Lead people from a follower’s perspective

follow the leaderIronically, to get better as a leader, you need to stop thinking about yourself so much!  You can’t lead people people without these four things, which are from a follower’s perspective.  That is, followers need certain things before they’ll follow somebody.  You must lead people from a follower’s perspective!  Consider these four things followers need.

But before I share the four things followers need, a little background…

Who is a Leader?

There is a fatal flaw in the vast majority of research on leadership.  The flaw has to do with who has been selected to be studied. Researchers have focused on “people in leadership positions” but we know most of them are not leaders!  Consider politicians, as one example…

Basically, the error has come from a semantic confusion.  The term “leader” has not historically (evolutionarily) referred to people who have been promoted because of their technical competence and hard work.   Historically, leaders were people who had vast amounts of people following them.   Academic research on leadership should have first defined leaders as those with real followers.

After all, if nobody’s following you, regardless of your title and position and pay grade, you are not a leader.

So this brings up a very important question:  Why would anyone want to follow anyone else?

How to Lead People From a Follower’s Perspective

It turns out that there are four things that followers must have before they follow somebody.


Ever wondered “Who the heck is this person and why the heck should I follow them?”  That’s one important question that followers ask themselves.  They want to make sure that the person they follow is credible, capable, competent and has been there and done it before.  Followers just basically want to know that the person knows what they’re talking about.


“Everyone wants to be a leader, but nobody wants to make a tough decision.” (unknown)

Followers want to follow a person who makes good decisions.  It’s difficult to follow someone if they are making stupid decisions, right?   And just because someone is competent and credible doesn’t mean they make smart decisions.  We’ve all know people who are smart, experienced and educated, but make stupid decisions.

To understand HOW to make better decisions, understand the difference between quick/automatic/emotional, and slower/more effortful/reasoned thinking. (Daniel Kahneman videos)


Followers needed to have a sense of trust in their leaders.  Beyond trust in their decision-making abilities and competence, followers need to trust the leader’s character.  If followers don’t believe that someone has their best interests at heart, they’re not going to follow.  Followers need to believe that a person has integrity, honesty, and the courage to stand up for what is right.  In many ways, Trustworthiness is the foundation of all the other needs of followers.


A person can be competent, trustworthy and a good decision-maker…but do they have a vision of the future?   If not, there will be no followership.  Vision is critically important because followers need to know where the heck they’re being taken.  Unfortunately, many people in leadership positions really don’t have a clue where they’re headed!  They are “leading” the tasks at hand, clueless about the future.

It might sound obvious, but it’s not possible to really follow somebody if you and they don’t know where to go!

Bottom line, while self-awareness is critical for leadership development, don’t get stuck focusing on yourself.  To be a real leader, understand other’s needs and have a powerful vision of a better place to take people.

Here’s a video from Bob Hogan on these four areas.

Consider including these on your Development Plan.


About Curt Buermeyer

I am the founder and president of LeadPeople. I hope you enjoyed this post and encourage you to subscribe to receive these in your inbox. Thanks for visiting!

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