I recently came across this quote from John Quincy Adams, the 6th President of the United States, who was in office from 1825–1829. It reminded me that leadership is not a title, a role or a position; it is simply who you are being for others.
When I talk about leadership I ask the audience one simple question: If there is one thing that you need to be a leader, what is it?
I get many responses: purpose, vision, values, confidence, relationship building skills, even charisma – all good answers, but the one answer often missing is ‘afollower’.
Although the role of the follower is not often discussed, being a leader means that people choose to follow, not for the leader’s sake, but for themselves. This is because the world the leader describes is attractive to them, and because the example the leader sets shows them it is possible to achieve. People choose to follow leaders that inspire them to be more and accomplish things they would not accomplish on their own.
Simon Sinek expressed this point very eloquently in his TED talk of 2009, How Great Leaders Inspire Action. He also says that ‘people don’t buy What you do, they buy Why you do it’. People connect most powerfully with the Why – the cause, belief, the very reason an organisation exists. As guardians of the Why, leaders create or co-create a vision, a picture at a moment in time, that is a powerful representation of the organisation delivering on its Why. If this is communicated in a way that people choose to get involved, we say they are impelled into action, not compelled, i.e. they are choosing to be a follower because they believe what the leader believes.
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