In the numerous leadership development programmes that I have taken, I have on numerous occasions asked leaders the question – "Why would anyone follow you as a leader?". Often this question is met with silence and everyone sort of looks at each other perplexed. It is not a trick question. Executives have good reason to be worried. It is not easy to do business without followers, and followers in these "empowered" times are hard to find. Simply, leaders have followers. Put conversely if you do not have followers you are not leading. Here is the big question, why are people following you?
So leaders should know what it takes to be an effective leader, they must find ways to engage teams and develop their commitment to achieve the company goals. But most leaders do not know how to do this and who can blame them?
Traditionally, the delegation of authority in an organization usually follows a formal hierarchical structure with clear lines of accountability. The digitalised world has however, found larger success with networked organizations. Such setups often enable individuals to initiate leadership, even if sometimes without formal authority. Leadership in this new world is less about leading people and more about coordinating the network of teams to deliver results. Just like an orchestra is a large instrumental ensemble typical of classical music, which combines instruments from different families led by like a Conductor, a leader in an organization is tasked with managing people of different backgrounds with diverse skills and competencies.
Everyone agrees that leaders need vision, energy, authority, and strategic direction. These are the usual competencies that we read in every leadership book. I feel that inspirational leaders also share four unique qualities:
- They are not ashamed to show their weaknesses. They share their vulnerable areas and therefore appear more approachable.
- They trust their gut! While they do collect and interpret data, they rely on their intuition to gauge the appropriate actions and choose the right time to act.
- They manage employees with empathy but still can take a stand. empathy. Inspirational leaders empathize ardently and reasonably with people, and they care intensely about the work employees do.
- They agree to disagree. They capitalize on diverse views and do not get stuck on views that they carry themselves.
There are leaders who have all the “right” competencies, but they do not have people who are willing to follow them. In my experience, I have come across few leaders who have individuals and teams who excel at inspiring people - in capturing hearts, minds, and souls. This ability is not everything in business, but any great leader will tell you that that leaders need all four qualities to be truly inspirational; one or two qualities are rarely enough. Nobody wants a perfect leader, the interplay between the four qualities is critical. Inspirational leaders tend to mix and match the qualities in order to find the right style for the right moment.
One aspect which I believe is critical for leadership in teams is humour. Used effectively, humour can convey a leader's appeal. The catch is if the leader has poor sensing skills, timing can be off and inappropriate humour can make someone seem like a joker or, worse, an insensitive person. Being an effective leader means knowing what style to use and when, ensuring that the result is authentic leadership.
In a technology company that I worked for; Sanjay was a leader that employees wanted to follow because of his willingness to try out new things. He had moved across different projects in the company and was able to build knowledge of the entire company at various levels and could easily connect with employees across the business because he had done the work or something similar previously. He openly shared information on which technologies he was not familiar with and sought help from his teams. He focussed on getting to know his team members as the people that they are, because he believed that when people are happy with their work, they are more productive.
Follow the leader is a children's game. First a leader or "head of the line" is chosen, then the children all line up behind the leader. The leader then moves around, and all the children have to mimic the leader's actions. Any players who fail to follow or do what the leader does are out of the game. When only one person other than the leader remains, that player becomes the leader, and the game begins again with all players joining the line once again. In business, the game is very different! While the leader is chosen or appointed, the team does not necessarily follow the leader unless the leader proves his/her worth.
Why do you think people follow a leader?
More importantly, why do people follow you?