Why Should People Follow Your Lead?

You are a leader. Most likely, leadership is not a position for you, but an attitude and a way of life. People at work, home and in your social circles turn to you for advice. Your wife (or husband) lets you be the spokesperson in confrontational situations. People listen to you. But what was it that got you where you are? Did you work your way up the career ladder? Were you given a great opportunity and took advantage of it? Were you always this way and running your own business crystallized this approach in your life?

No matter what some may tell you, it is unimportant how you became a leader. The essential point is how you use your power to motivate and inspire, to scold and fire, to teach and support others.

You may have been to some leadership seminar and learned the “key principles of leadership.” They told you that by following their 7-step program (or 4-step plan, or whatever it was) that you will be a revered leader.

I want to try something different, though. Rather than offer steps, I want to offer questions. I want you to ask yourself the following three questions, and then I want you to answer them honestly and understand how the answers can make you a more effective and motivational leader.

Question 1: Would you rather be loved or feared?

You may already be familiar with the Machiavellian dilemma of The Prince: is it better to be loved or feared as a leader? This question explores both your preference and abilities. Do you rule with an iron fist or joke around with your colleagues over drinks? Many people work with friends or want to maintain a very cordial working relationship with employees. It is in our DNA to seek approval. But are you capable of confrontation when necessary? Consider this: your good friend (and you are his superior) is underperforming at work and you notice. What do you do? What do you think you should do? Explore the normative and positive aspects of your answer and decide what actions and words would make you the best leader at your company.

Question 2: Do you seek advice or work in isolation?

When you are facing a challenge, you may close your office door and work until you solve the problem. Alternatively, you may write a set of e-mails and schedule some meetings to explore the problems with others. Do you seek the advice of others and hope for their buy-in or do you rely entirely on yourself? In my experience, leaders who openly share their challenges and ask for advice resolve their problems faster and more creatively than their counterparts who do it by themselves. However, there are a few leaders I know who are best at relying solely on themselves. They consider the situation objectively and without any input they devise brilliant solutions. Know how you work best and perhaps consider an alternative method to problem-solving. Ask for advice! It rarely hurts, especially if your team feels that it has your ear and you get buy-in.

Question 3: Do you inspire people to trust your leadership?

There are some leaders who keep their teams focused by frequent and harsh criticism, yelling and threats. Very few of these leaders (though there are some) build a good team with a solid focus that produces good results in the long run. Recently I visited an Atlanta-based online retail company (not a failing one) and arrived early. I go there once every few months and each time people greet me like I am their favorite uncle. It feels strangely good to be there. What do they do differently? – I asked myself. As I made my way to the waiting area I could hear the CEO chatting with the customer service team.

Technically, he did not have to be there (there is a customer service manager after all), yet he was sharing how great the team was doing and the few challenges they needed to work out. He did not go into too much detail, just excitedly elaborated on a few broad themes. He mentioned key priorities for the company over the next few months. He asked anyone who had a problem that they felt needed his attention to come directly to him. I felt like he could send out a memo the next week saying that they were moving the company to Oceania and everyone would follow excitedly. That is how much they trust their leader. Sure, this type of open environment does not work at all companies, but it works for this one. The CEO found a way to inspire and motivate people as the right kind of catalyst for the right kind of team.

As you answer these questions for yourself, I again encourage you to reflect on the consequences of those answers and how they benefit – or not – your business.

What kind of leader are you?

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