The Two Facets of Leadership

Why do we follow others? The word leadership logically implies followship. Someone must decide to follow the leader for some reason. But why do we follow another person? When you boil down the complexities of human behavior, the primary reasons we follow someone else are very basic. First, we see a personal benefit to the behavior or actions of the other individual. We see the methodology they utilize as better than our current method or we see an easier way to accomplish a given task. Second, the leader actually influences our thinking to personal see value where it did not exist in the past. This cognitive influence is the more complex of the two pillars of leadership.

Following the lead of others is as basic as human nature. We replicate behavior that produces desired results. Humans have always followed the leader for reasons from hunting an animal to prevent starvation to better farming techniques to refining a baseball swing. The cumulative and iterative nature of learning produces leadership that builds upon the success and failure of the past. Technology and invention are great examples of the human need to invent and improve a better way to exist. In business, we may call it innovation or first to market. We may call it continuous improvement or simply an employee suggestion.

Influencing the thinking of another human to see a different point of view is a bit more complex. We have much more resistance barriers to overcome before an individual readily accepts the thinking of another to be more beneficial than their current point of view. First, our cognitive awareness is the product of both genetics and environment. To a smaller degree, our personality will influence our thinking. Someone who is very shy and inhibited will not desire nor readily develop a point of view that includes behavior that might be interpreted as extroverted. These individuals may find more value in behavior that is less obvious to others. On the other hand, an individual with an outgoing personality may lead others with similar tendencies to replicate similar behavior.

Our environment plays a significant role in the ever-changing mental picture we currently have as humans. Our experiences and the information we gather are constantly changing the portal by which we view the world. The changing viewpoint can be very subtle to very significant depending on the severity of the experience or the influence of the leader. In other words, we all experience those life altering events that leave an indelible mark on our views as individuals. The most significant example for many people is becoming a parent. The lens through which we view the entire world changes once the innate and instinctual bonds of parenthood are introduced to our awareness.

Influencing the thinking of another human being can be both passive and active. We can be totally aloof and others will follow our lead if they see our point of view as interesting or beneficial. These leaders are followed because of other basic human tendencies such as admiration or envy. We admire a perception we have of another individual and attempt to follow the logic of their thinking. While not always accurate, this perception becomes our reality. This is often manifested by an unsuccessful attempt to copy or mimic a philosophy. Without the background or experience of the individual, it becomes difficult if not impossible to truly replicate a philosophy.

The intentional influence of another human is a bit more challenging because the other individual may not desire nor see the benefit of the change. This leadership requires patience and deliberate effort that is often more difficult and challenging than most people are willing exert. We use the word leadership but at the same time we attempt to control the action of others. Since control is an illusion, we often revert to fear and intimidation when the desired end result is not attained.

Influential leadership only takes place once the other individual decides the other point of view is personally beneficial and then the individual makes a conscious decision to adopt the new thinking as their own. This can be developed as a result of prescription from another or though a desire to understand another person's point of view. In other words, as parents we slowly influence the thinking of our children in both a positive and negative manner. We can prescribe a point of view that is beneficial as well as harmful through our actions as parents. We can also form an opinion of another individual that forces a personal change in behavior. If we see someone struggle with a personal challenge, we may be influenced to make decisions that prevent the same challenge in our own lives. Many parents that struggle with different forms of abuse can influence children to either replicate or avoid the same behavior.

Amazingly, the leader that places deliberate effort to influence others in a positive manner can make amazing improvement in the leadership they exert on both the people and the organization they serve. Taking the time to be aware of our influence through our actions and our words is a definitive skill that can be both taught and learned. Being positive with others, looking for ways to help others succeed, and being humble about success are all methods to influence others. People want to follow others that make them feel good or that make their lives better.

A supervisor that develops the talent and capability of others will be seen as a giving person that others are drawn to in business. A manager that looks for the positive in situations that present the most challenge will be attractive to followers. And, an executive that creates a significant purpose for the organization will be the inspiration to others in the company. Mark Zuckerberg's desire to create something "cool" with Facebook made it a household name that might very well change the course of humanity. Similarly, Steve Jobs' creativity and his ability to see the benefit in products that are obscured to others have made Apple the market leader in technology for the foreseeable future.

Just remember that leadership is indeed a journey rather than a destination. We are all continually refining and developing the influence we have on others. This influence can be both positive and negative for the follower. After all, some of the most influential leaders in history did not have a positive impact on humanity. Leadership and the success it may have will always rest on the desire of the follower. Only the follower gives us the title of leader and what they give they can also take away.


John Grubbs, MBA, CSTM, RPIH, is the principal consultant and owner of GCI, a full service training and consulting firm in Longview, Texas. Specializations include executive coaching, human resource consulting, safety consulting, behavior-based safety implementation and leadership training for supervisors, managers and executives. Clients include healthcare, transportation, manufacturing, education and service organizations. John has over 15 years of leadership experience, published several book...

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