Leaders, Identify with Your Followers

William Shakespeare wrote, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” That’s leadership in a nutshell. But it’s also more than just a motivational quote hung up on the wall of an office. And it’s not about your title or salary, either. It’s influence that makes a leader, not power.

TalentSmart president Dr. Travis Bradberry explains it well: “Leadership is the art of persuasion—the act of motivating people to do more than they ever thought possible in pursuit of a greater good.” This means that anyone, at any level of a company or organization, can become a leader.

So what does it take to be a good leader? I believe it’s by actually connecting with those who are following you. It’s about having compassion for people who work hard—you were once in their shoes, after all. And it’s about using your experience as a follower to form your own successful leadership model.

Like the Bard said, some leaders are born to it, while some achieve it through plain ol’ hard work. The most effective leaders are those who continue to learn and grow as influencers.

How to Be a Strong Leader

Good leaders have a dual focus: their organization’s mission and motivating their staff to share a vision for fulfilling that mission. To succeed in this endeavor, a leader must first remember what it is like to be a follower. What inspired you on the way up to becoming a leader? What didn’t? It’s your memory of those early observations that will help you become a strong leader.

Here’s a three-pronged approach for emerging leaders: 

  1. Be a good follower first. Most leaders work their way up from the bottom rung of the corporate ladder. They see what works and what doesn’t, and they’ll take what they’ve learned and incorporate it into their own leadership style.

Mark Zuckerberg is a bit of an anomaly. His leadership, a byproduct of creating one of the biggest Internet phenomena ever, was most certainly thrust upon him. Still, Zuckerberg has risen to the occasion. And, judging by Facebook’s omnipresence in our daily lives, he’s not too bad at leading.

For those of us without a billion-dollar idea, we need to crawl before we can walk. It’s a metaphor that applies to just about any endeavor worth pursuing in life. For leadership, it means that if you want to be successful, you need to be a good follower first.

  1. Let your followers teach you how to lead. Jim Kouzes, author of the best-selling book “The Leadership Challenge,” believes it’s the process and not just the person that makes for good leadership. “Leaders are asking people to follow a process, and it is in this way that leaders should always think of themselves as followers,” Kouzes writes.

Sanyin Siang, author of “The Launch Book,” cites TV shows like “Undercover Boss” as proof there is much to learn by walking in another person’s shoes. As a leader, you must figure out a way to key into who your followers are, what they’re thinking, and most importantly, what motivates them.

“Leaders can influence their followers but not without follower compliance,” writes leadership expert Richard Pfohl. In a nutshell: You can’t be a leader unless you can connect with willing followers. “Leaders who understand what their followers want are successful leaders and gain the compliance of their followers,” Pfohl says.

  1. Challenge yourself to lead differently. As a leader, you’ll find—hopefully sooner rather than later—what is effective in your approach in working with different types of followers. But before you resort to a rinse-and-repeat methodology to leadership, know that to improve is to grow. Leaders who are static in their managerial mindset likely believe what worked for them once will work for them again—and always. That’s not always the case. Remember, you’re asking people to follow a process, and if that process isn’t working anymore, then it’s time to reexamine your approach.

What’s your relationship with your followers? How can you make it better? It all goes back to the art of persuasion and influence. Yes, there are natural-born leaders, but there’s hope—and a learning curve—for those who aspire to become great leaders.

Photo Credit: noyshira Flickr via Compfight cc