How do Excellent Leaders Develop Followership?

Of the best leaders, the people say ‘we did it ourselves’

― Lao-Tzu

When most people think about leading, they picture someone with goal and vision for the future. This person inspires others so they follow the leader towards this bright future. However, this is only half the job of leading. The other, just as important part of being an excellent leader, is to empower your followers. 

At the highest level, a leader develops followers to put them on a path to become leaders themselves. 

A number of important benefits occur when excellent leaders develop effective followers in this way. These include:

  • Engaged staff
  • Great company culture
  • High level of personal responsibility
  • Clear lines of authority & communication

All of these traits lead to productive workplaces where things get done with a minimum of drama and friction. 

Traits of Effective Leaders

Excellent leaders share certain characteristics. Effective leaders develop these traits in themselves so they can interact with their staff in a way that focuses and inspires them. Here’s the list of leadership traits: 

Empathy
The first trait is empathy: the ability to understand and see things from another person’s point of view. Without empathy, someone in a leadership role will be continually running up against resistance in other people, and won’t know the cause of it, or what to do about it. When you demonstrate you’re able to see something from another person’s viewpoint, two things happen. 

The first is they relax. They feel understood. You ‘get’ them, and therefore it’s likely that whatever you advise will be in their best interest. The second thing is that you’re able to help them remove whatever obstacles they have that may be blocking them from achieving a common goal. 

A story from the ancient world illustrates this principle. Alexander the Great was shown a warhorse that attacked anyone who came into its stall, and appeared completely untameable. After studying the horse for a few minutes, Alexander was able to lead it out of the stall, and it became his best warhorse, the famous stallion he rode into all his battles.  

How did Alexander manage to do this? He saw that the horse was afraid of its shadow. He positioned the horse facing the sun so it wouldn’t see its shadow, and from there was able to win its trust and train it. He was able to have this insight by using empathy. 

Emotional fortitude
Leading effectively requires emotional fortitude. As a leader, there will be times when people do not agree with you, or go against previous agreements you’ve made with them. 

This is when willingness to confront someone becomes the only path forward. To confront someone effectively, the requirement is that you’re totally comfortable with them becoming upset or angry. This is where emotional fortitude comes in. 

A leader cannot be a people pleaser, though that doesn’t mean they seek conflict.  Leaders sacrifice short term comfort for the long term virtues of honesty, integrity and a willingness to confront when these standards are not being met. 

Effective Communication
Clear communication and excellent leadership go hand in hand – you can’t have one without the other. Like leadership, communication comes in two parts. The first part is forming your thoughts in words that clearly illustrate what you want to say. The second part is checking to make sure the person you’re talking to really understands what you’ve said. 

The most common causes of miscommunication occur when the second part is left out. As a leader, communication includes the skill of listening, without interrupting or jumping to conclusions. (This is a vital part of empathy as well.)

Followers who receive clear communication from their leader are able to take charge of their roles, improve job performance, and delegate effectively to their co-workers as well. 

Clear Vision
The last trait of leadership is having a clear vision and creating this same vision in the minds of your followers. Formulating a clear vision will often require independent thinking, as well as critical thinking. 

Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is why so few engage in it. – Henry Ford

The work of thinking is what sets leaders apart from followers. However, the act of developing effective followers is how successful leaders create more leaders, and grow their company.

How to develop these traits

The statement: ‘Great leaders are born not made,’ is bullshit.

Leadership skills can be learned. It takes practice, focus, and then practicing some more, but it can be done. Learning the art of leadership can be greatly sped up, however, by coaching and mentoring. 

It’s a wonderful skill to have, whether you’re a business owner, manager, freelancer, or consultant. Once you are a good leader, your job becomes easier as you can:

  • Empower staff to make decisions
  • Give employees ownership of their roles & results
  • Have a clear (and exciting) vision of where you’re all headed that boosts enthusiasm at work

Think back to past roles you’ve held. In some of them, you would have been under inspired leaders, while others, you weren’t. Contrast in your mind the difference leadership made to your own engagement and focus on the job. That’s what leaders who develop their skills can do. 

How Excellent Leaders Develop Effective Followership

One key way leaders develop effective followership is to make very clear the agreements the group has bought into. These could be anything, from a shared understanding of the most important company KPI’s, to an agreement to not multitask during conference calls. 

Whatever they are, as long as everyone is clear on and keeps the agreements, you can all be said to be cooperating. Company culture goes downhill fast when agreements are broken, and no one says or does anything about it. 

‘This is not in line with our agreement – what happened?’ This simple question illustrates how a conversation can begin between members of a group who notice an agreement is being broken. 

In a great company culture, the most junior employee would feel free to confront the CEO (in a respectful way) if the CEO was breaking one of the agreements they’d all bought into. This ethos of the same standard being applied across the board – everyone in alignment and integrity – is how great leaders grow followership. 

In Summary

True leaders don’t create followers. They empower their followers to lead as well. Effective leadership is a skill you can learn, and it hinges around developing empathy, emotional fortitude, clear communication and an inspiring vision. 

ABA teaches all these skills in a practical, hands-on environment. Click here to find out more. >>> One on One Business Coaching

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