Ask members of a group to name the characteristics of a good leader, and don’t be surprised when the usual descriptions come up: visionary, listener, communicator, ethical, trustworthy, etc. I’ve been doing such an exercise with groups for a long time. Lately, I’ve noticed that a certain characteristic has moved from the middle of the list to near the top. With some groups it is even named as the most important. That characteristic is “cares for followers.”
That begs the question: What do followers want and need from their leaders?
In their book, “Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow,” authors Tom Rath and Barry Conchie offer that followers need trust, compassion, stability and hope. They state that trust and compassion is built through relationships. That flows nicely with caring for their followers. And of course who doesn’t want a stable organization and hope for the future.
Conchie is also the author of the classic article, “The Seven Demands of Leadership” by Gallup Research. In that article he provides the following demands of leadership:
- Visioning – seeing the future and the big picture
- Maximizing Values – showing what is important in life and work
- Challenging Experience – challenge their teams with significant goals
- Mentoring – invest in the growth and development of key people
- Building A Constituency – create rapport at many levels inside and outside the organization
- Making Sense of Experience – learn from their mistakes and successes
- Knowing Self – identify and understand their own strengths and weaknesses.
In “The Leadership Advantage,” Warren Bennis lists these Essential Leadership Qualities:
Technical competence: business literacy and grasp of one’s field;
Conceptual skill: a facility for abstract or strategic thinking;
Track record: a history of achieving results;
People skills: an ability to communicate, motivate, and delegate;
Taste: an ability to identify and cultivate talent;
Judgment: making difficult decisions in a short time frame with imperfect data; and
Character: the qualities that define who we are.
As I pondered this subject I came across an article in the Wall Street Journal that seemed to really illustrate why the caring for followers idea is something that leaders should pay attention to. It was an article about baseball’s free agents and why some teams land the best players even when they offer less money. The article featured the Chicago Cubs and why Tyler Chatwood signed with them to a $38 million, three-year deal when it is believed he had been offered more money by some other teams. Chatwood is tied with Stephen Strasburg for second in the National League in road ERA (2.57) over the last two seasons, trailing only Clayton Kershaw (2.16).
So how did the Cubs do it? According to a March 4, 2018 Wall Street Journal article by Jared Diamond, the Cubs demonstrated to Chatwood that they cared about him as a person as well as a baseball pitcher. When he met with team executive about their offer he was given a list of good ob/gyn doctors in the area and the best hospitals for his pregnant wife. It was just one way that the Cubs showed how they treat players’ wives and children.
This idea of caring for followers (and employees) is also illustrated in Fortune magazine’s “Best Places to Work” annual issue. The companies on that list go out of their way to care for their employees both on and off the job. It’s no coincidence that those companies have a higher return on their stock prices than the Dow Jones and the Russel 5000.
In summary, leaders who care for their followers will meet what those followers say is one of their biggest needs. They will probably have more success as well.
FOLLOW-UP FROM RECENT FLAG COLUMN – The City of Milwaukee’s flag is getting no respect. The North American Vexillological Association ranked it as the 147th worst of 150 cities surveyed. It was designed back in 1955 from a combination of entries in a contest to design the flag. For more information about flags and flag designs, go to www.ted.com and enter Roman Mars name in the search engine. Mars say that, “Northing can quite prepare you for one of the biggest train wrecks in vexillological history.
» PHIL HARDWICK is a regular Mississippi Business Journal columnist. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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