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Why Would Anyone Follow You As A Leader?

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We have often heard the question, “What makes a good leader great?” In workshops, we sometimes start by asking people to list the characteristics of a good leader. We ask them to think about a teacher they admire or an outstanding boss. What we get is a plethora of descriptors like,

  • Trustworthy
  • Honest
  • Authentic
  • Transparent
  • Have your back
  • Accept responsibility
  • Respectful
  • Clear communicator
  • Dependable
  • Resilient 

Then I ask the group a seemingly straightforward question, I ask them to describe their character as a leader. I usually get stares, then I say, let me rephrase that, why would anyone follow you as a leader? What does your character say about who you are as a leader?

Define character

Character is the aggregate of behaviors and traits that form the individual nature of someone. The aggregate of behaviors is the collection of behaviors and traits into the sum of oneself. 

In the workshop, participants list individual characteristics of a good or great leader. The character of a good or great leader is a collection of those unique characteristics. I emphasize the development of a leader philosophy as a way to put your character in words, a way to tell a story about you. 

 When you look at or think about great leaders you might find yourself saying, now there’s a trustworthy leader, or that person is a great leader because they are authentic. I would follow them because they are respectful or they are inclusive. These individual characteristics that we see in others are usually the result of working for a leader who didn’t possess or demonstrate that particular characteristic. Those characteristics are deeply important to us so they are usually the first thing we see in someone. 

The character of a great leader goes deeper than a few identifiable characteristics. It’s the collection of behaviors when practiced together every day blends into the behavior of a great leader.

Take inventory of yourself   

 When you look deeper below the surface what you will find is a leader who practices personal behaviors that support their leadership. Personal behaviors like,

  • Emotional intelligence – A healthy and honest understanding of how emotions are triggered and how to manage those emotions before they turn into something else.
  • Active listening – The art of listening, understanding, and caring for others or empathy.
  • Creating a safe space – Making people feel respected and included. 

What do you do to support your leadership character? This is the deep personal work you do to make you the leader you want to be and a leader who people will follow. You are the only person who knows what type of work you need to do for yourself. 

Exercise | Deliberate practice

In your journal, make a list of the characteristics you believe make you a good leader. Then, if you are serious about this, ask your staff what they see. Do they see the same thing as you see? Do they see you differently, or differently from how you want to be seen?  

If there are commonalities between what you see and what they see, this is an indicator that those are strong behaviors. If your staff doesn’t see how you want to be seen, then this is a place to start the personal work that will support and enhance those characteristics you want people to see in you. 

If you take the time to write a leader philosophy, this should help you to see what you want to develop within yourself. When you do this, be honest with yourself. Just because it’s part of your philosophy doesn’t make it so. If there is something you want people to see in you, go after it. Do the hard work because a lot of people won’t. 

In her book, Grit, Angela Ductwork talks about two behaviors that support success, they are, perseverance and passion. I added a third and that is patience. Developing behaviors into leadership skills takes time and practice. You will fail from time to time, so pick yourself up, wipe off the dust, and keep moving forward. That determination or persistence will help you to become the leader people want to follow.

Don’t wait for tomorrow, tomorrow never comes. What you have is today and this is the best time to begin anything.

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