Leadership 201: Would They Follow if You Weren’t the Boss?

flyway_l“Because I’m the boss, that’s why!” If you find yourself thinking this frequently or worse saying it, you are in big trouble as a leader.

I once observed a session where the counselor laid a gold chain on his desk in a straight line and began pushing the chain across the desk with his finger. The more he pushed, the more tangled the chain became as it inched across the desk. He then placed his finger on the other end of the chain and pulled it across the desk, the chain instantly straightened with each link immediately following the one in front of it. The analogy was clear – one can drive their team into submission and may even achieve the desired short-term outcome, but a true leader will attract followers and achieve a much better long-term result.

I have no grand illusions that I have all this leadership stuff figured out. Anyone who has worked with me for any amount of time knows that I fail frequently in many of the areas mentioned below. However, I’ve seen good leaders – the ones whose followers follow the leader, not the position – engage their teams in specific ways and get some amazing results.

Here are 5 things you can have in common with great leaders:

  1. Be a straight shooter – There is nothing more disconcerting than having to guess what someone in authority over you really thinks. Your responsibility as a leader is to be clear in your expectations so that people know when they’ve met them and when they haven’t. They shouldn’t have to guess. Honesty is the best policy, people need to know where they stand with you. Try it!

  2. Correct privately, praise publicly, but both quickly -

    1. Correction: It is very tempting to flex your leadership muscles by calling out an employee in a meeting to show them who’s boss, but that should never be your motive. Your motive for correction should be just that, to correct bad behavior. Your employees will trust you more if they know you’ll allow them to keep their dignity in the midst of the correction. Address the issue as soon as you can and as privately as possible.

    2. Praise: On the other hand, praise should be performed in as large a group as possible, and is especially effective when given in the presence of the receiver’s peers and subordinates. Praise doesn’t have to be complex or over the top, just sincere – over a decade ago, my boss sent me a simple 6 word email – “Ryan – You’re doing an OUTSTANDING job!” This was so meaningful to me that I still have the email to this day.

  3. Trust your people - If you find yourself performing tasks or making decisions that you have previously delegated, you are micromanaging. Take a step back and evaluate the situation. If you have multiple direct reports and only find yourself micromanaging one of them, you probably either have the wrong person or the right person with insufficient training. If your micromanagement expands beyond the one, you need to retrain yourself in delegation. Trust your people and pick your battles – let them accomplish your goals their way!

  4. Get your hands dirty - Sometimes, people need to know that its not just them on your team, but that you’re on their team as well. Join a brainstorm session while letting someone else lead, slog through the difficult work of populating a spreadsheet alongside a team member, dig a ditch, stuff an envelope, whatever it takes to connect with the team. You’ll feel it when it happens and so will they.

  5. Lead by example - Remember that old parenting mantra, “Do as I say, not as I do?” Well, it doesn’t work in business either. If you want your people to respect you, respect them. If you want them to work hard, work harder. If you want them to go home at a decent hour, go home at a decent hour. Leading by example… It’s not complicated, just difficult.

Think of a leader that you respect. Maybe it is someone at work or at church. Maybe it’s a family member. What specifically do they do right that makes them stand out in your mind? Please share below…



Photo credit: danorth1 / Foter.com / CC BY-ND

3 thoughts on “Leadership 201: Would They Follow if You Weren’t the Boss?

  1. Something a few great leaders in my life have done for me and for others:
    Because of their “big picture” perspective, leaders recognize and point out life patterns, character qualities, strengths, and weaknesses in their followers that those folks may not have have realized otherwise.

    • Great insight! I agree that being willing to point out blind spots and taking the time to communicate vision is key. What is it that causes this to stand out to you as important? IE: How does it make you feel? What has been the result of these type of interactions in the situations you’ve seen or been involved with?

  2. Pingback: Leadership 301: Nine Strategies to Earn the Trust of Your Peers | Bonehead Business

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