Do Leaders Need Followers? Maybe!

So, what does it take to be a leader? Can you count the number of times that question has been asked and answered? While many answers exist, this short TED video by Derek Sivers (@sivers) from 2010, offers compelling evidence of leadership.

Dynamite Entertainment's The Lone Ranger #4 co...

Dynamite Entertainment’s The Lone Ranger #4 cover. Art by John Cassaday. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Leaders need followers.  Sure, you can be a lone wolf – a la The Lone Ranger. However, The Lone Ranger’s impact was limited because he lacked followers to carry his vision far and wide. Contrast that with the young man in Derek’s TED presentation.

The first guy to dance inspired another, which then inspired another and the flood gates opened wide from there.  Now, one could argue that getting people to dance at an outdoor concert is like shooting fish in a barrel.  But, what compelled them to run over and dance with this guy and his followers? Dancing in place would have allowed them quicker access to their stuff. Obviously, people like to contribute to something bigger than themselves.

I don’t intend to diminish the ability of any one individual to impact the world. Sometimes, the sacrifice of a single individual will inspire a movement.  But, unless someone communicates that sacrifice the purpose may be lost. Inspiring others to act will exponentially impact the world with every new follower. The Lone Ranger’s mission could not be fulfilled with followers (aside from his side-kick Tonto). His vigilante approach demanded that he live outside societal norms.  Therefore, followers may have meant that he was less capable of fulfilling his mission.

The point I’m trying to make is that you need to determine the type of leader you want to become.  Do you have a single mission that will be accomplished within your lifetime? Or, will you start something bigger by attracting followers to carry on your vision.

I thought my single mission was to simply raise my children to be good productive citizens. While that satisfies the basic needs, my mission is more complicated than that. I know I cannot guarantee any specific outcomes, but I feel compelled to continue the progress of past generations.  Perhaps, I can inspire my kids to leadership by emulating those traits and helping them find their passion and their followers.

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4 Critical Leadership Traits

Image via www.rottentomatos.com

The not-so-common sense leadership traits of aspiration, planning, inspiration and execution are nicely articulated in this Inc. article, 4 Traits of Great Leaders, written by Matthew Swyers (@trademarkco).   His example of John F. Kennedy rallying a nation to reach for the moon is an easily recognizable accomplishment from the 20th century. Ultimately, he is not saying anything new here, but merely pointing out that an advanced degree in physics isn’t necessary to become a great leader. And, generating ideas does not make you a leader. Great leaders create a plan to achieve their dreams and inspire others around them to help them execute the plan.

I used to believe in the lone wolf strategy of leadership. You might have one or two sidekicks that helped you achieve your goals, but ultimately it was the individual that made things happen. I call this the “Lone Ranger” approach to leadership. As I matured, I realized that the Lone Ranger only impacts his small corner of the planet.  However great he might be, he is limited by his time and geography.

Today I know that to truly change the world in a meaningful way you need to inspire others to follow your plan. You need to be an evangelist and cheerleader. Just because someone bestows a title upon you, does not mean that you will inspire anyone. A title doesn’t inspire people. It might intimidate some people to move when you are present; but, will they still be passionate to carry on once you leave.

Most everyone aspires to be something more and sometimes that makes us simply envious of others. While, other times it inspires us to think we too can do it if we follow their plan. There is a whole industry of people out there trying to sell you their plan for success. Frankly, following a plan may teach you their method of success, but unless you tinker with it and make it your own plan you will not learn how to inspire others. Own your inspiration, own your plan and most importantly inspire others to execute it with you. Learn, revise and execute your plan again if you must. Learning is key, doing is critical!

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