Why Do People Follow You?

March 6, 2019

The answer is a combination of what you – and your team members – bring to the table.

This week, I’m excited to welcome back guest blogger Lisa Penn to help us answer the question “Why do people follow you?”. Lisa is the director of coaching for SEI, as well as a Gallup-certified Strengths Coach. Through her experience coaching leaders, she has found that a leader’s answer to why people follow them, and an employee’s answer as to why they follow their leader, are often not in synch. She lays out just what to consider when determining why people follow you. I whole-heartedly believe in the power of understanding an individual’s talents and where they add value to a team, but we can all learn a new way to play an old game of "follow the leader" through Lisa’s impactful advice and thought-provoking candor.

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In my role as Director of Coaching, I have the privilege of coaching many leaders in our organization.  I am frequently coaching people who have assumed additional responsibilities, which often means more people report to them.

Leading others is no small task.

When I begin a coaching engagement, I often ask the leader, “Why do people follow you?”  Almost every time I ask that question, there is a very pregnant pause. It just isn’t something that they have thought about.

What’s interesting is, when the answer comes, it is through the filter of what they believe they do best. A perfectly acceptable (and common) answer.

When I coach, we use the CliftonStrengths assessment to uncover leaders’ strengths so they understand what they bring to the table. The assessment helps you discover the potential you have through your natural talents.

When you answer “Why do people follow you?” through the lens of your own strengths, it may very well be that a leader with Executing-oriented talents will say people follow them because they set the goals for the team, and ensure they have the resources to meet them. Leaders with Relationship Building talents envision people following them because they work with their team members on their career development and support them in their professional goals.

But what happens if people who report to you are not naturally drawn to what you have to offer as a leader? Here’s a hint: talents still have a role to play – just not *your* talents.

Follow the leader - with a twist

We all played “follow the leader” growing up. The person at the front of the line moved, and everyone lined up behind that person did what they did. If you didn’t do what the leader did, you were “out.”  Things are obviously much more complicated for us now!

Have you thought about what leader you follow and why? If you reflect on that question, you may find that somewhere in your answer, that person honed in on something *you* did well – a natural talent – and then they created the space for you to apply it and be appreciated for it.  In other words – that leader fed your talents.

I asked a few people I’m coaching why they followed a leader. Their responses are clearly a reflection of their own talents:

  • An individual who has the talents of Strategic and Futuristic said they follow a leader who stretches the team’s thinking and provides inspirational vision. That leader allows this person time to think and plan, along with the ownership to set the direction.
  • Another individual who has Developer and Positivity as talents looks to leaders who support the success of others and gives recognition freely to support their endeavors. A leader whose enthusiasm is contagious.
  • Lastly, one individual with the talent of Harmony said they appreciate and value “rational discourse” in their leaders. 
By providing your team with the environment and support for their talents to be applied, acknowledged and appreciated, you are giving them what they need to succeed.

So how do you get there?

  • Know the talents of your team members – and feed them
  • Ask them which of their talents mean the most to them
  • Ask your team the question: "Why do you follow a leader?"

Perhaps the answer will provide information that removes your pause in answering the question, "Why do people follow you?"

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