Getting Others to Follow Your Lead

Barry Posner

Q: The Leadership Challenge is among the most comprehensive, clear, and practical books on leadership I have ever read. Through many readings, I have discovered aspects of leadership I had never considered before as well as those I'd only imagined or considered as abstract perceptions. However, there is still one factor that inhibits me from fully engaging in the leadership challenge: my sense of being an ordinary person, no more or less intelligent than others, always makes me ask, why should anyone follow me? Why should others listen to my ideas when they have their own mind to listen to? Why should I envision a future for others, if this will lead them to follow my path instead of a path of their own design?

A: Two quick thoughts on your question. First, leadership has to start somewhere, and with someone. So, why not with you and your ideas? If you have the courage, the sense of direction, and the internal drive and motivation to achieve results, why not begin the journey by setting an example (leading the way)? The Leadership Challenge, after all, is fundamentally about how ordinary people exercise leadership to get extraordinary things done by establishing the foundation of credibility and then putting The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® into action each and every day.

Second, leadership is not all about the leader's vision. Of course, an essential part of effective leadership is the ability to demonstrate–in action and words–that the vision you have for the future is where others want to go as well. But getting there takes more than an individual leader and more than just a single idea or dream. Consider that you may get something started – a change initiative, for example, that is rooted in your personal passion and credibility. Based upon input, involvement, and feedback from others, what might have begun as "your idea" becomes "our idea." The future you may have first envisioned has no doubt morphed into a shared vision that incorporates the dreams and aspirations of others, which is precisely how leaders, in the final analysis, turn followers into leaders themselves.

If you are inclined to explore this issue further, you also may find reading A Leader's Legacy helpful. In this book, my co-author, Jim Kouzes, and I explore a number of topics, including the very notion of how leadership is not just about one leader's vision, why it takes courage to –make a life,– how to liberate the leader in everyone, and ultimately, how the legacy you leave is the life you lead.

Articles & Stories