People follow leaders by choice.
You can get compliance through imposing your authority, by coercion or manipulation, but you won’t be trusted and respected.
And when your followers do have a choice, there is no guarantee they will continue to follow you. Or if you find yourself out on a limb, it is likely you will find you’re alone.
To lead without relying on authority, your most powerful Portal of Influence is your character.
Character is the expression of who you are. When your character is built on a foundation of integrity, people will trust you.
Do you lead by example?
Are you honest, respectful, and authentic?
Are you consistent and dependable?
Do you do what you say you will do?
When you make a mistake, do you take responsibility for it without brushing it off?
To be a leader people want to follow, they must trust you.
Several years ago I facilitated a simulation for a new CEO and the company’s 25 seniors leaders where they were divided into four competing teams. There was a lot of laughter, joking and spirits were high as we moved toward the close. In the last few minutes, the CEO’s team surged ahead and grabbed the prize.
Shortly afterward, someone spilled the beans that the CEO had cheated. There was more laughter, but some of it sounded uncertain.
Privately I mentioned to the CEO that the purpose of the simulation was to learn, not to win. I was concerned that his actions might have affected his credibility as a leader. He dismissed my concern, saying, “it was only a game.”
Fast forward, one year later, the CEO was no longer with the company.
Did this one activity cause his demise? Not likely. But it was part of a pattern of ethical inconsistency on “small matters” that eventually eroded his team’s confidence and trust.
It’s never “only a game.”
When you are a leader, everything you say and do is magnified.
You raise an eyebrow and people wonder what it means. You make an off-handed comment and people jump. Each nuance is considered a mandate.
This is the nature of leadership. It doesn’t matter whether you like it or not. Your actions are being scrutinized every moment.
You can’t take “time off.”
If you are slightly inconsistent, it is magnified in the view of others. You don’t have the luxury of cheating in a silly game or telling a crude joke.
Your character is your most precious asset. Don’t squander it needlessly for something frivolous.
Build your character on a foundation of integrity to be a leader people want to follow.
Thanks, Jesse Lyn, for these words of wisdom. From my many years of experience, I can easily confirm how important character is for effective leadership. Sometimes it’s tough to take a stand on a controversial issue but if your core beliefs and values are intact and in sync with your character, you will be on solid ground. Sharing those values via transparency on a regular basis, with your colleagues and others whom you serve, helps to reinforce who you are as a leader and what people can expect of you when the going gets tough and it usually does at some point along the way.
Great advice, Gary. As you point out, leading with character is not always easy. When you know what you stand for, at times you will required to take a stand. But when you act with integrity, living your values consistently, if you do find yourself out on a limb, you won’t be there alone.
It sounds obvious does it not; you would hardly aspire to be a leader that nobody would choose to follow. As usual Jesse a nice succinct article full of meaningful insight. I have to agree that we are being observed 24/7, not only in work but also in our personal lives and in our communities.
I think this may result in a behavior shift to accommodate our leadership qualities with varying emphasis depending upon where we are at the time. My belief towards attracting followers consistently, is to ‘choose and follow yourself’ first, 24/7. No behavior modification, be yourself. If you are Accountable at work then be so at home and in the community; if you allow others to grow in your personal and community life then let them grow at work…etc etc etc
Jim Kouzes says it best “Love ’em and lead ’em”
It does seem obvious, and so I wonder why so many leaders squander their credibility thoughtlessly on self-serving actions. Perhaps it’s due to short-term thinking and an inability to see the bigger picture?
Great point that when you lead with character it can’t be compartmentalized. If you are authentically living your values, you live them everywhere.
Thanks for insights, Raymond.
Hi Jesse- great advice as always. What’s that expression about doing the right thing even when no one is looking?
Ah.. great quote by C.S. Lewis: “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.”
CS Lewis, what an imagination! Leadership thru the wardrobe – now there is an idea. Cannot disagree with Integrity; it may be the most singular quality we should strive for. I recall during a game of golf match-play format; that I marked my opponents score as a 4 and he replied it was 5 as he moved the ball at address in the rough and unseen and so called the penalty on himself. His name was Colin Self and a work colleague…from that moment I followed him and learned so much. Regards Raymond
Note…I savor the remains of the cake mix bowl when no one is looking…but I guess that is something else
Jesse knows of what she talks. Every sentence in her blog post resonates with my own experience with leaders and followers. Jesse manages to condense about 20 years of wisdom into a few paragraphs. This is her gift.
