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Are you the leader if no-one follows?

Here is a variation of the “tree falls in the forest” question. 

In past insights, we’ve looked at leadership skills, ways to enhance effectiveness, and how to develop creative ideas that motivate and propel your organization to greatness.  Here is the ultimate question for a leader…

You’ve heard the old saying that you can lead by fear or lead because people want to follow.  And you can lead by example as well.

Which style works best in the long run?

I know from observational and personal experience that in normal situations, a leader is a consensus–builder, sure that everyone understands the mission and goal, and knows which duties each must assume to make it happen.  There are times when this obviously isn’t appropriate, such as in an emergency, financial or physical.  Then your associates will expect strong, firm leadership as reassurance.

The military leadership example

Even in the military, the best leaders, no matter what the rank, lead by consensus and by example – except perhaps in battle. Those in any enterprise who lead by fear find that they may be effective in the short run and completely the opposite over time.  Yes, there have been military dictators rising on occasion who did lead by fear.  Most all lost their positions, their following, and some even their lives.

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The object is to have people follow, willingly. 

Sometimes we call this “servant leadership,” the skill of subordinating yourself to the greater good, serving those who serve your customers or constituents.

Here’s a simple test. 

Do your people come up to you as you walk among them, or lower their heads, turn away, or find a way to look extra busy?  Even if you think otherwise, if your constituents do any of these things other than look up or approach, you should identify this as an indication that you are a leader using fear.

It is never too late to change, even if it will take many interactions for your people to believe the impossible may have happened.  And if you are the charismatic leader that people follow willingly, keep on doing what you are doing.

  • Cricket Lee

    I know that fear is a prevalent corporate tyranny, but if you look the ones that rule with love are much more effective! I choose the love one!!!

  • Peter

    I certainly agree that consensus is important and the leader sets the example. But there is a valid time for discussion and then a time to execute the plan. I

    If people don’t follow your direction or goals then they don’t respect your authority. A company can’t become a debating society. I once managed a department providing technical consulting. I asked once of our young Project Managers for a quick update in her project status, as I had just taken over leadership of the group. She replied “I can’t have you backseat driving my projects”.

    I politely explained that while I appreciated how strongly she took responsibility of her projects, they were the company’s projects and I had responsibility for them. And if anything went wrong, it was my phone that would ring, and I who would be held accountable. And let’s get together tomorrow morning so she could update me.

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