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Follow the leader

  • SIMA
- Posted: August 1, 2014
By Leslie Boomer
Research and writing on leadership excellence is often focused on the leaders themselves. We look at who they are, what they’ve accomplished, and how they made it to the top. I want to look at leadership from another perspective, by hearing from those who follow the leaders.

What causes people to work harder or stay the course with certain leaders? An extensive Gallup poll of more than 10,000 followers from 2005-2008 examined why people follow and what was fundamentally important to them in terms of the most influential leaders in their lives.

The results were clear in showing four things people want and need most from the leaders they follow: Trust, compassion, stability and hope.

Owners, managers or leaders at any level do best when they’re able to create relationships based on consistency and trust. Survey findings show that in the long term, followers will not accept dishonesty at any level. Unfailing integrity, respect and honesty all contribute to building trust. Even a single breach of trust will begin to erode feelings of security in most followers. Leaders who are successful at building trust will not make exceptions when it comes to keeping promises or following through on agreements with their people. How do you communicate honesty to your people? In leadership your word is your bond and people believe what they see. It’s not just what you say, but also what you do that matters.


A simple definition of compassion is to suffer together. When we are aware of, care about, and want to help with the struggles of others, we’re showing compassion. Compassionate leaders are not afraid to show they care about their people. Survey participants said compassion is one of the most important traits of a leader they trust. In other words, the most significant leaders in their lives were able to be a friend, show concern, and share in their struggles and their happiness.

Are you now asking, “Am I supposed to be best buddies with everyone who works with me?” You cannot be everyone’s best friend, but you can be open about your life. When you share your life with your people, even in a general way, they experience that sharing as caring about their lives, too. Further, when the organization’s leadership is responsive to personal and family struggles and their people feel supported through crisis, this type of compassionate caring builds a bond of loyalty that will carry your organization through tough times.

What do people want from their organization? The most fundamental expectations are a reliable paycheck and job security. When people feel secure and can see a stable future in front of them, it’s easier to accept inevitable changes and challenges that come to any organization. People want to feel assured that core values and goals will remain, even as market conditions change. Survey participants said they want to know that leaders will remain true to an established mission they can count on within the context of their work environment.

People want and need to have hope for a positive future. Leadership that inspires people to feel optimistic about the future can create a hopeful culture.

When leaders have a reactionary style, their team members may perceive actions as being driven by day-to-day issues of managing the business. Contrast this with leaders who are proactive and regularly share their vision for the future. The latter example communicates hope to those who are seeking a positive outlook. Forward-thinking leaders, who are able to show they have an eye on the future, will create an atmosphere of hope, especially when times are tough.

Gallup research has shown that one of the biggest challenges for a leader can be finding time to identify opportunities for growth, and building a plan for the future. Even when they believe they are doing so, often their day-to-day actions are more oriented toward reacting. If an atmosphere of hope is to be created, leadership must do the harder work of maintaining and sharing a big-picture vision for the organization’s future.   
By the numbers: four pillars of leadership
The most inspiring and successful leaders find a way to lead by communicating trust, compassion, stability and hope. “Strengths Based Leadership – Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow” by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie was published by Gallup Press in 2008. Following are a few notable findings from the survey and how they relate to the four pillars:

1. Trust. There is only a 1 in 12 chance of positive employee engagement when leadership is not found to be trustworthy. In contrast, when team members within an organization trust leadership, there is a sixfold increase in the chances of engagement.

2. Compassion. When more than 10 million people were asked how they felt if a supervisor at work cared about them as a person, the results showed that, on average, they were significantly more engaged, productive and happy because of personal interest shown to them by leadership. Proactive ways to show compassion for your employees include programs designed to support them in terms of their overall well-being. Showing concern for the whole person demonstrates care on a personal level, not just for what they bring to your organization.
3. Stability. Transparency is key in building confidence within the workplace. Leaders who openly share financial metrics, company goals and progress throughout the year gain the confidence of the people working with them. When you can show individuals how their contributions impact the greater good of the organization, you have a better opportunity to gain buy-in from them. The result is a team that’s working together with a sense of common purpose and motivation
to succeed.
4. Hope. The researchers found that 69% of employees who felt enthusiastic about the future were engaged in their work, compared to just 1% engagement when there was a lack of hope for the future. Engagement in work impacts productivity and profit. Managers who have daily interaction with people may more directly impact trust and stability, but those at the upper levels of management have a better opportunity to inspire hope for the organization’s future, therefore positively impacting bottom line success.
Leslie Boomer is a certified executive coach and Gallup-trained StrengthsFinder® coach
with Pro-Motion Consulting.
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