Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Why do people follow leaders? A lesson in more effective and involving leadership

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on August 10, 2015

Many people prefer to follow the lead of others rather than make all of the defining decisions that they would have to follow through upon themselves, and certainly when taking leadership would mean managing larger organizational efforts. And perhaps more importantly, many people who might be quite willing to take responsibility for what they themselves do, would find it uncomfortably challenging to have to lead others and take overall responsibility, and both for their own actions and decisions and for those of a larger group. But there are always individuals who are willing to do this and who are happiest when stepping outside of the limitations of their own personal spheres of action and responsibility, to organize and lead larger efforts. If management represents the process of organizing and directing these larger group efforts, operationally, leadership is what brings others to follow as active members of such larger organized group efforts. Leadership is what makes attempts at management work.

• Why do people follow leaders – specific individuals who would step out in front and assume larger than just self-authority and self-responsibility in this way?

I offer this posting as an installment in what is probably my single longest running series in this blog: on what leadership is and on what goes into making it effective. I do not explicitly list these postings as elements in a series in their titles, but if you look at my Business Strategy and Operations directory page and its Page 2 and Page 3 continuations, you will find 66 postings with the word leadership in their titles, already listed there prior to this installment going live to this blog. This is a recurring area of consideration and discussion for all that I have been writing of here.

I have for the most part been writing about qualities and practices that good leaders more commonly have and follow, through the course of those earlier 66 postings. But I switch direction here in this installment, to consider the people who would follow the lead of individuals who seek a leadership role.

• Why do people follow specific people as leaders?
• What do people in their numbers look for, as assurance that they have found the right leader who they can trust when following and who they would want to follow?

I add as a perhaps obvious clarifying point here that I am writing entirely of voluntary and willing decisions to follow the lead of a would-be leader, and not forced or coerced followers. What do people look for in a leader who they would want to follow? What is the single most important trait if there in fact is one, that consistently emerges here in defining such a leader?

• Ultimately people follow a leader because they see them as offering a direction that they want to be led towards and because that leader articulates a goal that they see as holding significant value to them too.

The leadership quality traits that I have mostly written of in this loosely organized series represent facets in what goes into making effectively leadership, and those traits do offer real value and both for would be leaders, and at least indirectly for those who would follow them too. But if a leader cannot articulate a goal that is meaningful to others, and a path that at least points in its direction and convincingly so, very few will seek to follow them and regardless of what other positive qualities they might offer.

Good, effective leaders can be extraverted or they can be more introverted. They can be very detail oriented and analytical, or they can be big picture oriented and convey more of a sense of emotional intelligence than one of analytical intelligence. They can, and experience shows they do differ from each other in a great many ways. But they all have specific goals that they can and do convincingly articulate, and they do offer what at least plausibly would be a path towards achieving them.

• If you seek to be a leader, where do you seek to lead others to?

This is the most important question you can ask of yourself when facing this decision. Having a real, meaningful answer to that, that you yourself would see as valid is the first real step in becoming a real leader.

You can find this and related postings at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and also at Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory.


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