With decades of international and top management roles in multiple industries, I had the opportunity to learn about leadership. I also had the opportunity to know many individuals called “leaders.” What I found out is that leaders are not gifted, brilliant, extraordinary individuals with multitudes of dedicated ardent followers. This is only the myth of leadership. Leadership is not real, what is real is followership and that is the key. Followership makes all the difference, and it is derived from transactional benefits.
While lots of people talk about leadership and there are untold number of books and stories about this subject, I believe they all have the story backwards. The truth is, it is all about followership. People only follow leaders because there is some benefit in doing so. When the benefit ceases, what was identified as leadership vanishes. Leadership only works because it offers benefits and nothing more mystical or ethereal than that.
To understand why this is true, let’s consider what leadership is, which often stems from charisma.
I would submit charisma (or leadership) is a combination of status, vision, attractiveness, power, authority, knowledge and trust. The only reason this matters is these attributes provide something that the followers want. Status can provide recognition to the follower, likewise vision gives the follower purpose. Continuing along we see attractiveness offers validation; power can get the follower resources. Authority offers protection, knowledge offers information, and trust can yield friendship. This is not an exclusive or complete listing and there are many overlaps with each other and a few more in different ways.
So how can one acquire and exhibit leadership? The answer lies in providing benefits just like any other business transaction. So, a great leader is not a larger-than-life demigod who individuals crave to follow. The real secret is followership, which stems from providing benefits to the followers. In simple terms, the leader is the supplier and the follower is the customer.
When the product (leadership) on offer does not satisfy the customer, there is no followership and therefore no leadership. When the price for the offering does not measure up to the benefit, the power of the perceived leader ceases. Then the followers move on to the next provider of wanted benefits and then this person is called a leader. So, if you want to be a leader always think about satisfying those you want to have along with you. This is accomplished by listening to the customers (followers) and understanding their needs. Then provide what is wanted and needed to the best of your ability. If you do this well, someone will call you a leader. But all you have done is to acquire followership. You can only keep this going until you are no longer willing or able to satisfy the followership obligations.
So, when you meet the followers’ needs you will be called a leader. Because only then do you satisfy the followers and provide the desired benefits. This is why leadership is a myth. The followers are really in charge of offering followership and they do this only on a temporary basis at their discretion.
G.A. Ben Binninger