How Do Leaders Influence Followers? By Maureen Metcalf

This blog is a companion to the interview with Dr. Gama Perucci and Aldo Boitano on VoiceAmerica “Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations” on January 10, 2017, focusing on leaders moving away from the cult of personality and toward supporting the mission of the organization by supporting followers. This interview was conducted at the International Leadership Association Annual Conference.

We define innovative leadership as the ability to influence by engaging self, culture and systems equally. To me this means I am highly focused on influencing the people I lead and yet much of the leadership research focuses on the leadership qualities with the assumption that we are developing leaders that people want to follow. Is that an accurate statement?

I grew up in a military family and my dad talked about “fragging”. Per Wikipedia: The term fragging is used to describe the deliberate killing or attempted killing by a soldier of a fellow soldier. I imagine most of us can imagine a leader we worked with that we did not appreciate. Early in my career I remember a well-meaning boss yelling at me for a minor mistake. Our culture was one where yelling was the primary method of reinforcing our leaders were serious. As a leadership consultant, I can’t imagine coaching my clients to yell more to build follower confidence.

One of the key elements of effective leadership is the ability to inspire followership. In chapter 12 of Leader 2050: Critical Challenges, Key Contexts, and Emerging Trends, authors, Susan Cannon, Mike Morrow-Fox and I provided a list of seven competencies needed by highly effective leaders now and in the future. This chapter walks through trends that will impact the future and leadership mindsets and behaviors that are currently required and will need to be nurtured for leaders to be most effective. One of the key facets in this model is that it is designed to help leaders attend to the high level of volatility and uncertainty we all face. One of these seven competencies is the ability to inspire followership.

An example of a leader inspiring followership was one of my mentors, Paul. Years after we worked together, people still talk about our working experience and how what they learned from him impacted their lives. What I remember most was his humility and commitment to the team’s success. He did all the standard motivational stuff and seemed to have a spark of true desire to see all of us succeed. He took the roles others didn’t want to ensure we succeeded. These were often small gestures and yet they inspired a measure of commitment I have rarely seen in the last fifteen years since we worked together. When I do see it, it is easy to spot because of the environment these leaders create.

Now to dive in more detail into how we defined inspiring followership:
1. Has the special ability to connect with people at all levels of the organization to create a shared vision.
2. Intuitively understands change, the steps to managing change, and how to help the organization overcome its resistance to change.
3. Has an innate ability to diffuse conflict without avoiding or sidestepping the source of the conflict.
4. Has a great ability to use humor effectively to put people at ease.
5 Able to relate to a broad range of people and understand their motivators and stressors.
6. Innately connect projects to the individual goals while working to overcome barriers.
7. Able to provide valuable feedback to others in a manner that is supportive of growth and development of the recipient.

One facet that stood out to me during the interview with Dr. Gama Perucci focusing on moving away from the cult of personality was the idea that leaders \ succeed and inspire followership in part through their ability to diagnose the organizational culture and specific situation and identify which behaviors are required in any given situation. The focus on culture and context allows the leader to more accurately identify the appropriate action. This need for diagnosis makes intuitive sense and yet most of us have roles and behaviors that are more comfortable and less comfortable. I tend to prefer the middle – I don’t love command and control but I am also very particular about when I include people and who I include. Versatile leaders can diagnose where situations call for command and control or participatory leadership and everything in between.

Leaders who inspire followers understand where the followers excel and where to either build additional skills or where to share power with someone else who has stronger skills in areas we are not as agile. This behavioral agility is one of the important differentiators. How do you navigate understanding the behavior and when to let others to take the lead? Are you willing to share power? How do you enhance and expand that capacity in areas that are not currently either comfortable or strong? As a leader, it is important to understand the importance of moving along the continuum of behaviors ranging from command and control to participatory depending on your situation.

To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills.

About the author
Maureen Metcalf, CEO and Founder of Metcalf & Associates, is a renowned executive advisor, author, speaker, and coach whose 30 years of business experience provides high-impact, practical solutions that support her clients’ leadership development and organizational transformations. Maureen is recognized as an innovative, principled thought leader who combines intellectual rigor and discipline with an ability to translate theory into practice. Her operational skills are coupled with a strategic ability to analyze, develop, and implement successful strategies for profitability, growth, and sustainability.

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