treat followers with respect so they continue to talk openly or seriously consider your goals and strategies. That is why the most successful leaders are great followers.
Patrick T. Malone
The PAR Group
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706 835 1308 North Georgia Office
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