What makes you follow a leader?

Churchill was a leader that the British people wanted to follow. But there are a lot of bad leaders in this world. So what makes people follow a leader? Maybe Gareth Jones, London Business School fellow, has the answer? Watch this short Harvard video with him outlining what gives leaders loyal followers:

The current lack of faith in leaders is lamentable. Gareth Jones is absolutely right when he states that “if we lose faith in our political and economic institutions, we are in deep trouble”, and adds that we need great performance from our leaders.

Effective leadership excite people to exceptional performance

His definition applies not only to businesses, but politics, schools, hospitals and all other areas of life.

Leadership has been studied for about 150 years, and according to Gareth Jones, mainly asked the wrong questions. It’s hence presumed that people who make it to the top are leaders.

So one thousand people were asked what they want from a leader alternatively what do the people they aspire to lead want from them as leaders. The result was the following four aspects:

  • Community
  • Authenticity – a real person they can trust
  • Significance – that their leader appreciates the contribution they make
  • Excitement

In other words, an effective leader should be an authentic, skillful role performer with the capacity to transform organisations and enrich lives. That kind of leader get followers, according to the study.

Do you agree with the result that community, authenticity, significance and excitement is what makes you follow a leader? If you are a leader, are those characteristics what makes people follow you? Or do you disagree with the results of the study? Are you of the opinion that we need to restore trust in leaders and leadership? Would it make a difference if they displayed the characteristics outlined? Or maybe you have a different opinion of what makes people follow a leader? And how would you restore trust in leaders?

Video: Harvard Business Review – Picture: MsSaraKelly

77 thoughts on “What makes you follow a leader?

  1. There is an old saying in the military, "Either lead, follow or get out of the way"
    I often wonder about what makes a leader, one thing is definitely confidence in your skill as a leader. You cannot lead others, if you do not believe in yourself where you are going.
    Politics sometimes is not as simple as the military. I often think leaders are picked, for what they can do at that moment, instead of looking down the road to see where you are headed.
    Great post and thank you for sharing it with us.

  2. In the past, people followed "bad" leaders as they were able to convince them that their vision would somehow benefit their lives. They managed to convince them they were the better race and deserved to reign.

    It only takes one to step out and say and do the very things others have deep rooted in their heart. Look at how Donald Trump came into precidency. Many shared his views but concealed them until now.

    1. Trump is a nightmare. But I hope you are not saying Churchill was a bad leader? If so, you should take into account that if it had not been for him personally Hitler would have won World War II.

  3. I think the best leaders are those who are not afraid to be a servant. If I see someone willing to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty to make things better, then I’m more likely to respect them. And to jump in and do the work myself!

  4. I agree with Mr. Jones's comment about shifting our focus from , what leaders are providing to, what are we receiving from their leadership His statement,,"effective leadership excites people to exceptional performance" is right on. I'd add effective leadership excites people to exceptional performance that benefit the group. Leaders need to motivate people positive, proactive behavior that promote group goals.

  5. What a thought provoking post Catarina. Looking back over my career and the people in leadership roles that most influenced me it is true that – more or less – they each possessed these attributes. Trust has always been a big issue for me and I most admire people who "walk their talk" and when I've been in leadership positions that standard has always guided me.

    As to politicians and world leaders – hear me groan. I am fiercely proud of being an American, at the same time have no qualms about admitting that collectively we are at times a sorry lot and our government and political system could really use a kick in the pants. Fortunately, we have the opportunity to do something about that by doing our homework prior to the next election and getting our butts in gear and voting. Thanks for the inspiration!
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    1. Seems you agree with Gareth Jones, Marguita. Agree with you that how politics work in the United States leave a lot to be desired. However, it's probably difficult to change it becuase your Supreme Court decided that a corporation = a person.

  6. Because we are at the start of an election cycle in the United States I can't help thinking about how many of the candidates for President in the United exhibit these four attributes. Authenticity? That's hard to find. Maybe some can generate a little excitement. For a day or two. In business the authenticity one might be the least common as well.

  7. I follow leaders who;
    1. Have integrity
    2. Show their vulnerability
    3. Allow others to shine, even more so than them
    4. Like and care for people

    I am a leader and I believe people work with me as I like to encourage and empower. I dig deep to find skills and talents that people have buried. I am true to myself and whilst professional, do not put on airs and graces. I am aware of my limitations and can celebrate the achievements of others.

