In everyday life, if someone is following you, you will probably be very worried as there’s often a sinister reason for that.
In the business world, if you’re a leader and no-one is following you, you should be very worried – for very different reasons!
Leadership implies you have people following you. If you’re a business leader, you have employees who are following you. If you’re a thought leader, you have people following your thinking.
In a world that is inclined to claim everyone is a leader, that raises the question: who is following all these so-called leaders?
The concept of following a leader implies that the leader has influence. It stands to reason, if no-one follows a particular leader, they obviously have no influence over anyone. And a “leader” with no followers and no influence really should not be called a leader.
There’s a Malawian proverb that says: “He who thinks he is leading and has no-one following him is only taking a walk.” That means it’s possible that many “leaders” are only taking a walk.
If you’re a leader in the workplace, do you have anybody following you? The word “follow”, at a basic level, means to come after someone or to copy them. Judging from the way some leaders have conducted themselves in the public and private sectors, it’s clear that they have no understanding of the concept of having someone follow them.
Coming after someone implies that they will do things in the same way that you do them. It suggests that it is you as the leader who sets the standard of behaviour and of performance. This has been one of the stumbling blocks many leaders have tried to get around. Because they have not performed to standard, they intuitively know they can’t hold those following them (reporting to them) accountable for what they have or haven’t done. That’s because, if they attempt to hold others accountable, it will expose their own shortcomings, and they certainly don’t want them exposed.
They therefore skirt issues and overlook poor performance to protect themselves.
If you want to be a leader who is followed by those reporting to you, there’s only one approach – set the example. If you’ve been trying to operate on the, “Do as I say,” basis, you’ll never get the respect you need to be followed by your people. When you change, “Do as I say,” to “Do as I do,” you put yourself in a very powerful position. Few can argue with a leader who has done what they expect others to do. And that’s the essence of having people follow you.
Of course, following in the Mechanical World was a linear concept. That meant that people would come after you in time. In the Digital World, that concept has been turned on its head. It sounds a contradiction in terms to say that today’s leaders are leading from the back. If you’re a linear thinker, you’ll battle with this. How can someone lead others (who are the followers) when the followers are in front of the leader?
Good question! Today’s leaders empower their people. They liberate their followers to do things that they as leaders have not necessarily done themselves. So they are leading in a different way. They are providing leadership by creating space, creating environments and creating opportunities for their people to do what they’re good at. THAT is what they have done first, before their followers. The followers then are free to use their talents, skills and expertise to do things their leaders can’t do, all because of the groundwork their leaders have done for them.
So, in the Digital Age, leadership is still about having followers. Whether or not your followers are physically present with you, whether or not they are following you sequentially in terms of time, or whether or not they are doing things you can do or have done first, is not what it’s about. What leadership is about is creating the opportunities for your company, community or country to move into a better reality than the present one.
If you’re not able to show people a better reality which they can work towards, you won’t have many people following you. If however you can indeed show people, and lead them to, a better reality, they will be very happy to follow you!
Alan Hosking is the Publisher of HR Future magazine, www.hrfuture.net, @HRFuturemag. He is a recognised authority on leadership skills for the future and teaches business leaders and managers of all generations how to lead with integrity, purpose and agility. He was named by US-based web site Disruptordaily.com as one of the "Top 25 Future of Work Influencers to Follow on Twitter".