I was lucky to work for a wise man who taught me the best definition of leadership that I know of: being a leader means that others want to follow you.
Want, as in, they see something in you that makes them believe in you, in the words that are yet to come out of your mouth – only because they are yours.
Want, as in, voluntarily come to you asking for advice. Want, as in, trusting your intuition with no explanation necessary. Somewhat fanatical, a bit primal, it’s akin to blind trust – something that doesn’t usually happen at the workplace.
Simon Sinek explores where this trust comes from in this TED talk:
There’s a theme of reciprocity, something Cialdini identified as a built-in social mechanism in his book eons ago. Reciprocating to someone paying it forward is so deeply engrained in the fabric of society that true leaders that have invested in others create a cult following – others smell it from a mile away.
There’s also a theme of consistency: being there for your team every time, being predictably helpful, thoughtful, caring.
Another wise man I had a privilege of working for had a go-to question he kept asking me: “What experience do you want to create for your employees?” How do you want them to feel? Do you want them to feel that they’re powerful, creative, that they can move mountains? Or do you want them to feel ashamed, fearful, resentful?
This framing fundamentally has roots in game theory: thinking from the point of view of the other side, placing yourself fully into their shoes, and attempting to reason and feel as they would.
Think about it next time you have a crisis at work, or when you’re trying to convince someone to do something they don’t want to do. How do you get them to WANT to follow you?