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Why do people follow leaders?

B. Lynn Gordon Published on 24 April 2015

Warren Buffett defines a leader as “someone who can get things done through other people.” True leaders have the ability to chart a vision and motivate, inspire and empower people to follow them.

In an agricultural setting, followers are employees working on farms, ranches, feedlots or for an agricultural business. Depending on the size and scope of the agricultural enterprise, employees may report to a middle manager, supervisor or the person considered as the leader of the business.

The leader is responsible for directing the actions and all those involved in the business structure.

To understand if a leader is leading, who do you ask? You ask their employees, their clients, or in a volunteer organization you may ask committee members.

For example, if a ranch supply store wants to determine if they are successful, they focus on the customer who walks in the door and purchases products.

To learn if they are meeting their customers’ needs, the store may conduct surveys, seek feedback or conduct focus groups – because if they do not meeting their customers’ needs, they are probably soon to be out of business.

The same happens with leaders and their followers. If the leader doesn’t have followers, how can the agricultural business be successful?

Gallup, a national research-based survey company, conducted a study of more than 10,000 people from 2005 to 2008 to determine, “Why do people follow a leader?” Take a moment and ask yourself this question. What would your answer be?

Four reasons followers will follow leaders:

1. Trust
If the people you oversee don’t trust you, how can you expect them to want to work for you?

Followers don’t tolerate dishonesty. As we see in the media, a breach of honesty usually ends any trust people have in that person. The people’s trust is lost and mostly can’t be regained.

Interestingly, trust was also linked to employee engagement. Gallup’s results concluded, “If employees do not trust the company’s leaders, then only 1 in 12 of the employees will be engaged in their work, but if they trust the company’s leader/leadership, 1 in 2 of the employees will be engaged in their work.”

Workers who trust their leaders were also found to work more efficiently. Sometimes a leader thinks, “I am in the top role; why wouldn’t they trust and follow me.”

Titles are important, but leaders must still conduct themselves respectfully, with integrity and honesty, in order for followers to trust them.

2. Compassion
We want to know someone cares about us and our happiness, and this is no different in the workplace. Employees need to know their supervisor, boss or the leadership of the company cares about them and their happiness.

How many times have you had a friend, relative or family member tell you they were leaving their job because the company or boss doesn’t seem to care about them?

The boss doesn’t acknowledge the extra hours you put into the project, the goals you accomplished or listen to you when you have questions?

It is difficult in the workplace for a leader to show compassion. However, another way of doing so is by demonstrating positive energy. Research shows employees are significantly more likely to stay with a company, be more engaged with their work, more productive and create more profitability if they believe the leaders care about them.

3. Stability
The unknown is uncomfortable. People want to work for a company that is fiscally sound and secure. Employees also want to know their leader or boss is working to provide a foundation of stability and support.

Research found the best leaders were the ones followers could always count on in times of need. Employees with a high level of confidence in their company’s financial future/stability are nine times more likely to be engaged in their jobs compared to those who question the stability of the business’ future.

Transparency is also important to followers. Leaders transparent with their employees create a setting where employees feel a part of the team. If the leader provides updates, progress reports and includes employees in staff meetings, this transparency builds follower confidence.

4. Hope
Not only does stability provide confidence in employees, but hope is powerful for followers to support their leaders.

When asked, “Does your company’s leadership make you feel enthusiastic about the future?” nearly 70 percent of employees who strongly agreed were engaged in their jobs compared to only 1 percent of employees who disagreed or strongly disagreed, Gallup reported.

This is an area leaders must realize can be very influential in the future of their business. Hope provides motivation, something for employees to look forward to and a belief that challenging situations will be addressed.

This reinforces that in difficult times – times of organizational change, new management or new employees, etc. – the leader who exhibits hope is fundamental.

History tells us leaders spend more time reacting to day-to-day situations rather than preparing for the future. As a leader, set your sights on achieving trust, compassion, stability and hope with your employees, and you will have followers who want to work for you for a long time.  end mark

B. Lynn Gordon
  • B. Lynn Gordon
  • Ag Leadership Specialist - Assistant Professor
  • SDSU Extension and Department of Teaching, Learning and Leadership