Create followers – Great Leadership Idea No. 23

by | 30 Oct 2013 | Leadership Ideas


Giving people orders – commanding people to do things – works (a bit) in some situations. We’ve got used to it. We (the commanded) roll our eyes, sigh and get down it even if, as is so often the case, the person doing the ordering has clearly missed the point.

Still – it’s not our job to tell them that, right? We just do what we’re told and let them see where it ends up. It’s amusing, after all, if it ends up with the kind of unholy mess we could have told them would happen if they’d bothered to ask our opinion.

Giving people orders will never persuade people to go the extra mile. And it is not even applicable when we need people to do something because it is the right thing to do for the organisation, not because they have been told to do it, or when it is important that they really care about what they are doing and are not just going through the motions.

For any of these scenarios (which are the only ones that really matter) we need people to do things because they have bought in; because they know that this is what the organisation needs; because they have chosen to follow the leader.

Colleagues need to ‘believe in a story’

Anne Mulcahy of Xerox Corporation talked to the New York Times in 2009  about the need for colleagues to ‘believe in a story’ about the direction in which the organisation is moving, so that they can embrace that direction with real commitment.  She makes the point that colleagues not only have the choice to take their talents elsewhere, they also have the choice not to embrace any particular initiative and to ‘wait things out’, which is a polite way of saying, ‘to wait until the new programme has failed and the current leadership has moved on’.

“We talk a lot about execution and the importance of it. But I actually think it’s a lot more about followership — that your employees are volunteers and they can choose to wait things out if they don’t believe. And that can be very damaging in a big company.

“So it is absolutely this essence of creating followership that becomes the most important thing that you can do as a leader [. . .] It’s actually fundamental communications, in terms of your ability to really get out there and be with your people, tell a story.

“People really have to begin to believe in a story to get passionate about the direction the company is going in, which hopefully you’ve been able to do through the way you articulate it, simplifying the complex so that people can get their arms around it and see how they can make a difference. There’s nothing quite as powerful as people feeling they can have impact and make a difference. When you’ve got that going for you, I think it’s a very powerful way to implement change.”

Present compelling reasons

Leaders need to create followers; modern organisations cannot be commanded to deliver, and leaders must present compelling reasons why people should want to follow any chosen direction

When colleagues have fully embraced a particular idea and become passionate about it, and when they understand exactly what contribution they personally can make, the organisation is capable of achieving powerful change.


‘Create Followers’ is further explored in 100 Great Leadership Ideas


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