What is a Leader without Followers? Well, not a leader, sadly. It’s like being a parent without children or a teacher without students; one cannot exist without the other. Lucky for the ones willing to be leaders, with the amount of different opinions in the world a leader can likely find at least one follower…even if the opinion or cause could be ethically questionable. But, that’s a topic for another day…
Back to the subject at hand: how should a Leader react when they encounter the first person not willing to follow them? In a more public forum, it would appear easy because you’d just move onto the next person, (right?) whoever’s entering or leaving the forum. No harm, no foul. But, the more professional side can be trickier because if you don’t believe in your leader or if your followers aren’t willing to follow you, quitting your job has a bit further-reaching consequences than just going out a different exit than the one you entered in.
So after recovering from the wide-eyed fish stare you get out of shock, what does a leader do next? My strategy has been to address the individual(s) who does/do not want to follow directly. But, who loves confrontation? Let me tell you: no one. You can become more comfortable with uncomfortable conversations, but I think that no one ever gets over the slightly nauseating feeling of having to have a difficult conversation with anyone. Despite my simultaneous willfulness and trepidation, this head-on tactic has proven to be efficient, if not effective. After all the cards have been laid out on the table, all the accountability been upheld, and all the grumblings are muttered under one’s breath, there’s still the decision if the leader-follower relationship is going to be established at all, much more on a healthy basis.
It’s easy if the potential follower decides to see the good reason in the leader’s approach and to take the role as follower. But, what if the individual doesn’t decide to follow? And worse case being you never know the reason why they won’t follow you, (Gasp! No critical, real-time feedback!). Or, if you’re lucky enough to have an individual give you their opinion directly, how do you handle their criticisms, excuses, or reasons? Do you let their criticisms dictate how you should change your leadership style?
I apologize for the hypotheticals; let’s take it more into context by painting a scenario:
Let’s say I have a direct report that used to report to me, we’ll call them Taylor, and has proven to be a rockstar among hir, (cross between his and her, too PC?), colleagues. She, (…still technically works) is compassionate, yet not a pushover when holding associates to business demands, she commands the respect and friendship of hir colleagues, and she is entirely respectful when following or questioning decisions from superiors. And, as their manager, I feel comfortable being more of myself around them. All this and knows the business really well; perfect employee, right? So, imagine now you have a few other trusted individuals state that Jordan doesn’t want to follow your leadership style or, even more disappointingly, you as a leader. Shocked? Hurt? Confused? All the above?
How do you approach an individual that you thought you had an open and trusting rapport with on that very topic: that you don’t have a rapport AT ALL, apparently? Or do you work back from square one? Maybe start to question the legitimacy of the statements you’ve heard, pawn them off as products of the rumor mill?
Obviously for this hypothetical situation, I would imagine a brief period of the feelings above being felt. Then, a reassessment of your priorities versus the situation of adversity would be the professional approach; do you let Taylor and their theoretical horse die of thirst after taking them to the river umpteenth times or do you try umpteenth + one more time?
Let me know your thoughts on the situation described above or other similar scenarios. Maybe describe how historically and trusted methods have proven to be successful then be able to compare to potential more modern approaches in leadership. Thanks ahead of time!