Taking leadership to the next level

You know there have been literally thousands of books written on leadership over the years. A search on Google revealed some 35,200,000 links to leadership. We are constantly reminded that strong leaders are required if businesses are to be successful. Historically great battles have been won by strong enigmatic individuals who at times almost seemed superhuman and invincible. This style of leadership created strong bonds. Not to mention dependency from those that committed to the leader. But what is it that takes leadership to the next level?

In our modern-day business world, this physical style of leadership is less relevant.  It is now replaced with more of an emotional form of leadership. The ‘would be’ leader has to win both the hearts and minds of his or her colleagues. It is interesting that in many businesses the word ‘leader’ is absent in job titles with the exception of Team Leader.

Where should leaders show up in business?

In many ways, everyone has a responsibility to leadership/”>demonstrate leadership qualities. Whatever their job role. It may be as simple as setting a good example with regard to work ethic.  At the other extreme steering the business through a very difficult trading period.

The last six years of austerity have certainly tested the latter. So while it is undeniably true that strong leadership is essential in any successful business. There is a second and equally important aspect to take leadership to the next level, that is followership. A search on Google revealed only 255,000 results links to followership or 0.7% of the searches on leadership.

There is no leader without a follower

A leader without a follower is just a person out for a walk on their own. As society continues to evolve, ‘followers’ are becoming more discerning with regard to who they will follow. Modern-day followers expect their leaders to connect with them at many different levels i.e. mentally, physically, emotionally and in some cases spiritually.

Most of our work with CEO’s, Directors and Senior Managers are based on helping them to develop a capacity to understand and connect with others at a fundamental level. This starts by inviting the CEO, Director or manager to first explore themselves and to resolve personal barriers that will make it more difficult for others to engage with them.

Engaging with followers

A modern leader needs to have a flexible style of engaging with those who ‘choose’ to follow. Remember employees don’t need to ‘follow a leader’ to work in business but they will deliver results at a higher level if they do. Carl Jung said ‘when working with an individual only an individual approach will work’.

This underpins the challenge and opportunity faced by modern leaders. Each individual requires a subtly different style of engagement and the trick is to tune in and then engage with it. This requires a deep level of emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence has been defined as an ability involving traits and social skills that facilitate interpersonal behaviour. Leaders with a refined level of emotional intelligence will engage with the widest range of followers and will be more likely to be successful.

When we deliver leadership development programmes we ask those attending ‘would you follow you?’ It is surprising how often the answer is no. Ask yourself the question ‘would I follow me?’ If the honest answer is ‘no’ then they need to look at ways of developing your leadership style and in particular your capacity for emotional intelligence.

It is much easier to have someone follow you than to have to drag them along behind you.

Inspiration and connection

To take leadership to the next level, a leader has to be able to inspire and connect with others, show humility when appropriate and be willing to ask for help when needed as well as delivering feedback in a way that takes the followers to the next level of their performance. They need to have a flexible style of communication and be willing to allow others to experiment and push the envelope as well as being prepared to demonstrate vulnerability. This makes them more accessible to others and will build stronger working relationships.

Responsibility of followers

The follower also has a responsibility in this and is accountable to the leader for delivering outputs as agreed. This begs a few questions:

  • What does it mean to be a follower?
  • How should a follower provide the support the leader needs?
  • When and how does the follower know which leader to follow?
  • How will the follower give feedback to the leader to enhance the relationship and overall performance?

These are just some of the questions that we need to ask ourselves whenever we choose to follow another person. Followers are fundamental to any leader’s success and yet we do not spend enough time giving them the resources they need to develop their followership skills.

Followership is based on an unwritten contract where the follower agrees to be led by the leader as long as the leader is worthy of being followed.

When I ask people I work with why they follow the people they follow they say things like:

‘I believe in him/her’

‘He/she gives me confidence’

‘They create a buzz’

‘He/she always has time for me’

Followers engage emotionally with leaders

Whilst the intellectual connection is important in that the leader has to have credibility in his or her field, the leader/follower engagement takes place at an emotional level and this connection is usually well below the conscious level of awareness.

The leaders of the future must be able to use their emotional intelligence to engage at a deep level with those they seek to lead. So all you leaders out there need to make sure that you are worthy of being followed as it is not a right but has to be earned.

You need to make sure that you provide those that follow you with access to ways in which they can develop their own emotional intelligence as well as finding ways to develop your own.

Specialist in business and people transformation.