Why People Follow

Why People Follow

by elainesuess

If I were to ask you what four words best describe the reasons people follow leaders, what would you say?

Perhaps, strategic vision? Maybe resilience? What about strengths and emotional intelligence?

Certainly, these are important, but they don’t quite get it, according to Gallup. 

Research, Research, Research

As you know, Gallup has been on a quest to research strengths and leadership for many years. They have studied more than 1 million work teams, conducted over 20,000 interviews with leaders and have interviewed more than 10,000 followers across the globe to see exactly why they followed the leaders who were most important to them in their lives.

They asked one key question for the study:  What leader has the most positive influence in your daily life? And then they followed it up by asking people to list the three words that best describe what the person contributes to their life. The results were amazing!  In some cases, the same word was listed over 1,000 times.

Followers have spoken. Leaders, take note!

Why The Surprise?

In my work with teams and individuals, they are often surprised to see the top four words that describe what followers want and need from them.  Yet, when we see these words, they make sense. We have all been, at one time or another, in business situations where we’ve looked for these four words, longed for them, or provided them.

The Envelope Please

Simply, Gallup found that the four reasons people follow leaders are:

  • Trust
  • Compassion
  • Stability
  • Hope

Trust – The first of the four reasons people follow is Trust. Think of a time you worked for someone you trusted. Think of a time you led someone when you formed a bond of trust. Being able to trust your leader is critical. Integrity and honesty are clearly tied to trust, and research by Gallup shows this is a bedrock for employee engagement.

Compassion – Can we use a word like compassion in business? Certainly! Let’s use it more often! Sometimes leaders are fearful that showing compassion may brand them as weak, or give too much power to their employees. Instead, showing compassion is a sign of great leadership. We all want to know that someone cares about us, especially in the place we spend much of our waking hours.

Stability – When things are in flux, when things are moving at the speed of light (as they always are!), it’s good to have an anchor point, to place a stake in the sand.  When it’s possible to provide a level of stability for employees, it frees them up to focus their energy on important work – to be confident. Transparency is a key ingredient to stability.

Hope – Ah, hope! I was delivering a strengths workshop using VIA assessments, where one of the character strengths is hope. The client team did not have anyone whose signature strength was hope. Jokingly, the leader said, “Oh no, we have no hope!” This was not the case, but the leader picked that particular strength out, recognizing how important it is. What type of vision do you have for the future, and how do you share it? How do you create hope for your employees?

It’s good to think intentionally about how you experience these four words, as a leader or follower.

 Why do you follow? More importantly — How do you lead?

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