May 5, 2017

Four Reasons You'll Follow a Leader

What is going on! Why are people who’s job it is to serve behaving so poorly? But maybe the more important question is why are the leaders of these company’s seemingly so surprised.

The answer is simple—four qualities that engender people’s loyalty, commitment and effort. And here in lies the challenge, simple is not easy. Simple can be painstakingly hard and it can also reveal something in ourselves that we would never want to admit.

A few years ago, I found myself in the midst of one of the most difficult leadership challenges I had ever faced. We were going to merge three competing businesses together.

Imagine bringing three competing sales teams together and telling them we are all going to be friends now. These were competitively-driven sales people who had competed for years with one another for their livelihoods. The mere suggestion of bringing them all together for a sales meeting was akin to suggesting the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s get together for a welcoming picnic.

What do you think?

I hired Mitchell to deliver the picnic message. The first time I met Mitchell he rolled out on stage and told his story. He was burned beyond recognition in a motorcycle accident. The surgeons reconstructed his face using his drivers’ license. A few years later, the wings of the plane he was flying iced up and crashed paralyzing him from the waste down.

So, when I say he rolled out on the stage, he literally rolled out in his wheel chair. He has lead an amazing and purposeful life. As we prepared for the event I was explaining to Mitchell my challenges.

Now mind you I know who I am dealing with. If you are looking for sympathy, don’t call Mitchell. So I was choosing my words carefully, or so I thought. After laying out the business case for the change and the meeting objectives, I paused. I looked a Mitchell and asked, “What do you think?”

His reply was priceless. “Jim, have you ever thought that you are the problem?” The words rattled around in my head for a few moments. I am sure I must have had a shocked look on my face. I am sure the expression on my face was screaming, “Are you crazy! Didn’t you hear anything I was saying? I told you what the problem was and I don’t remember once saying it was me.”

The truth changes everything.

Mitchell opened my eyes to a powerful truth. You can’t lead unless you see yourself as part of the problem. It’s simple, but it’s not easy. How we look at and identify problems changes shifts our perspective.

Think about the leaders you’ve worked for and been around in your life. What words would you use to describe the best leaders? What about the worst leaders?

Gallup asked 10,000 people for words to describe the leaders they would most like to follow. The 25 most frequently mentioned words were studied carefully. In the end they concluded there are four basic needs followers look for in a leader: compassion, stability, trust and hope.

A reflection of leadership.

There is an unforgettable scene in the movie Remember the Titans. (Click on the link to see it) The film based on the true story of African-American coach Herman Boone, and his attempt to integrate the T. C. Williams High School football team in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1971.

Star players Gerry Bertier and Julius Campbell are the team leaders. Racial differences give rise to individual agendas and Gerry calls Julius out for his lack of leadership. After a passionate exchange Julius says, “I’m going to look out for myself and get mine.” Shaking his head in disgust Gerry tells Julius, “That is the worst attitude I’ve ever heard.” Julius pauses, looks at Gerry and says, “Attitude reflects leadership, Captain.”

What is going on?

Could it be a reflection of leadership? Everyone is a leader. And when the people we are leading are behaving badly it just might be that they are reflecting our leadership.

We want people to run through a wall for us. We want them to deliver great results, care about the team and respect us. The answer is simple—compassion, stability, trust and hope.

Leaders who are comfortable being part of the problem are the only ones who hear and act on what people want most from them. Leadership isn’t just about getting from one level of performance to another. How we get there matters not only to the people we lead but also the people we serve.

Love to hear your thoughts! What is the quality you valued most in the leaders truly admired?

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