Follow the leader!
Many of us played “Follow the Leader” as children. In this game a leader is chosen and the children line up behind the leader. The leader moves around and the children have to mimic the leader’s actions. Any player who fails to follow the leader is out of the game. It’s a fun and frivolous game but has an important lesson and analog for later life; Fail to follow or do what the leader does and you are out of the game. As kids we followed because it was fun and—we unfollowed because it was fun or we wanted to assert our own authority or preserve our autonomy or we simply were unable to comply.
The important lesson is that we follow to conform. Going against the group means risking abandonment and banishment. In modern terms it means loss of opportunity, status and income. It could mean being fired and reduced opportunities in the future—so we tend to tread lightly. We seek the protection and security of the herd.
A part of the brain called the amygdala activates when we perceive that we maybe banished from the group. This produces the fear of standing alone. It demands compliance from us or we risk the ultimate penalty—death.
The psychological chain happens in this seemingly strange sequence: 1. If I don’t comply I will be penalized. 2. The penalty could lead to me being ostracized (fired). 3. I then would have no income to provide for my needs. 4. With no income I will become homeless. 5. Unable to provide for my needs I will die. This sequence is usually unconscious but tends to increase compliance with group or corporate norms. So fondly or otherwise we remain. We follow the pack. It’s in our nature to do so.
As leaders it is our job to execute the plan not the people. Of course we seek compliance but we know that is insufficient to build a great company. We need cooperation with a group of people who are committed to the corporate vision and fully engaged with the effort. In essense we need followers. But why do people follow? Most people are working for group acceptance and a paycheck. They tend to do their jobs well but lack the passion and engagement needed for higher levels of corporate success.
So what is the secret sauce for getting people to willingly and wholeheartedly follow you? There are four ingredients in this secret sauce that produces loyal and passionate followers:
1. Trust – This is the foundation for all empowered leadership. Your followers must trust you and your intentions. You must be authentic and consistent. You must be, paradoxically, vulnerable to some degree. Your followers must see you as human.
2. Compassion – Your followers and employees must see that you care about them as a person. Your executive team and organization must show it has heart.
3. Stability – Your followers need to know that they can count on you in times of need. They require constant support and reassurance.
4. Hope – They need something to look forward to. This is rooted in your corporate strategy; you have viable options for the future. People need to know that things can and will be better in the future.
This is the foundation of leadership from the inside-out.
These are the major features that cultivate people’s loyalty and passion to follow your lead. It’s about trust, care, security and hope. These are all issues of character. They cannot be faked for very long. Character inevitably reveals itself. Repairing and cultivating these character traits takes a deep commitment to change. These are not trivial changes to make but must be seriously considered if you are intending to move from good to great.
One important step is hiring an Executive Coach who can help you in cultivating these character traits.
If you feel energized by the possibilities the next move is yours. A year from now you will wish you had started today. Invest in your best self now. The journey of a thousand miles begins now. Your path starts here!