The Desire to Follow


There are boundless articles out there that address leadership, but let’s talk about following for a minute. There are no leaders without followers and no managers without employees.  What most people don’t consider is just what it takes to be a follower. Many will work in a job for the sake of having employment and to satisfy the essential needs of their lives. At this point it is not about you at all, it is just a means for survival. Do not mistake for an instance that these individuals truly follow you.

Let’s consider social media sites for a moment. In general, you may glance at a person or company’s profile, you may even pause to read an article or so.  However, just like this blog, one would not expect that you will “follow” it unless you actually “like” it or believe in its mission. The same is true in “followership”.  An individual will not follow you if they don’t either “like” you or “believe” in you.

Being Likeable – There are many professionals out there that present a leader as cold, inhuman, and uptight.  No matter what your role is as a people manager, it is extremely important to understand who is on your team. At the end of the day, there is nothing that people like more than talking about themselves…so let them.

  • Who are your employees…
    • Are they married?  Do they have kids?  You may ask yourself why would you want to know this information…the answer is quite simple.  You need to know your employees’ motivation.  Who or what are they working for?  Those who have the most responsibilities at home may be your most engaged associates as they truly have a reason to bring home the bacon.
  • What are your employees’ goals? 
    • How can you lead people and not know their destination?  Your employees’ destinations may not be the same as your own; in fact, they probably are not parallel at all.  Find out what their goals are and help them to get there.  You may remember the old proverb, “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. The same applies here, lead someone to a goal and they are excited for a moment, help them achieve their dreams and you have a fan forever.  The employees that I have touched the most are employees that I offered a hand and assisted them with promotions and careers of higher advancement.
  • Share your story
    • There is no better way for your employees to relate to you than to tell your story.  Not the story where you skip all of your struggles and now all of a sudden you’re the big cheese… I’m talking about the story where you were passed over a position, you bombed an interview, or you missed making a goal by .0000001%. Tell the story that built your character and the story that set the wheels in motion to where you are today.

Being believable – What is it that you stand for? If you are not a reflection of your company’s mission, how can you expect others to follow it?  Regardless of the strength of the message, employees will do as you do, not as you say.

  • A leader for the people
    • If you sit in your office with your Starbucks and make personal phone calls all day, you are not believable and you can not be followed.  If you are in the trenches on a daily basis, working alongside your employees, you have just stepped up into the believable category. I consistently let others know that I will not ask my associates to do anything that I either have not done myself or am unwilling to do.
  • Keeping your word
    • This sounds like a simple concept, but everyday we say things that we don’t really follow through on.  We talked earlier about understanding your employees’ goals. You can’t just know what their goals are and not do anything about it.  You must actively seek out opportunities for your employees to strive and meet, not just the goals you have for them, but the goals they have set out for themselves.
    • There are other scenarios where keeping your word is important. For example, if you say “family comes first” and an associate has a family matter to attend to and you do not give them the space/time off/means to attend to it, you have simply gone against that cliché you preached to your associates when it was convenient for you.  You may have forgotten, but your associates will quickly let you know when you have gone against something you said in the past that was important to them. You can quickly gain or lose followers based on how successful you are at keeping your word.
  • Reward & Recognize
    • There will always be folks in your organization that go a grade beyond the rest.  Because you know their motivation (see above if you missed that part), you will already know why this is so.  Whether they are looking for a raise, a promotion, or are just intrinsically motivated, these are your A-players!  If you do not reward and recognize them accordingly, you will lose these very valuable followers.  Your organization may have a clear cut way of providing for these associates, such as gift cards, raises, or thank you notes.  Other organizations will leave this up to you or not promote it at all–but you can not let this deter you as a leader.  Even if you do not want to pull out of your own pocket (even if their motivated production leads to big bonuses for you, then monetary thanks should not be a bother to you) there are free things that can go a long way.  Think outside of the box by penning a personalized note to leave on their desk, a thank you email addressed to the entire team, or a written success story to the bosses above you to recognize the associate.  These keep your followers happy and don’t you like happy followers?

The leader/follower dynamic is one of great importance and will continue to change and evolve as you manage more people. When we start thinking of our followers as real people and not paid drones, everyone’s job becomes easier and a lot more fun.  Appreciate others for their hard work and show it. Help others achieve their dreams.  When you have followers that truly believe in you, a lot of your difficult work with associates who aren’t on board will be done for you.  They will help manage these people by pulling them up to their level of excitement or be such a force that others will feel they can not compete and move on to a job where others won’t require as much of them.  We’ll discuss at another time how to interact with those type of unmotivated employees in a future blog, but in the meantime go out there and gain your followers!

Follow Me,