We All Long for Good Leaders
As the pub date for Leading So People Will Follow draws closer, I’m getting more opportunities to talk about the Leading model to various audiences, and it’s really fun seeing the responses I get.
For instance, a couple of months ago I had the chance to speak at the HRPS (HR People & Strategy) Global Summit in NYC. I had been told ahead of time that it was a ‘tough crowd’ – high level HR folks who have heard it all and are skeptical about anything not backed by exhaustive data. It was a little daunting!
But in actual fact, they were a wonderful group. We had a great conversation about leaders and what makes them ‘followable.’ I shared the six attributes – far-sighted, passionate, courageous, wise, generous and trustworthy – and they really seemed to resonate. As we talked about them, it seemed as though the audience was reflecting both on the leaders in their organizations and on themselves as leaders. A couple of people told heartfelt, moving stories about great leaders they had known, people who made a significant impact on those around them.
One man told us the story of a woman who had been hired to run a maximum security men’s prison. She had never run a prison before, and everyone assumed she would fail. But she was such a good leader - and especially, so courageous and trustworthy – that she earned the respect not only of the guards and staff, but of the prisoners as well. The room was silent as he spoke of her.
The whole experience with the HRPS group reinforced my belief that nearly all of us long for good, honorable, fully followable leaders. And that our longing for good leadership is much deeper than any cynical I’ve-heard-it-all-before intellectualization. It’s wired into us as a kind of group survival mechanism. Good leaders feel safe to follow – and bad leaders feel dangerous. We’ll obey them, but we never completely ‘sign up.’
Now don’t get me wrong – I don’t mean “follow” in some mindless, Attack of the Pod People kind of way. I don’t mean that we want to give away our power or our autonomy – in fact, we know instinctively that truly great leaders call out our best, and rely upon us to be independent thinkers. We understand that great leaders are a powerful catalyst, turning individuals into teams and teams into engines of accomplishment.
So, thanks to HRPS for inviting me to speak, and for re-confirming my faith in the depth of our longing for and openness to the ideal of great leadership.