Tuesday, December 8, 2009

How to create followers.

Post 382 - People won't just follow anyone. You can't just say, "Follow me," and expect them to follow out of the goodness of their hearts. You have to provide them with good reasons to follow. So, if you're looking to lead people, it's a good idea to understand why they're likely to become followers.

Some key aspect of creating followers:
- people follow someone they trust.
- people follow someone they like.
- people follow someone who supports them.
- people follow ideas, not objectives.

Here are five rationales that people use when deciding to follow a leader:

• Fear of retribution - If I don't follow, I may lose my job!

Following out of fear is not so much following as being pulled or pushed along. This will work only as long as the follower sees no other choice. Fear isn't a good tool for effective leadership - it's a lot of work to keep people sufficiently scared! Fear generates weak commitment and needs constant attention in case the follower freezes or flees.

• Blind hope - We must do something. I hope this works!

Here, the follower is desperate for some solution, and what the leader offers is either the only option they see or the best of a relatively weak set of choices. The follower is therefore not so much following out of agreement but because of a lack of alternatives. These kind of hopeful followers are likely to be disappointed and disillusioned with a less than a perfect outcome. And they're likely to leave and follow others if they give them more hope.

• Faith in the leader - What a great person. If anyone knows the answer, they do!

Here, the follower doesn't care about the solution but is following because they have faith that the leader will, by some magic or genius, provide an answer to their needs. Again, there's significant hope in this form of motivation which could result in disappointment. But here, in case of failure, the follower is more likely to accept situational explanations rather than pointing the finger at inadequacies in the leader's capabilities.

• Intellectual agreement - That's a great idea. That makes real sense.

Here, the follower understands the logic of the argument that the leader's putting forward and is following that rationale rather than the leader as a person. This level of followership is typical of educated people who need to understand the reasons why things happen. They may also have emotional commitment, but it typically comes after rational buy-in has occurred.

• Buying the vision - What a brilliant idea. I don't care who thought of it.

When people buy into a vision, they're emotionally invested in a view of the future that appeals to them and pulls them forward. So they're not following the leader per se, and they're often unaware of how they'll actually get to the vision state at a later date. Visions are much talked about in the leadership literature and can be remarkably effective at motivating people, but only if they're sustained over a considerable period of time. It's one thing to articulate a compelling vision of the future; however, it's another to keep going during the difficult days that are typically involved in getting there.

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