How to Be the Kind of Leader People Want to Follow

August 22, 2013 | 1898 Views

How to Be the Kind of Leader People Want to Follow

Lisa Marovec, FMP

 Roz Usheroff was a hit at CHART's recent Miami conference. Here is a great article from Roz about the worst mistakes leaders make, and how to learn from them to be the kind of leader people want to follow...While it may seem counterintuitive, if you want to be a leader others are willing to follow, knowing what not to do turns out to be just as important as knowing what to do. Here’s a list of some of the worst mistakes I’ve seen leaders make:

Lack of self-awareness. The best leaders constantly review their own behavior and develop themselves. They’re aware of the way their leadership affects the people around them. The worst leaders exhibit a lack of self-awareness and don’t want to be reflective. As a result they never learn from their mistakes, and often don’t care about the consequences to other people. Consequently, they lose out on inspiring others to walk that extra mile for them.                              

Me-first thinking. Peter Drucker said of leadership that it was all about responsibility to your shareholders, employers, employees and customers. That’s the essence of leadership - a deep sense of obligation to others. When people have the attitude that it’s all about them and their own self-interests, they often exhibit this in behaviors that cause mistrust, such as betraying others’ confidences and setting a double standard - one set of rules for them, another for you.

I had one client who told me that her boss would regularly take off Fridays from work but strictly insisted that she and every other employee be hard at work - no exceptions - every Friday until 5:00pm. At the same time, he professed, “We’re a team and we have to work together.” His staff simply didn’t trust him and high staff turnover reflected this.

Being certain all the time. When we’re absolutely, 100 percent convinced we know something, we stop paying attention. Because everyone knows in their heart that the nature of work (and the world) is uncertain, most people want a leader who is able to embrace ambiguity and bring curiosity, innovation and flexibility to the shifting sands of work.                              

Not living up to your values. Bad leaders shout about values to anyone who will listen, but then don’t deliver. The quickest way to lose followers is to not walk your talk - especially in environments where people feel that their jobs may be on the line. If a leader spouts out about loyalty while massive layoffs are going on, trust is off the table.

I recall hearing about a friend’s boss who preached transparency and mentoring as essential values to practice. The only problem was that he never gave constructive feedback to his reports on their performance. They only learned that their performance was not satisfactory by their disappointing annual ratings.

Being overly enamored with your own vision. This is the flip side of inspiring leadership. These leaders are so stuck on what they see that they lose all capacity for self-doubt and reject any contrary feedback. They’re so caught up in the single-minded pursuit of their purpose that nothing else can happen, until this happens.

Often they lose the capacity to look at the consequences of what they’re doing or see other ways it might be achieved. Everything is about getting this thing done, in the way they want it done. This driven pursuit of a single goal, at the cost of all else, often drives their staff in another direction.                              

Being a micromanager. I remember when I was an administrative assistant working part time during university, and my boss returned a stack of papers I had been working on - because I put the staples in the wrong direction. Micromanagers make people feel inadequate, not empowered.

Executing before thinking things through. In corporations you’ll often hear the expression that people are “drinking from a fire hose.” I love that. Everything is a fire drill or an emergency. These hyper-leaders always have good ideas, but everyone knows they have neither the time nor the persistence to follow through. As a result they start things and don’t finish, and no one wants to be on a team that’s going nowhere.                              

Being unreadable. With these people, no one knows what's going on inside their heads. They’re distant and mysterious. Everything is a secret and takes place behind closed doors. When staff work with that kind of person, there’s no sense of fulfillment, and they most likely only hear from them when a mistake has been made.

Not being authentic, consistent or predictable. Different from being unreadable, this is the leader who is Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde - depending on the mood they’re in that day.                              

So, if all these things are what not to do to inspire others to follow you, what do you do? In one study done by Robert Guffey and Gareth Jones on the qualities that make people want to follow others, they discovered that the leaders people want to follow are not afraid to show vulnerability, their emotions and, at the same time, display tough empathy.

The best example of tough empathy comes from Lee Iacocca’s book, based on his time as CEO of Chrysler. The story goes like this: Someone ordered the wrong bolt, which translated into a million-dollar-plus mistake. The employee walks into Iacocca’s office with his resignation letter. Iacocca says, “What are you doing?” And the employee says, “Well, aren’t you going to fire me? I just cost Chrysler 1.5 million?” Iacocca tears up the letter of resignation, throws it in the wastebasket and says, “I just spent that amount of money training you. Do you think I’m going to let you go now?”

Tough empathy is about feeling for another person’s situation, but using it as a teaching moment and an opportunity for growth - now that is the kind of leader people want to follow.



Catch the full article and Roz's new book at

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