One of the most crucial lessons in leadership that many people miss is this: People do not follow you because you have the best ideas, or the most logical problem-solving skills. People follow you because they want to. Simple as that.
John Maxwell describes five levels of leadership in his book, Developing the Leader Within You. The first is Position – where one leads simply because he has the title or position. If you are a positional leader, people follow you because they have to.
The next level is Permission, where people follow because they want to. This happens when the leader has developed good relationships within the organization. At this stage, people do not simply follow you out of obligation. They actually like you. They feel they understand you as you understand them. They are actually giving you consent to lead them.
This second level of leadership is key because it paves the way to the higher levels. Without it, you will forever be stuck on the first level and will never achieve results beyond the barest minimum that your followers will give you. They will follow only out of compliance, never out of desire or sheer enthusiasm.
To understand why this is so, we must understand that decision-making is an emotional process, not a logical one. As much as we like to think we are rational creatures who make well-reasoned and logical decisions most of the time, the fact is that we really don’t. Look around your house and see how many things are there that you bought but don’t really need.
As someone once said, “We make decisions based on our emotions and afterwards use logic to justify those decisions.”
Research by Antonio Damasio confirms this theory. Damasio studied patients who had a specific kind of brain damage that prevented them from feeling emotions. Everything else about the person seemed normal. One would expect these people to make logical and reasonable decisions every time, like a real-life version of Mr. Spock from Star Trek. However, Damasio discovered that instead of that expected outcome, these people were unable to make very simple decisions such as what to wear or what to eat.
This led him to conclude that decisions are indeed linked strongly to one’s emotions rather than one’s logic. It is the same way when people choose their leaders.
Effective leaders understand that their first task is to be liked — a knowledge that is sometimes dangerous especially to abusive leaders, because once people like you, they will tend to defend you no matter what decisions you make. There is a maxim often quoted about this it is almost a cliche, but it is nonetheless true: Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.
The key to getting people to follow you is by showing that you care about them, their lives, their families, their struggles, their hopes and their dreams. When you achieve this level of leadership, you can move on to the next, which is Production — getting your team to produce results that you want. At this stage, people follow you because of what you do for the organization. Then you move up to People Development — molding and grooming others into leadership positions, and here people follow you because of what you do for them.
Lao Tzu got it right when he wrote:
Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them.
Start with what they know. Build with what they have.
But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished,
the people will say “We have done this ourselves.”
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