One of my favorite sayings is “Leadership is NOT about you. It’s about THEM.” I like it because it focuses on the fact that great leaders have followers. Followers are willing individuals who choose to follow because they believe the leader is going somewhere or doing something they, too, would like to experience. And, on any given day, a leaders’ following can be large, or small, depending on their actions and words. SIMPLE TRUTH: Employees want Leaders to Lead.  

Years ago, I was at an off-site meeting where the leader had planned for us to go hiking after we’d sat all morning listening to presentations. He’d been at the location before, but none of rest of us had. So, when he swiftly hiked off leaving us behind, we were unclear as to which way to go when we encountered a fork in the path and our leader was nowhere in sight. I had been coaching the executive for a couple months by then and I laughed out loud because the situation was indicative of his leadership behaviors in the office. He often spent time alone believing he had to solve all of the organization’s problems himself. Many times, he believed he had given directions to people but actually he had never said anything out loud to them. His direct reports had previously voiced frustrations to him about his leadership style, so it wasn’t surprising that everyone stopped at the fork in the path. Collectively, we stood there wondering how long it would take our leader to notice we weren’t following him. When he came back yelling expletives, one team member said, “You didn’t make it clear where we were going, or even if you wanted us to come with you. How were we supposed to know? You didn’t say anything.”

If you strive to be a successful leader, you need to know that followers have expectations of you. Articulating direction and business plans to your organization is not seen as a one-time or even a once-a-quarter event by your followers. They want you to regularly communicate vision/direction, current state of the business and any changes that occur because those all effect their job activities. You being personally involved and physically present in the day-to-day operations of your organization is important to them. Your followers expect you to engage with them. They want you to walk among them, ask their opinions and listen to their ideas. Companies spend a lot of time, energy and money hiring smart people who have solutions to many of their business problems; yet, most leaders don’t spend enough time collecting these insights or putting them to use.

If you lead without understanding your follower’s expectations, human behaviors in your organization are negatively impacted. Just like the frustrated management team was out there at the fork in the path, without a regular infusion of leadership direction, your people are unsure of what needs to happen next. Their productivity stalls while they wait for information — or they take action without direction — which may result in work having to be redone later when clear information is forthcoming. Both frustrate your employees, cost you resources and make your organization ineffective. [NOTE: By providing direction, I don’t mean your followers expect you to tell them what to do or how to do their jobs. They know that. What they want is for you to provide the bigger picture view of what the outcome you’re expecting looks like so they can align their work accordingly (e.g. “We need to complete and launch product X by Y date so that our customers can Z and we can to stay on our strategic course”)]

Another expectation followers have of you, their leader, is that there are consequences for not meeting the goals they set. While it may surprise you, followers respect leaders that determine and communicate what will happen to individuals, teams, or the whole organization, if performance goals aren’t met. While holding people accountable can be hard, leaving unmet goals unaddressed can also be hard. Leaders then risk losing their most talented followers who are aware of what’s happened and grow frustrated when low performing individuals or teams get to lag behind without direct consequences.

To recap,

  • Learn what your followers expectations are of you as their leader and provide clear direction that allows them to effectively follow you
  • Walk among them in all areas of the business to regularly listen their ideas and solutions to your business problems
  • Drive accountability behaviors that include having consequences and applying them consistently – if your expectations are not met.

It’s important. People Matter in Business.

Cindy Goyette, SPHR – Maximizing Human Capital, Inc. 2017