One cannot lead people without a fundamental belief in their potential to achieve more than they themselves realize. – Me (unless I forgot where I heard it)
In the Gospel of Luke, a leader is described as one who serves. Jesus reminds us that who would be first, must be last. On Holy Thursday 2016, Pope Francis washed the feet of refugees; this year he washed the feet of prisoners. Robert Greenleaf wrote about Servant Leadership in his book of the same name. This type of leadership conflicts with our mythological idea of a leader who comes in with a fury and turns the world upside down. Yet the aspects of servant leadership have proven quite effective because to lead, someone must follow and any follower must ask, 'what's in it for me?'
This question is certainly a legitimate one because without knowing what is in it for ourselves, how we will benefit, there is no reason to follow. We need a reason to follow a leader, even our own leadership when we choose to change our lives. Without that reason, we won't commit to following, especially when that leader asks us to change. So for that leader to effectively lead, they must serve the follower and give them reasons to follow.
If we are going to lead ourselves through a change process, we need to believe in our potential to achieve more than we ourselves realize. As leaders, what should we do? As followers, what should we do to assess our leaders?
In all cases, leaders must demonstrate positive behaviors such as respect for people. Leaders must in all cases respect their followers and act as shields, absorbing the heat and letting their followers continue to do their jobs. Too often, leaders act as revolving doors, when there is heat, they often turn away and allow it to flow down to their people, insulating themselves from the pain and trouble. That is not leadership and when leaders demonstrate that behavior, they lack authenticity. As followers, we can only endure that type of leadership. That type of leader serves no one but themselves. As followers, we know they do not have our backs, so we won't have theirs.
When leaders demonstrate this type of behavior, they demonstrate that they cannot be trusted to take the heat or support their followers. Lacking trust of the followers, no leader can lead effectively. Leadership style degrades to a transactional style, the relationship between leader and follower simply becomes a transaction, an exchange between leader and follower.
However, when the leader's behavior and the values of the follower align, then leadership becomes more effective. Followers are held accountable as part of a shared value set. Both follower and leader are committed to a shared value and a larger objective. Actions on the part of the leader demonstrate their values, they are authentic as leaders and as followers, our values are aligned with their behaviors.
Some leaders adopt a different style, they serve their followers. In the most simple example, they simply make sure that their followers have what they need to do their job and take away any distractions that would prevent them doing their jobs successfully. These leaders demonstrate integrity, honesty, earn trust and respect. Since these leaders have earned the trust, respect and loyalty of the followers, followers should be earnest in providing that trust, respect and loyalty.
Another leadership style that in turn serves the followers is the transformational style of leadership. In this style, the leader works with the follower to develop them and to help transform them by growth and development. Ultimately, the follower's skill set, their value to the organization, the value that the leader places on the follower all are increased. As followers, it is easy to follow and support this type of leader. While they might challenge us, even frustrate us, and force us to find skills and abilities in ourselves, perhaps those that we don't even know we have, they are leaders that earn our respect, loyalty, and trust because of their trust in us to grow and add value to the organization.
Leadership in line with our values is easy to support and enthusiastically follow. When the behavior of leaders is in conflict with our values as followers our situation is extremely difficult. Followers generally need their jobs and need their careers so usually you cannot simply pick up and leave. Options are limited due to the economy, geographic location, education and family status, so it is imperative that we continually learn, manage our own careers, look for opportunities to provide career growth and sometimes remain stoic and let the storm pass until a new leader is appointed. In any case, as followers we have to support the leader and make the best of the situation by putting our followership into perspective. If our relationship with the leader simply finances our life, then so be it. We need to make a choice to either accept it, or manage our career to make a change that is more inline with our values when we can. We can do that by transferring to another part of the organization, changing jobs if we must, or even reinventing ourselves.
The obligation to ourselves to manage our own career, our own lives, to demonstrate free will and freedom of choice, to create meaning for ourselves, is our responsibility and ours alone. We cannot control the actions of those placed in leadership positions, but we certainly can make choices in line with our values where ever and when ever we can.