Why Do We Follow Certain Leaders?

What motivates people to follow a leader?

We have worked with many leaders in different industries to help them define and communicate their mission, vision, values and business plans to employees. Today’s employee audiences span multiple generations, so smart social psychologists would tell us that these individuals are motivated by different things. Some are loyalists, while others seek to move around for opportunity. Some enjoy teamwork, while others prefer to go it alone. Despite the differences, we’ve seen some commonalities around what motivates people to follow a leader.

What compels people to embrace a vision and learn how they can play a role in the business plan? What makes people want to show up, roll up their sleeves and trouble-shoot, innovate, push limits to drive the business? We believe there are five key traits of leaders who earn a genuine following:

  1. The leader has dialogue with his or her teams. We’ve all seen this in action … coffees, brown bag lunches, town halls with an agenda that prioritizes Q&A, listening sessions, interactive webcasts, Facebook Live, and more. Thankfully we have a variety of live and tech-enabled options to give people access to leaders today! When people feel a connection to the leader, they are more likely to believe in the direction the leader sets, and look for ways they can play a role. It’s that simple.
  2. The leader sets clear direction, and provides updates on progress so people feel engaged in what’s happening. Whether sharing good or difficult news, it’s critical for the leader to lay out the plan and show people the finish line. Where are we headed and why? What can we expect along the way? What is our end game? Great leaders are honest and clear about the path ahead. In many cases, this involves sharing a business plan, and making sure people understand the path, measurements for success, and the roles they play. When the road ahead is going to be bumpy, good leaders set a realistic stage, which goes a long way in gaining support.
  3. This is related to the points above, but it’s important to call out as a stand alone tip: The leader is a good communicator. This means he or she is able to be clear and articulate on the roadmap. They provide regular updates to keep people informed. They provide opportunities to hear unfiltered feedback from all levels of the organization and from stakeholders. They have and work a leadership communications plan. At Winning Presence, we help our leadership clients design and execute good leadership communications plans, and we’ve been told time and time again how truly game changing these plans can be in generating a following and driving results.
  4. The leader is approachable. People want to be heard and feel they are making contributions to an organization’s success. There is a great deal of recent research that also shows that Millennials in particular will choose a meaningful job over one with better pay. So a leader who makes herself accessible to this group to share ideas and feedback will gain a following.
  5. The leader takes his or her shadow seriously, and works to cast one that creates a positive culture. We’ve heard Peter Drucker’s quote, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” At Winning Presence, while we like the combination of strategy AND culture, his point is profound. A positive, engaging, well-defined culture drives results, and enables action. And the culture is strongly influenced and impacted by the leader, who casts a long shadow. People follow the behaviors and actions of those they follow, and good leaders have an understanding of this fact. Good leaders also know that if their shadow is creating a positive, action-oriented culture, people will follow and contribute.
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