  8. I think the danger is that people often confuse charm with authenticity. Because charming people often manipulate in a way as to seem authentic. And then you have people following the wrong person. I think this is a big reason why the wrong people can gain power. I do think a lot of people in the US have lost faith in their leaders and this has left holes in our country. And this is how someone like Trump can rise up against people who are way more experienced. People are just desperate for someone to believe in.

    1. Know and have met a lot of top leaders all over the world. The really successful ones are both authentic and charming. How do you make followers enthusiastic if you are not charming? Do you really find people like Putin charming? The same applies to Trump. He's a bully, not charming. The reason Trump is so popular is because Americans are fed up with politicians. Even Ben Carson who regard abortion as worse than slavery is popular because he is not a politician.

  9. I'm thinking of the 4 factors of leadership here: Community, Authenticity (trusting), Significance (appreciation) and Excitement – in the context of what is happening in the USA politics. Sure they're important but I don't see all four showing up. How we the people put up with the lack of political leadership here is amazing. Since we keep electing the same gangster leaders, I'm asking myself, "what else is there beyond these four characteristics?"

    Then what I come up with is – money, big money. That directs me over to our business leaders. That is where most of the big money comes from and it's shameful how much there is in the game.

    Jones has simplified it, and with many every day citizens disengaged (I cannot tell you have often I am told this in one way or another) the one piece that jumps out to me as missing is – responsibility. That's to say, self-responsibility. We the people deserve what we get.

    Sorry I got stuck on politics but with it in the limelight now here, it is what it is! Thanks Catarina as always for the insights.

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    1. Agree with you, Patricia. But look at Turkey, it seems they just gave the autocrat Erdogan majority in parliament. He sure does not have any of the qualities mentioned. Have a feeling tactics have been used that made some voters feel they had no choice but to vote for him. Not sure how and why but something's not right here.

  10. The questions are dare to leaders to be introspective. This is a must to ask and a must for every leader to answer.

    Authenticity resonated for me. There was a tweet from Forbes how to lead effectively. One comment I pointed out: “Leaders should be a role model.”

    1. Of course they don't. Most people consider themselves to be leaders when maximum 10% of humanity are. The small amount of people who are leaders dare to be introspecitve. The rest don't. The world would truly be a better place if there were more leaders, as opposed to managers, on this planet.

  11. Catarina, I agree with the qualities that make a leader – which is basically making employees part of the team and getting them excited about the project.
    The political scene is also true – we have just had a federal election here and when people where asked afterwards what issues prompted them to vote the way they did, they couldn’t answer. So here the apathy really shows up – not knowing the issues but voting because many said “he has rock star qualities’. We not only have poor leadership, we have poor thinkers who aren’t interested in issues that are going to have a huge impact on them.
    Is this what poor leadership leads to?

    1. Yep, leadership in the world is lamentable at the moment. People even follow autocrats like Erdogan and Putin. Make no bones about it Lenie the majority of Russians like him because he knows how to play them.

  12. It’s an interesting question you pose. I like the definition of effective leadership as “exciting people to exceptional performance.” I agree that community, authenticity, significance, and excitement are important qualities to inspire people to follow. For me I also need to agree with and believe in the overall vision.

    1. Yes, Donna, exciting people to exceptional performance is probably the most important aspect. Wish all these managers who consider themselves leaders would at least try to have that impact on the people they "lead".

  13. Hi Catarina.

    That trust factor is HUGE!

    Thanks for sharing 😉

    Ryan
    My recent post Personal Development: Are You Taking Advice from Hundredaires?

  14. Catarina,
    In theory, I agree with what Gareth Jones has to say. However, I'm very disheartened lately when it comes to the political leaders who are being elected to lead our country. I think a lot of people don't really value the very strengths that make a good leader. Instead, they allow themselves to be swayed by perception and in many cases, simply follow the news media. Many of our politicians are elected simply on name recognition or celebrity endorsements. It's unfortunate but reality,
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  15. great post, i fully agree with this. the lack of leaders is lamentable. As someone who is trying to lead in this style, the feedback is always poor leadership skills and be more like the others

    1. Thank you, Gordon. Glad you agree. One major reason for poor leadership is that an abundance of managers not only regard themselves as leader but are presumed to be leaders. Pity they are not:-)

  16. For me all those things mentioned are important, but the context of the leadership is also key. If we are talking about government, nothing I say or do will make a difference. Our government has reached the point where it is broken and desperately needs to be fixed. Leadership within an organization is another matter entirely. The leader needs to earn my respect through all those things noted. I will follow if I feel motivated and have respect for the leader.
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  17. For me, the most effective way to restore faith in leadership was getting involved with a professional learning community started by one of the teachers at my former school. The emphasis was taking off of restructuring and shifted to reculturing. Leadership reform will always have a great impact when the greatest number of people can be involved in the most authentic way possible.
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      1. Leadership needs to open a dialogue as well. Involving others and validating their voices and concerns lends itself to motivation in so many ways, and good leaders need to be good motivators.

