How to Be Someone Worth Following


reat leadership is in short supply nowadays according to Harvard Business Review. Even institutions typically revered for leadership ability like the U.S. Army are having some serious systemic leadership failures.

It’s estimated that poor leadership can cost companies millions of dollars and reduce their productivity easily 10%.

So good leaders are needed today more than ever. If you can be one, you’ll have a great advantage in your career.

But you don’t have to wait until you are in an official leadership role to lead. The best leaders aren’t necessarily the ones in charge. A leader is more of a state of mind than a title.

I’ve been in various military, corporate, and volunteer leadership positions for 25 years and have found that leaders aren’t always the ones in charge. But they are always the people who are most respected by those around them.

Anyone can be a leader regardless of their title.

Here’s how.

1. Take responsibility for what happens around you

I remember once I was driving a Hummer down a highway with a senior Marine. We spotted a piece of tire debris in the road. Rather than just dodge it and keep driving, he said “pull over up here.” I did, he got out and removed the debris. He said, “everything that happens around you is your responsibility. If you see something that you can fix, you have to do something about it.” That example stuck with me.

A leader “owns” what they can influence them and has a responsibility to make it better.

A good leader makes the people and situations around them better just by being who they are.

2. Realize the power of example

The picture in someone’s mind of what you do is worth a thousand of your words. A good leader knows how to motivate and speak the truth with words, but they’re even more motivational and truthful in the language of the actions they take.

What you do is what matters. Not so much what you say. What you say (your word) becomes more valuable if it consistently matches what you do.

Do the right thing, there’s always the right thing. If you can’t find it, you’re probably not wanting to find it because you know it will be harder to do.

“The three most important ways to lead people are:… by example… by example… by example.” — Albert Schweitzer

3. Develop moral courage

Moral courage is the proximity of your physical will to the right thing.

Going along with the crowd at work is easy. Maybe you all jump on the bandwagon of “our boss sucks” or “I’m not working hard.”

A leader, even when not in charge, is swayed more by her morality than by public consensus. Often the stiff spine of someone with a reasoned opinion is enough to sway consensus anyway.

If you sense people breeding toxic action at work, have the courage to be a positive change.

Doing the right thing may get you some jeers or grief from the cheap seats, but it always gets you respect. Most importantly, self-respect.

4. Be more decisive

Indecision is more about fear than not having enough information. What if you make the wrong decision? So be it. Own it and move on.

The wrong decision is usually better than no-decision.

A leader decides with the best information available to them then they act.

Indecisiveness isn’t a trait that garners a following. It’s a safe place where someone stays uncommitted…and average.

A leader decides with wisdom then acts with purpose.

5. Hone your sense of Justice

Your sense of justice must be blind.

You must apply the same set of standards across all situations when judging a situation. Even if the people involved are different.

If the boss you like wants you to do something unethical, it’s just as wrong as if one of your mischievous coworkers suggests it.

A leader prioritizes truth over ease.

Standing up against wrong can hurt your career sometimes, but integrity is more valuable than money. I’d rather be poor and honorable than rich and degenerate, wouldn’t you? Plus, most times it helps your career anyway.

When you have a solid sense of justice and you stick to it, people know you are worth listening to and following.

6. Check your humility

Humility is a sign of confidence and maturity in a leader. The best leaders are often so humble, they don’t even see what the big deal is about them. Think like George Washington who refused to become king or Chesley “Sully” Sollenberger who saved so many lives by just doing his job.

Both had a full license for arrogance and no one would blame them, but they were the opposite.

The best leaders do their best as their modus operandi, not for ego boosts.

Humble confidence is the hallmark of the best leaders.

Always stay humble no matter how awesome you become. There’s always someone even more awesome.

7. Increase your technical proficiency

It’s your duty to know what you can about what you do. This sounds simple, but I know from my military experience that the guys and girls who took their time to become experts in their role (not just enough to get by) were the aptest to get promoted.

They got respect from subordinates, peers, and superiors alike.

Knowledgable people aren’t always leaders, but leaders are almost always knowledgable.

If you are always learning and improving your knowledge about your specialty, you become a leader to those around you simply because you’ve taken on the responsibility to get better and know more. Even people higher up than you look up to you.

Who couldn’t follow someone like that?

8. Help others get to where they want to be

The best way to be liked is to help people get what they want. It seems like all of most professions revolve around this concept. Sales, business, writing.

Be of value to someone by being giving them a ride from their desires to a spot closer to their goals.

Don’t just give people what they want, help them get what they want for themselves.

Help your boss, help those under you, help your peers.

The most helpful people become natural leaders as people see them as unselfish, kind, and plain valuable human beings worth following.

9. Be unselfish in praise

As Ben Franklin said“speak ill of no man and speak all the good you know of everybody.” It’s good advice. I have yet to find a time in any leadership role where speaking badly about someone else got that leader ahead in any way.

If you hate what someone, say little about it. If you love what someone did, gush about it.

According to a scientific principle called spontaneous trait transference, if you say good things about others, good things are associated with you.

It’s really that simple.

The reverse is also true — when you talk crap, others associate crap with you.

10. Take initiative

You won’t always be appreciated for this, especially in lower-level jobs where you’re not encouraged to think outside the box. But the best leaders know that initiative is the sign of a good mind.

Taking smart action in the absence of orders is the sign of a leader.

You don’t have to be in charge to decide then act.

Don’t just stand there. Do something. Find a creative way to make something work.

If you do, people will listen. People will follow.

Final thoughts

You never have to wait to be in charge to be a leader. You can start now.

Take responsibility, set the example, hone your sense of right and wrong, and take action.

And remember to always be yourself.

In these ways, people will naturally gravitate toward you. They’ll naturally seek your input and help. They’ll respect who you are and they’ll want to follow you.

Because you’re now a leader who people respect.

Regardless of your title.

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