Vision, Leadership and Getting your People to Follow

Jan. 1, 2020
History is full of examples of teams, groups of individuals and whole populations that have taken on some seemingly impossible task, suffered huge hardship and somehow prevailed
TAKE THE LEADVision, Leadership 
and Getting your People 
to Follow
History is full of examples of teams, groups of individuals and whole populations that have taken on some seemingly impossible task, suffered huge hardship and somehow prevailed.  

Against the odds and conventional wisdom they succeeded. They overcame. They survived. I would say that, only with the very rare exception, a leader or leaders brought this about and kept the goals alive, transforming desire into action and progressing toward accomplishment.  

By definition this is what leadership is all about, but how does it happen? What makes individuals or whole populations take on difficult situations, suffer great pain and reversals and persevere? That answer is both easy and, yet, very complex. 

Leadership, combined with knowledge of those we would lead, can always create activity and motion, but a leader's charisma will often transform those compliant followers into impassioned zealots. There is no doubt that we have to be able to articulately communicate our goals or our vision, and through this, we have to make these goals relevant to our followers, make them see what we see, want what we want, and do what we would have them do. 

Thomas J. Jackson, whom you might know as "Stonewall" Jackson, was a Civil War general very famous for pushing his people beyond human endurance and asking more of them than would seem humane or possible. Somehow these troops always delivered. They always accomplished their missions and they always enjoyed high morale, low desertion rates and won many great victories against very long odds. 

Would it surprise you to know that Jackson's men did not love him? He gave them victories, he gave them status and he shared their hardships. In return they were willing to give him their all. 

Is Gandhi or Bobby Knight or Bill Gates any different? Is that highly motivated and successful service manger in the shop down the street any different? In my opinion, they are not. I would assure you that each has vision; each successfully communicated that vision to those around him; each was very willing to suffer reversals and setbacks on the road to accomplishment; and each cultivated many willing and passionate followers along the way. This is that "charisma thing."

A major failure among would-be leaders is defining the task and vision. If people don't know where they are going and what is expected of them, they are far less willing or able to follow. If they do not feel a connection to the desired result, you are very likely to see less-than-spectacular results that will probably fall well short of the goal. 

It is important that leaders provide the road map and set clear expectations. Settle for nothing less than mission accomplishment. In the military, every leader has two primary concerns: The first is the mission; the second is the welfare of his troops. The mission always takes precedence. A great military leader will always accomplish the mission while looking out for the welfare of his troops. 

In this industry, our problem is that too often, we are not asking for enough. We are willing to settle for much less and allow others to determine where we will go and what we will do. Technicians in the automotive industry are often perfect examples of this. Fearing the lost of a good technician, we allow techs to produce less, get paid more and be perfectly willing to move on if we breathe sideways or another shop offers them an extra 10 cents per hour. 

The industry built this beast by lowering standards and expectations, by making deals in desperation and doing nothing to remedy the situation. In these cases, our goals have been hijacked, our vision is now blurred and it is no longer clear where we are going. 

This is not the result of bad technicians. This is the result of bad leadership. 

Great leaders are never short of followers. That was true for Gandhi, and I can assure you that it is true for that successful service manager down the street. When it comes to the work environment, the money, the status or the career path, he finds the best: He sets reasonable standards, and his people always perform. 

There are no whips. I would suspect there is only occasionally fear, and he controls where his employees are going and how they will get there. His technicians are turning more hours and he suffers far less turnover than average. More demands are made of his technicians and their morale is nearly always high. There is no doubt who captains his ship and there is no doubt that his hand is on the rudder. As a result, there is no doubt that he will be successful. 

Leadership does not happen until you jump in and ask someone on your staff to do something. Having a great business plan, huge sales potential and great marketing ideas will do nothing if your people cannot deliver the goods. There will be a great temptation to do it all yourself, but this is not practical. Leading your people to that Promised Land would seem to be your only course, your only reasonable choice. 

Jump in. You might find them willing to take that leap with you. Your people - your followers, if you will - might shock you by seeing what you are seeing and doing all that you would have them do. But this will only occur if you are willing to jump in, only if you are willing to lead them. 

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