When I worked with team members and mentees who were emerging leaders, I would tell them that I wanted them to be leaders that others would want to follow. Now, in my organization, and perhaps in yours, neither leaders nor team members often got to pick who they work with. But I wanted those emerging leaders to be the type of leaders that people would want to work for if they had the chance. I was always overjoyed when I got to work with an individual more than once, and I was blessed to work with a few people three and four different times.
When I talk about a leader worth following, what I am describing is level 2, or “Permission” in John Maxwell’s “Five Levels of Leadership”. A description of the level 2 is:
“Level 2 is based on relationship. At this level, people choose to follow because they want to. In other words, they give the leader Permission to lead them. To grow at this level, leaders work on getting to know their people and connecting with them. Level 2 is where solid, lasting relationships are built that create the foundation for the next level”.
Why is it important to be a leader who others want to follow? Marcus Buckingham has said that “People don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad managers”. Maxwell says that “People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision”.So, what are the characteristics of a leader worth following? On one hand, we could list all of the traits of a good leader. Here, I will just focus on 8 that I believe are critical:
- People are looking for a leader who will help create a better future for them.
- Good reputation. Though I realize that at times leaders can be mis-characterized, if you have a bad reputation it’s probably well-deserved. Leaders worth following should have a high degree of character, trust and integrity. If a team member has a very good experience with a leader, chances are, if the opportunity to work together again arises, they will strongly consider it.
- Leaders worth following should be known as those who achieve high results on top priority work. People want to know that their leader has what it takes to effectively lead them. People will want to follow them so that they can work on the top efforts in the organization, increasing their job satisfaction and advancement potential.
- Servant leadership. People are looking for leaders who will put their team member’s interests above their own. Maxwell states that the measure of a leader is not the number of people who serve them, but the number of people they serve. Leaders worth following should get to know their team members well, finding out what is important to them. See my article “5 Ways to Know Your Team Members” here.
- John Maxwell is famous for saying that leadership is influence, nothing more and nothing less. In his “Law of Influence” he states that if you can’t influence people, then they will not follow you. And if people won’t follow you, you are not a leader.
- Jim Collins, in his classic book Good to Great, writes about leaders who have what he refers to as personal humility and professional will. His team “level 5 leader” refers to individuals who are very humble on a personal level, but who possess a great deal of drive and desire to succeed, where “success” is not personal but defined by creating something great that will outlast their time as the organization’s leader.
- Caring and empathy. Maxwell has said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. This attribute is related to being a servant leader. What a difference it makes to know that your leader cares for you as a person.
- A leader needs to have excellent verbal and written communications skills. On top of that, they need to be a connector. Maxwell, who had a book titled Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, has said that all good leaders are connectors. They relate well and make people feel confident about themselves and their leader.
There are many more characteristics could list, but I tried to limit the list to just these 8. What would you add to the list? Would you remove any that I’ve listed? If so, why?