Focus on Followers

As a society we seem to have a fascination with leaders, and what they should be doing and thinking.  This focus misses perhaps the most important element of leadership: the followers.   This oversight is the equivalent of the clinician failing to consider his patient, the teacher failing to consider his student, a parent failing to consider his child, or the server failing to consider his customer.

So, what is it about followers that leaders should focus on?

In Strengths Based Leadership, Rath and Conchie remind us that followers have 4 primary needs: trust, stability, hope, and compassion. They want to trust their leader to do what they say they will do. They want to know the leader will provide support, strength and core values, and that they can be counted on. They want to know that there will be guidance and direction that will make them feel hopeful and enthusiastic about the future. They also want to know that their leaders care for them as a person, just as they would their friends and family.

In other words, this construct from Rath and Conchie is consistent with servant leadership, where effective leaders focus on what the followers need to be successful and productive. In short, this view aims to inspire and support the followers.

In contrast, managers are focused more on managing work, having power and control, reducing risk, and acting in an authoritarian manner with subordinates.   The emphasis is on the task or on the manager himself, not the person who is being managed.

The leader’s job is to create hope and stability, earn trust and have compassion for the followers.  Leaders who expect people to follow them while focusing on their own needs may have difficulty eliciting high quality performance. A leader with poor self-awareness may then blame the followers or subordinates for being disengaged and unmotivated. Now the focus may shift to the follower’s failings, a situation likely to deepen disengagement.

This scenario is not likely to have a good ending. But it doesn’t have to stay that way. An effective leader creates change, especially in the face of challenge. That change may have to start with the leader herself.  After all, if you can’t change yourself, how can you create change in others?

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