  18. A good leader LEADS and leads in a way that people feel empowered. I have worked with "leaders" that have been great and others that have been terrible. I use each experience as a lesson.
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  19. Authentic and a skillful role performer; in the same sentence…I know you mean performing job duties, but what came to mind is a great actor, someone who roles plays his/her sincerity and I think that's why most of these politicians get the job in the first place. They act charismatic and such, but when shit hits the fan– so does their leadership qualities.
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    1. Actually a leader needs to be a good performer in the sense of acting as well. Don't forget that Nelson Mandela is agood example of a charismatic leader that makes people want to follow him. Actually, I'm not sure how many of your politicians are charismatic? Seriously doubt that many of them are so charismatic their energy fills up the room. Have met hundreds of top politicians all over the world and only a handful of them have that kind of charisma.

        1. More likely charm. How many people have you met that have an energy that fills up the room? You know the kind of people others are drawn to. That's charisma i.e. energy. Very few people have that. Don't forget that people can not feel charisma when they watch someone on television. But charm and good acting comes across:-)

          1. Yes, one has to admire how politicians can be charming no matter what. Even if the person in front of them is horrendous, smells and insult them. Takes a lot of practice:-)

  20. Interesting post, Catarina – although I think Gareth Jones is being a bit simplistic (possibly time-related). My view is that leadership, or its absence, is a societal thing and, therefore, starts at the top with the leadership of a country (the politicians). What we have seen in Western democracies is an increasing move away from the politicians being people who, having been successful in some way in their lives, were now 'giving back' by helping lead their community, to career politicians that get a PPE or Law degree and go straight into politics as a career. This means they look at how best they can profit from it, rather than being in politics as a way of 'giving back' (yes, there are exceptions but this is the mainstream trend).

    This attitude permeates society and is exacerbated by the way the 'rich and famous' are lauded in society – just look at how much airtime, and how many words, are devoted to the minutiae of their lives, from footballers and actors to businessmen and politicians. This encourages poor standards of behaviour – the end justifying the means, in effect.

    The old saying, 'Countries get the leaders they deserve,' sums it up. If we, as a society, vote for people with questionable reasons for wanting to be in government, laud the rich and famous, whether or not we agree with their moral values and approach to life, buy newspapers and watch TV programs for their shock value and generally take a short-term view of everything, are we not to blame for the lack of real leadership?

    Yes, we do need to restore faith in our leaders – but that means ensuring we have leaders we can really look up to, whether at a government level, or in business. It means taking a longer-term view of things to ensure that our children, grandchildren and beyond can enjoy better lives. And, yes, it means have community minded, authentic / honest leaders that can generate excitement about their view of the future they're leading people to.

    1. Glad you found it interesting, Guy. To simplify is essential in order to get your message across. Good points you make about what's wrong with society and hence our leaders. Catch is we often have no choice but to vote for career politicians because that's mainly what's on offer, unfortunately.

  21. Great post Catarina. Leaders must be trust worthy, period. That is the problem in the States now.__Thank you for sharing!

  22. Completely agree that compassion and authenticity are key for any leader. I was in a management role at a young age, often managing folks older than me. I found it important to give proper credit for ideas and work…I wanted everyone to feel included and part of the process. I think that helped me.
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  23. I agree with the four qualities (attributes) you listed that generally result in leadership and that has been my experience both when I've been lead and also when I've had to lead.

    Since we're all digressing into the political situation in the United States, I don't think we can blame it all on our leaders. Part of the dysfunction is caused by some structural problems that result in the most extreme in a political party having the loudest voices and the biggest clubs (money). Leaders who don't pander to those voices often don't have the chance to become leaders. (In the United States, before a general election open to the entire electorate in a state or region, the candidates must win a "primary" election, where usually only those registered in their party are allowed to vote. One of the reasons Romney didn't win the general election is that he had to purport to be extremely hard right to win primaries among those registered Republican . He thought he could then "pivot" and seem more conciliatory in the general election — but video tape doesn't pivot. So, he ended up freaking out many independents and most democrats, but then not seeming conservative enough for one group of Republican voters (who I will over-generalize and refer to as Tea Party members.)

