Opinion: Micah Yost Date: 06.20.2018

How to be a leader worth following

What is leadership? Throughout history, millions of people have defined leadership in different ways. Whether it was Steve Jobs, who defined leadership based on innovation, or Brian Tracy, who measured the value of leadership by performance, the concept of leadership has always been something admired, but never quite defined. Still, true leadership itself continues to be something we in the business world consistently strive for.

As an entrepreneur myself, I define leadership as the power of influencing people to take action. No matter who you are, we all choose the things in life which influence us, whether it’s brands, games or even other people, whom we follow and admire. To be a true leader, you must become someone who can influence others, so they will want to follow you.

Influence itself is in a constant state of paradox. As business leaders, we must be able to influence others, without exerting our influence on them. The fine line exists between encouraging others to follow and controlling an authoritarian regime. Instead, to gain influence over others, you must become someone worth following. In this way, a team of employees, financial supporters and even other companies will naturally want to follow you. So, how exactly do you do become a valuable leader? In my experience, it’s a simple reason, yet challenging execution—by building influence through example, service, consistency, accountability and humility. Here’s how to be a leader worth following.

1. Build influence by example.

Chances are you’ve heard the age-old phrase, “Show, don’t tell.” When it comes to being a leader worth following, this couldn’t be more accurate. True leaders build their influence by being an example to others around them—they show, rather than tell. This doesn’t necessarily mean all leaders need to be technically skilled, or even skilled in every single area the business might have its hands in. For instance, you could be excellent at public speaking, but maybe not an expert at staying organized.

The example you demonstrate to others should be entirely based on the culture and values you wish to instill within the business, not just about skills and abilities. These values include such things as work ethic, commitment to the business, treatment of others, etc. Instill the values you want employees to have by giving them an example to look up to.

As leadership executive coach Lolly Daskal says, “Their leadership comes from their actions, not simply their words.” True leaders don’t expect others to do anything they aren’t willing to do themselves. For example, if you want the team to welcome and encourage new employees, you should be the first to do so. Or, if you want the team to work extra hours for a few nights to meet the quarterly goal, you should also be there working, encouraging and leading by example. As you show team members an example, you build influence and naturally inspire them to follow with their own efforts.

2. Build influence through service.

Of course, what better way to show a positive leadership example to team members than through the act of service? In a recent article by Forbes, author Cheryl Williamson writes:

Often times, we confuse leadership with dictatorship. A dictator barks out orders and does not take into account the wants and needs of others. A servant leader is the complete opposite. A servant leader works tirelessly to develop his or her people and is focused on what they can do for others.

Servant leaders put the wellbeing of the team before themselves—always. This means you go to bat for the team. You stand up for them. It means you define what success looks like for them. It means you work to find them the resources they need and devote yourself to their success. Most importantly, it means the team knows you are there for them and willing to work and serve to see them be successful.

Leadership—especially leadership in the business world—is so much more than telling people what to do in order to further your own financial or professional goals. It’s about lowering yourself in a way which allows you to raise others up, so the entire team can experience success together. When a leader continues to invest in his or her team through service, the team, in turn, will want to invest more into the goals of the company. When team members feel served, cared for and provided for, they will innately want to give back themselves.

3. Build influence with consistency.

One of the most important ways to influence team members and be a leader worth following is through the values and morals you instill in the business. But, these values and morals would mean very little without consistency. The key is to be consistent with the values you hold, in order to build influence. People inherently want to follow a leader who consistently keeps his or her standards for everything across the board—who is true to him or herself and spreads this truth to others.

Writer Scott Kriz shares with Fortune Insiders: “Consistency is one of the strongest traits among the world’s greatest leaders. Consistency… provides the business, its employees and stakeholders with a known quantity. And more than anything, people respect and admire consistent leaders.” When you admire something or someone, you already know what to expect from it. Your values align with it, and you know they won’t change. This is where true leadership comes into play.

As human beings, we don’t trust anything inconsistent, leadership or otherwise. We trust people and things which stay the same. Solid. Stable. People will not trust your influence or leadership unless they see you consistently make decisions which align with your values. When values are consistently communicated and executed, it allows team members and followers to fully trust the leader, and they rely on their leadership for a successful step in the right direction. This builds influence and shows the leader is worth following.

4. Build influence with accountability.

Ultimately, how can you influence others to follow your leadership? By holding them—and yourself—accountable. Effective leaders set high expectations for the entire team, then are sure to stick to them, setting an even, accountable standard for everyone involved. In an article by Inc., Partners in Leadership shares:

A culture of accountability fosters self-reliance and confidence. Employees don’t need to be micromanaged when accountability permeates an organization at every level. Rather than managers bestowing tasks for employees to belabor, an accountable employee sees responsibilities as challenges to meet and problems to solve.

This culture of accountability starts at the top of any business—with the leadership. It means leaders must admit when they are wrong. This is often the most difficult part of accountability. It means holding yourself accountable, which then builds influence among team members.

However, accountability also means when standards are not upheld, consequences must be imposed when necessary in a fair, firm and consistent manner. But first, identify and establish the standards you want in a business atmosphere. What do you hold you hold people accountable to? This must be clear and well-defined. Some questions to consider as you identify these standards include:

  • What does success look like?
  • What does failure look like?
  • How do you want people to perform their work?
  • What are your expectations of others?
  • What are your expectations for yourself?

When you have a clear and set standard, you can recognize when yourself or team members are not meeting the standard. Then, the accountability process can begin, building up influence and encouraging those around you to follow.

5. Build influence through humility.

Finally, we come to humility. As Rick Warren once said, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” Humility is the primary differentiator between good leadership and great leadership. Karina Fabian from Business News Daily says, “Leaders who practice humility engender trust, empower their subordinates, look at failures as challenges and develop a team spirit—all of which leads to happier employees and more profits for the company.” Humility means: (1) checking your ego at the door; (2) willingly taking feedback; (3) focusing on team success. In business, it’s easy to quickly become enamored with success and status. However, by humbling yourself and focusing on staff instead, you can build influence as a valuable leader for the company.

Leaders with humility are willing to listen to their team members and search for anything which needs to be improved in the business, rather than stubbornly thinking everything is perfect. Humble leaders aren’t afraid to get in the trenches and do the necessary work with their employees. They admit their failures when they fall short. To be clear, humility doesn’t mean you become a doormat. Humble leaders don’t lack confidence and they don’t allow others to walk all over them. Instead, they focus on the success of the team and confidently make the decisions which are best for everyone. This type of leadership shows team members you truly care, and builds influence among them.

While there might be thousands of different definitions of leadership, I choose to define leadership as influencing people to take action. A true leader strives to become someone influential, someone worth following. In business, leadership means influencing, encouraging and engaging team members to follow you toward accomplishing the business goals. You build this influence by example, through service, with consistency, accountability and through humility. As you become a leader worth following, employees, financial supporters and even other companies will naturally want to follow. Only then can you truly encompass what it means to be a leader.