• Feb 11 2020

Becoming a Leader Others Want to Follow

How do you become a leader others want to follow? What does it take? Do you need to develop a personality that is larger than life? Do you need a magnetism that draws others to you?

In the past, some believed that leaders needed a certain kind of gregarious personality or shining charisma to be effective.

However, time has shown that this simply isn’t true. While some leaders do fit this bill, others do not.

A Gallup poll taking place between 2005 and 2008 studied 10,000 people in “follower” job roles to see what leaders had the greatest impact on their employees. It turns out that “trust” and “compassion” topped the list as the most important aspects of leadership in this regard.

But how do you gain trust? And how do you genuinely show compassion to those you lead?

Develop Awareness of Others

To be a leader others want to follow–and to be a leader worth following–consider starting by developing awareness of others.

One of my summer college jobs was working for a landscape company in their accounts receivables department. This job involved calling contractors that hadn’t paid their bills and asking them to pay. As you may guess, people did not always appreciate the call. It was a tough job.

I had a required lunch break every day, but, unfortunately for me, there was no employee eating area, no lunch places nearby, no public transit available, and I had no car. I would take my lunch, cross the small street in front of our building, and eat on the grass against a fence.

At some point, the CEO of the company saw me eating my lunch on the ground in this fashion. A few days later, a bench appeared by the water feature near our building. He stopped by my desk to let me know I was welcome to eat my lunch on the new bench if I wanted. My lunch spot changed from a damp seat on the ground against an ugly fence to a comfortable wooden bench with the peaceful sound of water rippling through the rocks.

This small act of kindness increased my job satisfaction immensely. Though having a comfortable place to sit was an upgrade, that single act meant much more to me than having a place to sit. It meant that a leader in the company–the leader in the company–saw me and cared about me. And the result was that I cared more about my work. I wanted to do well by him and by the company. This is the power of having compassion and demonstrating you care.

Practice Perspective Taking

While many of us have heard of the Golden Rule–do unto others as you would have done unto you–consider the power of the Platinum Rule: do unto others as they would have done unto them.

The trick with the Platinum Rule is that it is not always easy to know how people would like to be treated. Too often we make the mistake of thinking that others are like ourselves in their preferences.

So what can you do to see things as your followers see? The answer is to find ways to figuratively put on the shoes of others, and walk awhile in them. This could mean literally walking where they walk to find out more about their experience in your organization. Or it could mean asking one of your team members to explain how they are experiencing a change or a policy in your company. If you demonstrate that you care deeply, they will likely open up, and you’ll learn things that will increase your effectiveness as a leader.

While it’s important that you recognize you can never fully know their situation, making the effort to learn more can speak volumes about who you are as a leader. Ask questions. Take time to understand others’ points of view. Build trust by showing that you see your followers’ experiences and thoughts as an advantage, not a barrier to moving forward your own agenda. Once you have improved your “sight,” it’s time to act accordingly.

Be Willing to Do the Work

Developing yourself into the kind of leader others want to follow can be challenging. Trust is gained over time. The ability to be compassionate is refined with patient practice. It requires constant effort and consistently demonstrating that you care. It requires suppressing tendencies to plow forward with what you want. It requires, at times, slowing down and listening. This is not the natural tendency when you have the bottom line knocking at your door and deadlines piling up in your inbox.

However, as a leader, you are in it for the long run. You must look past the urgent and see the important. The reward may or may not come in revenue, but more importantly, it will come in relationships. And the investment you put into becoming a leader others want to follow now will yield a more fulfilling leadership journey as you move through your life.

Are you ready to develop the perspective-taking abilities of the leaders in your organization? Learn more about our new program with Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB), Leading Through Personal Excellence, and how this 6-week program can fit into your 2020 leadership development plans.

Schedule a conversation today.


Angela Fisher Ricks

Senior Learning Designer

Angela is a Senior Learning Designer on the Product Team at ExecOnline. In her role, she creates online and blended learning experiences, inviting participants to engage more deeply with each other and with their own work. Prior to joining ExecOnline, she designed online courses and wrote content for Harvard Business School Online in their suite of leadership courses. She holds a Master’s Degree in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.


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