Leaders and Followers, Why We’re Both Failing

Leadership is hard. I mean real leadership. Not many people are good at it.  I’ve had a number of boss’s in my life, but only a few were actual leaders. I’ve been a boss a number of times and I’m pretty sure I’d only been a leader a few of those times.

Being a leader is hard because you have to want to be a leader. Being a leader is very different than being someone’s boss. That’s authority.  Don’t confuse authority with leadership.  Leadership is earned. Leadership is when others choose to follow you because they believe in you. If people are following you because they have to, you’re not leading.

It’s this idea of choice in a leader that I find most interesting. The assumption for most when it comes to great leaders is that the leaders inspire people to follow them and perform.  And for the most part, I think this is true.  However, I think it’s more complicated than that.

It’s more complicated, because sometimes people just don’t want to follow, AND do the work.

To me, leadership is more than getting people to agree to an idea, it’s also getting them to do the work and that requires ownership and commitment from the followers. Unfortunately, not every wants to do the work.

Let me break it down this way. There are passive followers and active followers. Passive followers are those who choose to follow because they like the idea and hope they can be the beneficiaries of the outcomes. They like the idea, the vision, the direction, the leader, the team etc. They are bought into the concept, but they don’t want to do the work, particularly on themselves. Passive followers are in for the ride until it gets hard or until they make a mistake or are asked to do more. Once that chasm is crossed, passive followers stop following or worse begin to compromise the bigger picture.

On the other hand, there are active followers. Active followers are those that follow because they see their role in reaching the goal, in achieving the vision. Active followers are the volunteers who canvass neighborhoods for the candidates during election time. Active followers are those who ask for more responsibility at work. Active followers are the people who take constructive coaching well and are open to feedback because they recognize if they get better, they can help the cause more. Active followers are committed to an idea and action.

I highlight these distinctions for a reason.

When it comes to business, it is my opinion we too often hold the leader accountable for failing to lead and don’t hold followers accountable enough for following.

If we choose to follow someone, something, some company, we have an obligation to be active followers.

I get it. The leader plays a big role in creating that commitment. But it’s a two-way street and followers have to be accountable too and that is why leading is so hard.

I don’t care how good a leader you are you will always have those who don’t buy into your vision and who won’t follow you. Alexander Hamilton had Aaron Burr, John Adams had Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King Jr. had Malcolm X. The point is simple, not everyone is going to follow us no matter how hard we try and that’s the rub when it comes to leadership and judging leaders.

We need to stop judging leaders on who they aren’t leading and judge them on who they are leading and how they are leading.

In this Simon Sinek video, Simon talks about how leadership has or is failing the Millenials. I think he has some great points on both sides. Millenials need to be active followers because it’s not businesses fault. And, business needs to be better leaders.

Caring

It all comes down to choosing to care. I think that’s where leadership and following start.  But not just any caring, unselfish caring. In other words, leaders need to care about their people before they ask their people to care about them. Followers need to care about the vision, the company or the goal the leader is championing before they care about themselves. It’s this unselfish caring that drives productive and healthy organizations and movements.

I love this story in Inc.  It’s a brilliant description of what leading is all about and what leaders need to do to create a following and drive towards a vision.

We need more caring in business. We need more focus on the people. We can’t be successful without the individual, the person(s) who do the work every day. At the same time, we need more commitment from the followers. We need active followers. Those who are committed to the goal and are willing to do the work. Following for personal gain without doing the work seems to be the norm. That’s not OK. If we chose to take a job, we owe it to our employer to do the job well.  It’s not the employer’s job to make us happy. All they employer can do is create an environment where we can be successful if we choose to do the work.

Leading is hard, but so is following. Both require unselfish caring and giving and for some reason that seems to be awfully hard for people today.

Leading his hard because people just don’t seem to give a shit and ya know what, that’s why following is so hard too.

It’s time we all start giving a shit for something more than ourselves.

 

Keenan

  • Your’re right. I agree with you in virtually all the points raised. Leadership is quite different from authority. Leadership task is hard while being a boss just requires you to command authority, there are great differences.