Are You A Leader Worth Following?

Each week at least a dozen new articles about becoming a better leader come across my screen. It’s as if all you need to do to become a leader is to watch a webinar and learn new skills.

I think we’re missing the point. Being a leader is more than just the skills we have. It means we have people who want to follow us.

In Gallup’s recent State Of The American Workplace report, it turns out 51% of employees in the US “are actively looking for a different job or watching for opportunities”. This would imply that the people leading these companies aren’t worth following.

So what makes a leader worth following? Reflecting on this question after 35 years in business, I have come to the following conclusions:

1. We want our leaders to inspire us.

It’s important for leaders to paint a picture, a vision of a possibility that means something to us. We want to wake up each morning excited to go to work because the work we are doing matters to us. As an employee, it’s my responsibility to align myself with a company whose vision I believe in. I look to the leader to give that vision depth and texture — to turn it from words on a poster to a possibility I can feel.

2. We want our leaders to care about us.

If I’m working in a company with 1,000 employees, I understand that you may not quickly recall my name. If I’m working in a company of 100, it’s the least you can do! When I have a suggestion or a problem, I want to know that my leaders will listen and respond.

Recently, safety issues at Tesla prompted Elon Musk to implement a personal change in his own processes: “I’ve asked that every injury be reported directly to me, without exception. I … would like to meet every injured person as soon as they are well, so that I can understand from them exactly what we need to do to make it better. I will then go down to the production line and perform the same task they perform”. This indicates to me that he cares.

3. We want our leaders to be impeccable with their agreements.

When a leader states what they are going to do, or not going to do, and then does just that, we feel we can rely on them, we feel safe. And it inspires us to be impeccable with our own agreements. Promises and actions which do not materialized, and are simply never mentioned again, create distrust and cynicism. Leaders who realize that agreements need to be fulfilled or renegotiated (because sometimes it does turn out to be more difficult to fulfill that originally thought) receive our admiration and loyalty.

4. We want our leaders to be authentic.

When we listen to our leaders we want to have the sense of listening to someone who’s genuine. We want to hear the good and the bad, what frustrates them and what they’re excited about. If we only hear the good stuff or the corporate stuff, then we don’t believe they are being honest with us and we don’t feel safe. Leaders don’t need to be perfect; they just need to show us they’re human like the rest of us

5. We want our leaders to recognize and appreciate us.

Appreciation is one form of feedback that is sorely lacking in the workplace these days. According to a Globoforce 2011 survey, “69% of the people surveyed would work harder if they were better recognized and appreciated”. Many leaders seem to have connected “giving appreciation” with “giving employees a belief that they deserve more money”. What we really want is to know that we are doing a good job and that those who are leading us see it and it matters to them. Sure, we’d all like more money, but if you’ve set out a clear compensation review process and timing, our minds won’t dwell there. We’d rather be enjoying your appreciation!

6. We want our leaders to be emotionally intelligent.

Show me your “self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and the ability to manage relationships” and your understanding that “before leading anyone else, a leader first must manage themselves” and I will jump to up my own game too! Those quotes from Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence, capture the power and importance of leading by example, with awareness of the impact of your own actions, words and behaviors.

How our leaders show up significantly influences how we experience work. How we experience our work significantly impacts how engaged we are at work. How engaged we are significantly impacts our results. And our results funnel directly upward to company results. If our leaders want better results they need to ensure that they truly are a leader worth following.

At Culture Counts, we offer breakthrough leader training for those leaders who want to up their game and create better results true to who they are. If you want to be a leader worth following check out our upcoming Breakthrough Leadership program, launching this October.