Why would anyone follow you?

In my leadership workshops I sometimes ask delegates to define ‘leadership’ on the grounds that if we are going to spend the next day or two exploring the concept, it’s useful to start with a common, agreed definition.

Their definitions are often lengthy, quite tortuous and overcomplicated.  To me, the definition is very straightforward: Leaders have followers (and good leaders have willing followers).  If you do or say anything which inspires people to follow you, you’re leading.  Leadership has little or nothing to do with position or title and a lot to do with behaviour.  I spent several years as a school governor and watched 11 year old children who had more authority in the classroom than their teachers – other pupils were drawn, like magnets to them, hanging on their every word and copying their behaviour.

Everything that you do and say as a leader gives permission to your team to do and say the same things.  If you come into the office looking like hell on earth because you spent a night on the town then you’ve just told your team it’s ok to look like this.  If you shout and bully your team, then it’s ok for your team to do the same.

So now, why would anyone follow you?  Don’t hide behind a title, because that doesn’t make you a leader.  Don’t hide behind value statements,because nobody can see your values.  All they see is how you behave.  Here are some question to ponder:

  • What kind of behaviours are you demonstrating which you would want other to follow?
  • What do others think of you?  (When did you last ask them?  Would you want to hear the answers?)
  • Do you know what impression you are creating for other people?
  • Is there a match between what you believe you are exuding from the inside out and what people are seeing looking from the outside in?
  •  And really importantly, do you care?

The media/book/big personality cult of leadership has been quite damaging to real leadership. The best leaders are also good managers, in touch with their business and the people within the business.  Cult leaders are removed from the day to day operations of their businesses, making a big noise but divorced from operational practicalities. Real leaders don’t have to have planet-sized egos and enough charisma to fill a football stadium; instead, they need to have an ear to the ground, talk to people, demonstrate quite naturally to others the standards of behaviour they expect and get on with the job.

I’d love to hear your comments and feedback.

To discuss leadership and management development, behavioural skills training or business consultancy, call me on +44(0)161 929 4145 or email David Cotton.

I look forward to hearing from you.

David Cotton is an independent trainer, management consultant, facilitator and speaker with vast international experience.

About davidcottonuk
I'm an international trainer, speaker and facilitator. I've worked in 4 continents and 40 countries, delivering all aspects of leadership, management and behavioural skills training to local and national government and nearly every industry sector. I've written a dozen books, and scores of journal articles.

One Response to Why would anyone follow you?

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