Updated: Feb 18, 2021
Just Say Yes
In our modern fast-paced society it seems that few are willing to volunteer to take a leadership position; but, when asked, people are willing to do much as a follower. Many reasons can be cited for this phenomenon; but, as it relates to leadership, it indicates that the single largest step toward being a leader is the willingness to say, “I will.” Try it the next time someone says, “I need someone to ….”
Of course, once having volunteered to lead, one must ask, “What do I do?” Before getting into the specifics of leadership, it should be said that the guiding principle behind “what should I do” is the well-known “golden rule.” That is, a leader should weigh all actions and decisions in the perspective of “do unto others as you would want to be done to you.” Even without further knowledge of leadership principles, following the golden rule will be a reliable guide to a leader’s path.
Lead From a Followers Perspective
Okay. So far it is “I will” and “golden rule.” But, what do I really do? Everyone either is a follower or has been a follower or will be a follower. So, the best perspective of what should a leader do is best seen through the eyes of a follower.
A leader must have followers. If the people that you are trying to rally to complete a task or goal are not willfully following you, you are not a leader. Leaders inspire people to want to work towards a particular goal, and that want needs to transcend the benefits for which they will personally gain. Some would refer to this as working for the greater good, working for the good of the team, or the organization.
If one has the opportunity to lead, the presumption is that there is a group of followers to be led, e.g., a work department, a project team, a volunteer group, a family, etc. In most cases the follower group is defined for the leader by someone else; and, therefore, this article does not address how to select team members.
It is important to mention that most good leaders, however, were good followers before they became a leader. Learning how to be a good follow is a skill set unto itself. As a follower, quiz yourself. Ask yourself, if I were the leader how would I rate myself as a follower? What would I want my followers to be like? How would I want them to interact internally with peers and externally with clients and partners? Ask yourself, why would anyone want to willingly follow me? What would motivate them to work and give an effort that goes beyond what is required? Write these qualities down and use them as a guide to help you develop as a leader and to help you coach and develop your followers.
Knowing Your Why
Having defined your team, the first thing a follower wants to know is what are we doing. The first step for the leader is to define a clear set of goals and objectives. Related to that, although not mandatory, most followers are more motivated if they know why we are doing what we are doing. That is called a “mission statement.” Write one in clear concise language.
Have a Clear Set of Goals
If there is a clear set of goals, then a measurement system must be established that provides a clear statement of progress during project execution as well as success or failure at the end of the project. Also, a communication system must be in place to convey progress. There are many choices, e.g., periodic review meetings, newsletters, graphs and charts, group emails, etc. You may choose a combination of methods.
During project execution, a follower will look to the leader to ensure that adequate resources are available to do the work. The measurement and communication systems will provide insight into conditions where resources are lacking. Team members also want the freedom to do their work.
A leader should avoid micro-management. This robs team members of their creativity and the application of their skills and talents. Again the measurement and communication system will indicate when, and if, corrective action is required.
Feedback is Not More Money
Followers desire feedback on their work and recognition for success as steps in the plan are completed. Most often this is not money, although at times money may be appropriate. However, a leader must be even-handed when recognizing team members. Unequal treatment is one of the largest disincentives that will destroy a team effort. At the successful completion of a project, celebrate! A good leader needs to cheer its team forward.
Create a Leadership Plan
All of the above should be encompassed in a project plan. The plan needs to be documented. One downfall for a leader is to presume that he/she is the one to build a complete and final plan. The best project plan is built by the entire team after goals and objectives have been discussed. There should be complete buy-in to the plan by all team members. If the buy-in is not universal, do not proceed until it is.
The plan does not need to have all the infinite details at the start. The plan should be amended as necessary and details fleshed out as they are understood. At the end of the project, it becomes the best source of documentation as to the work done, the goals accomplished, the team effort, etc.
Can Anyone Guarantee Success?
Does following the above principles guarantee success? Of course not. Life has a way of ‘pitching leaders high and tight, followed by sliders and curveballs.’ However, by following your plan and these guidelines, you will maximize the opportunity for success.
Leaders are adaptable, flexible, forgiving, and realistic. Be positive, and give the best you have to offer, and follow your plan!