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?

A Model for Buy-in from Burkina Faso

Diebedo Francis Kere from Gando, Burkina Faso is from one of the world’s poorest countries. His country has few, if any, natural resources, and temperatures regularly rise to over 100 degrees fahrenheit. Needless to say, life wasn’t going to be easy for Biebedo or his compatriots.

But when I read a story about him recently, I thought to myself that this man knows some important things about business, and with that kind of knowledge, he’ll go far.

The Value of a Good Education

As a child, Diebedo was allowed to go to school – a rare privilege for someone in his position – and during his secondary education he showed an early predilection for architecture. Upon receiving a scholarship, Diebedo was sent to Europe where he received a top notch architectural education.

But something was missing. Diebedo wanted to help his people and improve their lives. He had seen so much more of the world than they would ever know, and what brought him all that privilege was education. He wanted to educate the children from his home town.

When we think about education in America, we consider issues like teacher qualifications, violence in public schools and if our children’s school lunches have too many calories. As you can imagine, these are not the problems of schools in Burkina Faso.

In Burkina Faso, there aren’t even enough buildings in which to learn – or enough calories to eat – to even begin thinking about these problems.

School House Rocks

And that’s where Diebedo came in. He wanted to construct a school house. The problem is that he had learned how to build large buildings with the most advanced technology. His village, however, had no technology. They had two things: mud and people.

And it’s with these two things that Diebedo constructed his school. But he was missing the catalyst that would make the mud and people unite: buy-in.

In order to get his village to harness its collective man power in favor of building a school, he had to convince them of the benefits of doing so, both for the education of the children and the future of the village as a model to follow. What’s more, the elders needed to believe that this was the right decision.

Diebedo knew that without their consent – their buy-in – his school wouldn’t go anywhere. It would be a flop. No one would attend. No one would teach there. The architectural nuances he planned would get muddled, and he would be hated for the waste and disappointment he created.

So he got buy-in.

And it worked.

The success has been tremendous thus far, and things are only improving as this model is being exported across Burkina Faso.

Getting buy-in from key stakeholders is supremely important. I do it. Diebedo did it. You should do it.

How do you seek buy-in from key stakeholders?