As we meet with candidates, we inevitably end up talking about leadership. Both the leadership skills they possess and value, as well as the kind of leadership they’ve experienced in their organizations.
Some have developed their leadership skills because of the leadership under which they’ve been serving and some have developed their gifts in spite of that leadership.
It’s not hard to figure out which approach is more effective. People perform more effectively, grow more quickly, become more motivated, and become more effective leaders in their own right when they have a leader that they want to follow.
What are some of the common characteristics of the leaders that people want to follow?
The leaders that others want to follow walk their talk.
They don’t say one thing and do another. They don’t talk negatively about members of their team behind their backs. They don’t blur ethical boundaries when it comes to how they handle their money, their family, or their workweek. They are exactly who they present themselves to be. Don’t be fooled – your people are watching you and they ARE evaluating you. Is this person someone I can trust? Will they keep their word? Will they have my back when they say they will? When the answer to those questions is YES, your team will follow you to the end of the world and back.
As a leader, you may not be aware of how intimidating you might seem to your team. Just saying, “My door is always open,” will make you feel better, but it won’t inspire your team to take you up on it. The truth is “Open Door” policies just don’t work. The best leaders, the leaders that people want to follow, are initiators. They leave their office and visit with their team members one on one or in groups. They don’t just ask, “How’s the project going?” They ask, “How are YOU doing?” and then really listen to the answer. Now, not all of us are naturally relational leaders, and we all have a lot on our plates. But great leaders that others want to follow will schedule time to intentionally care and connect with their team.
3. Seek Feedback
Great leaders not only ask, “How are you doing?”
They ask, “How am I doing?” and “How are WE doing as a team?”
If you want to be a leader that people want to follow, take time to sit down with your team members, both individually and as a team, and ask them to evaluate how you are doing as a leader. Are you giving them what they need? Do you have any blind spots that need to be addressed? What are you doing that is helping them be successful? What are you doing that might be getting in the way of them being successful? How are we doing as a team? Are the goals we’ve set for the year realistic? Do they have what they need to achieve those goals? How’s morale? What can you do to improve?
Of course, you’ll want to weigh the feedback you receive and run it past your key circle of advisors to get some clarity. It’s a scary proposition because you may actually hear the truth, and the truth might hurt. But it will make you a better leader. It will also make your people want to run through a wall for you because you’ve shown humility and respect for them.
4. Celebrate Success & Respect Failure
What do you do when God uses your team to accomplish something great? Or when one of your team does something exceptional that reflects your core values? Do you celebrate it? It might be as simple as a quick email that says you noticed and appreciate them. It might be something you talk about at a staff meeting or a team gathering. It might be a gift card for a lunch or coffee. Success needs to be celebrated!
Perhaps even more important than how you celebrate success is how you show honor and respect when someone on your team tries something great that fails.
In our interviews with candidates, I’m usually far more interested in how a person talks about their failures than in what they have accomplished. What did they learn from it? How did it change them or cause them to grow? What do they do differently now?
If you want to be a leader that people want to follow, celebrate the successes of your team but also honor and respect failure. Rather than simply chastising your team for something that didn’t work, use it as a teachable moment. Sit down with them and talk about what went wrong. What can you learn from it? What are ways that it can be redeemed?
5. Invest in their team members’ futures, even if it means they may leave your team one day.
In our work as search consultants, we often hear that “loyalty” is one of the character qualities our clients are looking for in their new team members. But loyalty is not just a character quality – it’s also earned by the way you invest in your team.
Great leaders that people want to follow want the best for their team members – they invest time, energy, and money into helping their people reach their potential as leaders in their own right.
When you look at your team members, always ask the question: What is their next area of growth? What would help them get there? What can I as a leader, or we as an organization, provide for them to help them realize their potential? Do we need to get them more training? Do they need to be mentored? Do they need more opportunities to try some things outside of their current role?
That investment may ultimately lead to a team member leaving to join another ministry, but it won’t be because they don’t want to follow your leadership. It will be because you prepared them to serve the Kingdom in new ways.
What do you think? What are some characteristics that make people a leader worth following?