7 reasons why followers follow

Examples of visionary leadership are everywhere. Settlers band in groups and follow a leader to a new region or country. Soldiers follow officers into battle. Voters support candidates. Workers leave the security of an existing job to join a new company.  Wives follow husbands, husbands follow wives.  Congregations follow pastors.  Students follow teachers…and the list goes on.

Why? Why do they do so? It is a comprehensive subject and by no means singular or simple. Few follow for one reason. For most of us, the components are a variable recipe of ingredients. But they are identifiable. Unlike Colonel Sanders, the ingredients are not held under lock and key, known only to a few.  You have almost certainly discerned a few. Here’s my list:

The anticipation of discovery – people are attracted to the possibility of new things, especially if they bring with them the promise of reward

The prospect of a better life – nearly everyone wants to improve their status.

The possibility of great good – many are drawn to the idea of doing a great good for others.

The relief from great discomfort – for some, the desire to escape is driven by their present circumstances

The expectation of fulfilled hope – ideals look for expression. Some who follow do so because their leader(s) offer the promise of bringing about the expression of all they’ve hoped for. This is usually political, charitable, religious or a combination.

The expression of practical values – I’ve addressed this under the topic of motivation. The meeting of values synergizes into a powerful dynamic.

The protection of tangible and intangible assets – Soldiers engage in great risk to protect their families and their countries. On a less vivid scale, employees follow company leaders because they offer the prospect of saving what they have and getting more. Workers sacrifice because intangible assets – family and faith – are stronger compulsions than tangible ones.

Followers are willing to endure temporary sacrifice, momentary loss, and intermediary threat in pursuit of these 7 things or some combination deemed worthy.

But, you object, this is supposed to be a series on vision. What does this have to do with vision?

Quite a bit!

A leader’s success will directly hinge on their ability to paint a picture so compelling, so engaging, that followers are willing to sacrifice to come along for the ride. Leaders must not only see they must also be able to say what they see in such a way that it resonates within those they would lead.

This really is not negotiable. All successful leaders are successful communicators. A leadership dynamic may not work because of other reasons, but it certainly will not work in the absence of communicated vision.

And, what we communicate must somehow, someway reveal one or more of the above 7 things if it is to resonate in the value system of the follower. Great examples are:

Moses – led an unruly bunch out of one culture and built an entirely new one in a different place by articulating a vision of the “promised land.”

George Washington – led a rag tag army of untrained militiamen to overthrow the most powerful army in the world with his promise of a better life.

Abraham Lincoln – convinced hundreds of thousands to willingly go into harm’s way to protect a system of values and make life better for thousands more.

Julius Caesar – laid the foundations of empire through stellar political skills.

Winston Churchill – his matchless ability as an orator strengthened the resolve of a nation and broke the back of an oppressor.

And, of course, there is you. Less well known perhaps. Smaller context, nonetheless important. I am not suggesting we engage in delusions of grandeur. Few of us will ever be called upon to leave such a visible mark on civilization. But each and every day we are in a position to principally do the same thing – create something so compelling it finds a response within those we lead.

How well are you doing in calling out one or more of the 7 reasons listed above? Have you even thought about it? Take a few minutes today to try and identify why those who follow you do so and what you can do to make your leadership even more effective? How well do you regularly communicate the vision?

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