Thanks so much, Ira. That means a lot, coming from one of my favorite authors!
I agree with what you say and would add that this message isn’t only applicable to CEOs but to professionals who manage even 1 person…or even as a parent today where kids seem to be more aware of every little thing that goes on. My daughters catch me sometimes and I’m amazed how much they pick up without me realizing it.
Absolutely. When editing, I deleted a sentence that said “Your character is your greatest source of influence, no matter what your role or position.”
Thank you, Bob, for making that point clear. And also extending it to all aspects of one’s life.
I find that people are inspired to ‘follow’ a leader who is trustworthy. People need and want to trust their leader. A trustworthy leader creates an environment that makes is safe for others to fully show up, to take risks, to think out of the box and to express their points of view authentically. When a leader creates trust by extending an authentic version of themselves, they are most likely to get that from others in return. And, leaders need people who will speak up, tell the truth, do what they say they will do. By extending trust through their behavior, a leader sets the tone. And, they position themselves to get trust in return. Trust is reciprocal. Leaders need trustworthy followers. To earn the trust of their followers they extend it. People will listen to what leaders say, but they trust those words when they are backed up by behavior……again, and again and again.
Thanks for sharing this story Jesse. It is a powerful reminder that how we show up really makes a difference. And, small acts add up.
A wonderful picture of the feedback loop and how the reciprocity builds on itself to create a powerful environment that is beneficial to all. The Reina Trust Building® Institute is the “go to” expert on trust. Thanks so much for sharing some of your wisdom here, Michelle.
Ira Chaleff nailed it: wisdom in a few paragraphs. I believe everyone , at some point in time, is in a leadership role whether as a parent, a community member, a worker or a titled manager. Thus, one’s actions and behaviors are always open to observation. Screw trust and trample integrity and eventually, it comes back to haunt you.
Love the way you don’t mince words, Eileen! “Screw trust and trample integrity and eventually, it comes back to haunt you.”
Cheers & “spot on!” Jesse. Another great post. I agree with Raymond above, “it seems so obvious!” I constantly ask myself if I am being to tough on leadership (looking for consistency, truth,integrity,a sign that they give a damn). This post though, I am using to look at myself and my conduct. After all, I shouldn’t expect behavior & traits that I can’t emulate!!!
ps. Many thanks for sharing – you have been a source of constancy in a very tough professional year. Very much appreciated 🙂
It’s so easy to point the finger at others. I applaud you for focusing on yourself and your own conduct. As you said so well, “I shouldn’t expect behavior & traits that I can’t emulate!!!”
Sorry to hear it’s been a tough professional year. Glad my thoughts have provided some support.
You summarized my years as a CEO in just a few very true words. It’s what makes the job so hard. Now that I’m retired, the job should be easier except that grandchildren need exactly the same leadership.
Leadership occurs in many roles, levels and environments. Thanks for the reminder that these principles apply in ALL situations!
Hi again Jesse
During my leadership presentation I ask for 3 volunteers to join me; each from a different business and working level…for example a waitress, an engineering supervisor and a marketing director. I ask them and the audience what separates them, what differentiates them in their roles. An amazing array of responses ensue but in the end it is agreed that the main differences are skills; and mostly neither could do each others job. Even when the three of them are in their personal and community environments…it is still skills that differentiate them. I now pose the question: what unites them! what integrates them! Another array of responses that are truly fascinating and an eye opener to how people perceive themselves and others. After simmering the discussion for a while, it without fail reduces to some common qualities. Each of them regardless of level or their environment typically are 100% accountable…neither are more accountable than the others, they are equally accountable and they share a common quality. They set examples, they challenge themselves, they do not dwell too much on the past, they have integrity, they look to the future and they make time for others. Therefore Jesse I concur with your reply to Betsy ‘Leadership occurs in many roles, levels and environments. Thanks for the reminder that these principles apply in ALL situations!’ Please feel free to conduct the same discussions and I would very much like to hear the outcomes.
What a wonderful activity, Raymond! Thanks so much for sharing it here so we can all benefit from it.