    So, yes, the ability to do all the things you listed makes for a good leader, but in US politics, that seems to be a hard act to sustain.
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  24. Leadership in and of itself is not concrete. Some are innate leaders, some struggle to find their footing, others don't care. Whatever and wherever a persons lies one thing is clear, if you can't be yourself and be authentic you will never lead well or at all. Just my thoughts. 🙂
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  25. Our USA political leaders neither act for the all inclusive community or authentically. The system is entirely corrupt; I noted what Jeannette said about one of the things at the heart of it being we have no term limits.

    We are left with Just corrupt gangster (I borrowed that term from Jacqueline Gum) politicians who are paid by more corrupt, big corporate lobbyists, who are paid by the almost handful of billionaires in our country who sit in some C level position and the only community they are interested in is their homes across the world. Not their employees, not the world at large, just themselves.

    Now not EVERY single government person or C level person is corrupt. It is enough however that in most things, people are not even listening to each other, only to themselves.

    I think of the four aspects there are some qualifications to say, yes I agree. For example, to get people "excited" about haves against haves nots, is that for the good of the community? I don't think so. We could look at each of those four aspects in the context of mutually beneficial. In that case if the four things you listed from the video were displayed, it would likely mean because the greed and corrupt element with minimized.

    As long as people are people and this far down what seems to be a wrong path, I'm not sure trust can be restored. That remains to be seen.

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    1. Agree with you completely Pat about US political leaders. Your country is no longer a democracy. It's amazing when the main risk facing the economy of a country are their elected leaders. What just happened will happen again and again as long as your system isn't changed. That a small group of members of congress can hold a whole country ransom is not democracy. For trust to be restored congress and how it works has to be reformed.

  26. For me, the most critical requirement of leadership (apart from honesty) is the ability to motivate. If you can motivate people, you can change the world.
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  27. Although my angel has nothing to do with business or politics, I found this post to be very timely. We are looking at whether to put our son up to Kindergarten next year and one of the reasons we would hold him back is because he is younger and we want him to be a leader rather than a follower. Your post actually showed, that he already has the qualities of a good leader. I believe these 4 things are crucial to being an effective leader. Shame there are not more leaders out there in the banks, governments and big business.
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  28. The four elements outlined make sense, they are certainly resonant with the internal survey results we have done with our 5000 staff on an annual basis. If only it was equally clear how they could be achieved. 🙂
    My recent post How To Be A Charismatic Leader

    1. Yes, what he says makes sense, doesn't it, Debra. Am sure you can find more information about his ideas by reading his books. The link here to him lists the books he has written.

  29. Catarina — when I taught a management development course we defined leaders as people who got others to following them "willingly and voluntarily." How a leader does that is influenced by his/her skills, his personality, integrity, authenticity and — according to my CEO at the time — compassion. Leadership is extremely difficult to define because the communities that CEOs lead have different needs and wants. Understanding differing points of view to set a direction to reach a common goal is key, in my view. That's why the U.S. Congress is so dysfunctional. The goal is no longer to govern for the good of the country. It's to get re-elected by pandering to the voters in your district no matter had radical their views might be.
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    1. Agree with you completely, Jeannette. The problem with your congress is that the problem will continue. What kind of leaders are they that are prepared to let other people suffer to get re-elected? But still people follow the dysfunctional members of congress:-) They were even prepared to let the world economy collapse to get their will. And they may do so in the future.

  30. Seems a little simplistic. Yes, sure, all of those goals are important, but how to achieve them takes books/studies/lots of work. So I'm not at all disagreeing, just saying easier said than done.

    I like the colors/composition of the video. The speaker is in a simple dark gray suit and placed on a white background. The four key elements and text are in a bright orange and placed on dark bluish gray back. I know that wasn't your question, but I examine presentation naturally.

    Speaking of leaders, I complain that in the U.S. the political leaders are too far to the right or the left and too ideological to compromise. My husband says the people who give money are the ones who get excited by one of these ideologies and not people like us who just want us to work it out and are willing to compromise. He also says compromise should be considered an important value.
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    1. Agree with you Leora. But if he had outlined the concept more the video would have been too long. Was actually referring to US politicians when I wrote that "lately we have witnessed a lot of terrible leadership". Politicians who cannot compromise are not suitable for a democracy.

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