I hope you enjoy this guest post from Bob Dempsey about why we follow leaders.
During my tenure as a Youth Counselor for the State of New Jersey, I had the privilege of working under a very inspirational director. He modeled values like emotional intelligence, fairness, empathy, and commitment. He communicated powerfully to encourage his team and bring his vision to life.
What makes a great leader? What makes us want to follow them? Relatively new theories cite components like: self awareness, relational transparency, balanced processing, and internalized moral perspective.
I’d like to spotlight an element that I feel is underrated in today’s context of numbers, head counts and quarterly reports. An emotional state that encourages secure attachment and a natural reaction of trust, cooperation and loyalty.
Good leaders make us feel safe. When we feel safe inside the organization, we instinctively merge our talents and strengths within the team. We work tirelessly to seize the moment and to share responsibility. Remarkable things happen when we feel safety, protection, and belonging. We become willing to sacrifice for leaders that sacrifice for us. We give our blood, sweat and tears in a natural response of trust and cooperation.
Trust and cooperation are feelings; they’re not instructions. Simply being told to trust and cooperate with one another doesn’t guarantee cohesion. Trust is the basis for all human connections; from chance encounters and friendships to intimate relationships.
Being a great leader is analogous to that of a parent. They offer us support, education, opportunities to try and fail, and discipline when necessary, all so that we can achieve more than they could ever imagine for themselves.
Leadership is a choice, not a rank. A leader is someone that looks out for the people on each side of them. A leader is willing to take the risk before anyone else does, to sacrifice so that their people may gain. A leader is comfortable in the trenches. This is what a leader does.
The only variables within our control are on the inside of the organization. That is where leadership matters. The leader sets the tone Inside the sphere of influence. We all have the ability to do wonderful things in an environment that fosters collaboration and deep trust.
Fearing our leaders is especially maladaptive. We’re then forced to spend time and energy protecting ourselves from each other. This inherently weakens the organization.
What you do serves as proof of what you believe. A good leader assembles a team of people that believe what they believe. A team that wants to be a part of the success to come. A team not based on head counts, but heart counts.
We follow leaders who inspire us, not for them, but for ourselves. Their fortitude makes us eager to adopt their system as our own. We sacrifice for them, because they would do it for us.
Sinek, Simon (2011). Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
Goleman, Daniel (2014). What Makes A Leader: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters