There's a familiar saying that if no one is following you, you're just out taking a stroll. The question for leaders "out taking a stroll" is: Why isn't anyone behind you?
If you're a leader and your employees aren't following you, consider these eight possible reasons:
1. They don't like you.
Research shows we'd rather work with incompetent people who are nice than competent people who aren't. If you treat people poorly and are generally unlikable, it is unlikely anyone will follow you unless they are scared to death to do otherwise.
The notable exceptions in business history have been those unlikable leaders who had such visionary products that others were willing to put up with their behavior. The question remains, however: How much more successful could these high-fliers have been if they'd paid more attention to likability?
2. They don't trust you.
I have a friend who is a blast to drink beer with. He's always got funny stories and the latest dirt to share. He discloses lots of things about others. And while I like him, I don't trust him. I know that when he's drinking beer with someone else, I'm likely to be the topic of his talking out of school.
Trust is even more important than likability. While I may not like someone in a business situation, I can still do business with them without fear of being unjustly harmed or cheated.
3. They don't want to go where you're leading.
People are unwilling to go anywhere that doesn't represent a positive change. They can even handle the challenges and sacrifices of a new undertaking if they believe there is a payoff on arrival.
A client of mine had a vision statement that was heavy on financial metrics but said nothing about the quality of life for employees or customers. I wasn't surprised that nobody could remember what the vision was, nor care about achieving it. Their vision statement became effective when it was rewritten to express the future for all stakeholders, including employees.
4. They don't know why they should do what you ask.
Kim is a young leader who is very focused and task-oriented. She is well-known for issuing edicts and delegating tasks without explanation. She believes it makes her more time effective, and if anyone asks why, she calmly replies, "Because I said so."
"Because I said so" is tough for kids to swallow and more difficult for adults. Knowing why a request is made is something any intelligent adult would desire. Harried leaders, however are often better at giving commands than explaining them or providing context.
5. They don't think you have their best interests at heart.
There are times you may ask an employee to do something simply because it is a condition of their job. Don't, however, think that subterfuge, spin or trickery is fair play. It will undermine your credibility. Be honest in the direct payoff -- or lack thereof.
If you accomplish organizational goals at the expense of your team members, your legacy is that of tyrant. As overused as the phrase "win-win" may be, it is still a guiding principle of leaders who get followed.
6. They don't feel supported and/or appreciated.
Just because you pay people to work with you doesn't mean they don't deserve appreciation. A sincere thank you goes a long way towards a motivated team. And support means you care enough to remove barriers and provide the resources your team needs to win.
7. They don't have the training necessary to be good followers.
Phil is a beloved leader. When he picks someone to lead an important project, his initial conversation always includes this question: "Is there anything you'll need to learn now to be successful?"
No amount of motivation will help an employee succeed if he or she doesn't possess the necessary skills. If you are leading a technology initiative, for example, begin by identifying the skills it will take for employees to support you in the change.
8. They don't respect you.
People respect you for who you are, your competence, abilities and relationships with others. Who a person chooses to follow and why says a lot about him or her. That's why employees are reluctant to follow a leader who lacks integrity and people skills. By giving allegiance to someone you don't respect, you lose a little self-respect in the process.
Nobody is perfect all the time, but those who get followed devote more time and effort to being the kind of leader who deserves to get followed.