"Become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily, even if you had no title or position. Conduct a personal assessment and ask yourself, "Would I follow me?" - Brian Tracy
Just because you're a leader doesn't necessarily mean people want to follow you. Anyone can take on a leadership role, but that doesn't mean you automatically earn the trust, respect and confidence of your followers.
The good news is that almost anyone can hone the skills necessary to become a 'follow-worthy' leader. All it takes is a dedication to learning what makes a great leader, and the determination to practice and develop those skills every single day.
Following are 7 ways you can become a leader people actually want to follow — not just a leader people follow because they have to.
1. Show respect to those around you (even when you don't feel like it).
It's easy to be respectful when you're working with motivated employees or favorite clients. But what about with a customer who eats up your time (and patience) with unrealistic requests? Or the employee who showed up late for work - again?
True respect doesn't depend on the other person doing something (or not doing something). It means recognizing that all people are inherently worthy of respect; even people who drive you crazy or who haven't done a single thing to earn it. It means treating people in a way that preserves their dignity and honors their humanity.
When you show respect to everyone you interact with, you foster an environment of caring that permeates the workplace. It encourages your employees to treat clients, co-workers and subordinates with the same respect they've seen you model.
2. Communicate (in a way that not only informs, but inspires).
Good leaders know that communicating clearly and concisely is important for avoiding conflict and articulating expectations. But great leaders understand that communication is about more than just getting across an accurate message. I wrote about this in my article 7 Things Good Communicators Always Do.
Communication must be efficient and informative, but it can also be used as a way to inspire, motivate and persuade. When you can communicate in a way that a particular outcome is achieved or a certain action is taken, this is when the true impact of great communication shows. In the words of General Dwight Eisenhower, "Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it."
3. Be generous (with time, encouragement and responsibility).
When we think of being generous, we often think of monetary generosity; of keeping employees happy by giving gifts, bonuses and regular pay bumps. And while this is certainly one aspect of generosity, it can be far more.
True generosity involves being liberal with praise and encouragement; of giving employees the appropriate credit when they have a great idea; of being gracious when people make mistakes. It can also mean letting go of some of the control and giving those around you the chance to take on extra responsibility.
Being generous means giving without thoughts of what someone can do for you in return: "Listen with regard when others talk. Give your time and energy to others; let others have their own way; do things for reasons other than furthering your own needs." — Larry Scherwitz.
4. Express your passion (because that's how passion spreads).
True passion is contagious. When you're genuinely excited about what you're doing, your enthusiasm can't help but rub off on those around you. But being passionate about something isn't quite enough; you also need to express your passion to those around you.
When your employees sense that you have a deep and abiding passion for what you do, they get the sense that what they're doing is worthwhile; that you're all on the path towards something bigger and greater than yourselves.
5. Be humble (this doesn't mean being a pushover).
Being humble in the workplace doesn't equate to not taking credit for your work or ideas, or to letting others walk all over you. What it does mean is taking responsibility for your mistakes, and acknowledging when your followers can do something better than you.
In a study published in the Academy of Management Journal, researchers reported that humble leaders were overall more effective and better liked. Co-author of the study, Bradley Owens, writes: "Growing and learning often involves failure and can be embarrassing, but leaders who can overcome their fears and broadcast their feelings as they work through the messy internal growth process will be viewed more favorably by their followers. They also will legitimize their followers' own growth journeys and will have higher-performing organizations."
6. Be decisive (and take responsibility for your decisions).
Great leaders make tough decisions, and then take responsibility for the outcomes of those decisions. No matter how carefully a decision is analyzed and the resultant impacts weighed, poor decisions are bound to be made, and someone has to be accountable.
A 'follow-worthy' leader isn't afraid to make these decisions, and knows that avoiding risk also means forfeiting potential opportunities. She seeks out the opinions of those around her in order to make an informed decision, but then takes the final responsibility for the outcome squarely on herself.
7. Show courage (even when you're scared).
All leaders will be scared from time to time - scared of risk, failure and competition. But inspiring leaders forge ahead in spite of this fear, and show courage in the face of adversity.
Mark Twain wrote, "Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear - not absence of fear." Great leaders find ways to harness the energy produced by fear, and turn it into something that propels them forward. They show courage, and encourage those around them to do the same.
Courageous leaders know they're nothing without their team, and are willing to admit they don't know everything. They understand that sometimes their decisions will be unpopular, and yet they choose to lead regardless. For more of my thoughts on this, see Things Every Courageous Leader Knows.
The skills needed to be a 'follow-worthy' leader may not come naturally to all of us, but they can be learned and practiced over time. And when those around you witness your efforts, you unwittingly create a culture of generosity, respect and loyalty.
For more of my thoughts on leadership, see my articles, 7 Traits of Likeable CEOs and 7 Reasons You Stink as a Leader.
Jayson DeMers is the founder & CEO of AudienceBloom, a Seattle-based content marketing & social media agency. You can contact him on LinkedIn, Google+, or Twitter.
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I believe we all deserve to work for inspiring leaders. Inspiring leaders lift us up, nurture our strengths, share the vision and are committed to helping us grow into our potential. This is a tall order, and sadly, these kind of leaders are few and far between.
Inspiring leaders are individuals who are committed to developing their leadership effectiveness and are incredibly intentional with their efforts to grow as leaders. I believe that one of the key ingredients to inspiring leadership is emotional intelligence, which can be developed in us if we are attentive to the domains of emotional intelligence. Daniel Goleman writes “Great leaders move us. They ignite our passion and inspire the best in us. When we try to explain why they are so effective, we speak of strategy, vision or powerful ideas. But the reality is much more primal. Great leadership works through emotions.”
If more leaders were comfortable with the idea that they need to tap into our hearts, as well as our heads, we would be more inspired to rise to challenges, work hard to achieve the mission, while staying motivated in the day to day grind. It takes a very self-assured and self-aware person to lead in this manner, and often the kind of vulnerability that is required to lead in this way is so uncomfortable for people, they steer clear of it and lead to our heads.
I have witnessed the dichotomy of these two ways of leading – head and heart – during my tenure in the non-profit sector. I had the benefit of working for one leader who was incredibly intelligent, strategic and courageous as a leader, while also showing vulnerability, compassion and empathy with her staff. This leader developed a high performing team that was infused with trust, high quality work and commitment to achieving goals. I remember discovering my own potential during her tenure. I knew she believed in me and that inspired me to rise.
On the heels of this leader came a person who was embodied that “head only” style of leadership and while she was strategic in her approach to the work, she was completely ineffective at bringing along the team with a shared vision. The prior trust that we enjoyed quickly eroded as our own emotional state deteriorated when we did not feel valued, trusted or included. The leader’s inability to demonstrate her trust in us quickly undermined the positive culture we previously enjoyed.
Inspiring leadership is what the world needs most, and it will require a shift in the way we think about leadership and what we celebrate about leadership. This is the style of leadership we all crave; so we can be our best and develop our potential. The role of a leader is to help others rise.
What kind of leader do you want to be?