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I saw this article which highlights why I think “The Best Leaders Follow”. The title of a CEO should be “Chief Emotional Officer”
It seems that nearly everyone and their sister can start a company these days. They can hire people, get some seed money, and get off to the races. But what happens when that company grows? What happens when all of the sudden there are 30 people working for it? 50? 100? How does it keep going and keep growing? The answer, of course, is leadership. Actually leadership is the answer to many questions other than the one about businesses. It’s the answer to questions about how a family keeps going and becomes a loving, supportive sanctuary for its members. It’s the answer of how good parenting is done. It’s the answer to how a group of friends can ensure they all have time together away from everything to keep up a thriving relationship.
It’s leadership all the way down.
But don’t get it twisted, leadership is not one person climbing on a milk crate and yelling to others what needs to be done. Leadership is not one person screaming at low performers about how they demand perfection — yesterday! People who call themselves leaders do that, but such things are not what makes a leader. I’m in a leadership position. I have been for a few years now. I have a small team of mostly veterans — people who have been doing the work, and doing it well, for years. I’m nominally their leader, but I’m not leading yet. I’m trying, but I’ve got work to do. The work I’m going to be doing is following. That’s right. I have come to learn that real leaders — whether they have the title or not — are good followers. Real leaders follow — in 5 important ways.
They follow the questions to see where they lead.
The best leaders ask questions — a lot of them. Simple ones, sometimes stupid-sounding ones, but certainly many of them. Then they wait to hear the answer, and they listen to it with the intent of understanding. Which often causes them to ask follow-up questions. Questions allow them to find out what’s going on. Questions tell them how their people are doing. Who’s doing well, who isn’t. Questions tell them what the real problems are, and who might have solutions to them. Most importantly, questions lead the leaders. They lead the leaders to new visions, new priorities, new breakthroughs, and ultimately to success.
They follow their employees to the ends of the earth.
Leaders must have faith in their employees. They must trust them. They must be willing to go to bat for them against detractors, and they must be willing to follow their employees to the ends of the earth in their search for innovations and answers. That following needs to be collaborative, enthusiastic, and encouraging. If it is, it creates and cements strong bonds between leaders and the led. Those bonds ultimately outlast the stress created by up and down business cycles. Those bonds become what the company is, under all the earnings reports and marketing campaigns.
They follow the heartbeat of their organization.
If a leader cannot tell you what the heartbeat of her organization sounds like, they have fallen short. A leader needs to know the people and to know how things are going and where they are going. They need to know the ups and downs in morale, the proud moments of the teams, and the hang-ups of those trying to push projects through. Calamitous as it may be, the sound of all of that work must be pulsing through the eardrums of the leader — a soundtrack to her days.
They follow their vision.
People will work for a leader if that leader has a clear vision, and if that vision is one that clearly benefits each person in the company. If a vision not one that each person in the company can explain and do so proudly, it’s not a vision — it’s jargon and dogma. Thus, the “leader” who created it has not led, but merely pitched.
When people believe in what you say, and you do what you say, they come to believe in you. They come to push hard for you. They come to follow you to the promised land. But again, that promised land must be somewhere worth going.
They follow through.
A leader follows through on their promises. At the ground level, people must see the leader as the one person who can do what they say they will. Perhaps this means promising much less — it probably always means that. But even if few promised are made, but they are always kept, and kept as expected, it builds the leader’s stock.
In that respect, leadership is actually service in disguise. Leadership is actually many people agreeing to let you serve them, and this cannot be forgotten. As a leader, you are inspiring people with a vision, yes. However, that vision is actually the will of your people, not yours. You merely drew it out of them, and are reminding them of how vital it is. You are serving them in their vision, they just don’t always realize it.