One of the common statements you hear when discussing leadership is “you may hold a leadership position but if no one is following you then you aren’t leading, you’re only going for a walk.”
I use that from time to time in presentations myself. I use it because as a presenter you want to say things your audience can relate to and that is a very relatable statement. It gets a few laughs and smiles.
But true followership goes much deeper than merely following behind some individual who may be aimlessly walking about themselves. People in general have been too impressed with the number of “followers” someone has, particularly in social media. I have a bunch of social media followers. The numbers alone look impressive, especially to people who don’t understand what “followership” really is.
The reality is I have relatively few people truly following me on social media. At least when I use my definition of “following” or “follower.”
Using my definition of “following” the first statement in this post would look like this: “You may hold a leadership position but if you’re not positively influencing people to be the best version of themselves possible then you aren’t leading. No matter how many people you’re responsible for leading.”
Influence is the heart and soul of leadership. If you have the ability to influence others, and use that influence to help them challenge themselves to be their very best, then you are an Authentic Leader.
This is where the massive difference between trying to manage people and actually leading them comes in. Holding a leadership position gives someone the power to force the compliance of their people. They do that through rules, penalties and consequences. But that’s managing not leading.
Authentic leaders have no need for their people to comply. They have something much better, they have the commitment of their people. Their people are committed because they see first hand how committed their leader is to them.
Authentic Leaders invest time with their people to help them learn, grow and develop. Oftentimes to develop into leaders themselves. They model successful leadership characteristics and “show” the path to success. Lesser leaders don’t have time to “show” much of anything, they are too busy “telling” their people how something should be done.
Let me give you a very recent and very very personal example. Some of you may know that on the day before Thanksgiving our 15 month old granddaughter, Daisy, was taken by ambulance to the hospital. She was in grave danger. The doctors and nurses at Children’s Hospital in Phoenix are nothing short of miracle workers and we believe God used them to bring Daisy back to good health. In less than a week she was well enough that I felt comfortable traveling to a business meeting. (BTW, after 9 days is the hospital she is back home and doing well)
At the business meeting I ran into a person I’ve known for a long time. He was recently promoted into a very high leadership position. When I saw him I tried to congratulate him on his promotion. He said thanks but immediately shifted gears to what he thought was way more important. He asked how Daisy was doing. He wanted to know everything. He was genuinely concerned. He cared and it showed as he listened intently and offered any help he could. I’d walk over hot coals for that guy. He earns the commitment of people.
I’ve thought about that brief conversation with him several times over the last few days. It made me remember that as a leader, people are at the center of everything a leader accomplishes. In a brief hallway conversation he influenced me to pay more attention to who people are and a little less to what they do.
Influence is the essence of leadership!
I also had the opportunity to congratulate another recently promoted individual. He said he had heard about our granddaughter as well and he was “glad” that her being in the hospital didn’t prevent me from attending the meeting. The difference between these two “leaders” was striking.
If you’re an Authentic Leader then you know that your leadership isn’t measured by the number of people in your organization. It is not about the number of people who report to you. Your leadership is measured by the number of people you influence in a positive way.
Remember, if you’re not influencing someone to be the very best version of themselves they can possibly be, then they may report to you but they are NOT following you.