It’s a helpless feeling.
A friend calls me.
“Hey man, how are you?”
“Good, so I have a question about leadership…”
“Sure man, what’s up?”
“I can’t get anyone in the department I lead at work to follow me”.
If you have ever felt the helplessness of being a leader in a position of authority and struggling to have people follow your leadership then you know my friend’s despair. It’s a very common leadership issue and one that young leaders and leaders who are new to leadership positions struggle with regularly.
So what should you do? Here are 3 questions to ask.
1. Example: What example am I setting?
The first instinct when someone refuses or struggles to follow your leadership is to assume that they are the problem. Don’t jump to that conclusion right away. Begin by looking at the example of follow-ship you are setting forth in your own life as a leader. Do you constantly complain about or undermine authority in order to build relationships with those you lead? Do you regularly place blame on those above you? Do you find yourself saying things like: “Sorry guys, I think it’s a dumb decision too but I have to enforce it’? Undermining organizational leadership around those you lead is a rock-solid way to undermine your own leadership fast. So, before you begin the process of looking at the poor follow-ship of those you lead to make sure you take a good look at the example of follow-ship you are setting before your team.
2. Accountability: What expectations are made clear and enforced?
After some personal leadership evaluation, it is wise to carefully examine the culture of the team you lead. Specifically examine expectations and accountability that you are providing those you lead. A very common trap that leaders fall into is holding people to standards that have never been made clear. “I asked so-and-so for a report and I still haven’t received it!” OK, did you clearly explain those expectations? When was the report to be due by exactly? But clear expectations are not enough, they must also be enforced. Do you follow-up and check in with those you lead? Do they expect to be held accountable?
Without accountability expectations are actually suggestions.
3. Personnel: Is this person the right fit?
Once you have examined yourself and the culture of accountability in the team you lead it is time to examine personnel. I placed this as the 3rd question because this question should only be asked when clear answers have been given to the first 2 questions. Typically, we jump to this one when people struggle to follow our leadership. The truth is of course, that the person may be the wrong fit for the team you lead. If this is a possibility prayerfully and thoughtfully consider this question first: How can I serve this follower better? Have conversations and be willing to confront the issue directly, lovingly and with Gospel-grace seasoning your words.
Above all, remember, all sinners are bad followers. I am. You are too. We have all failed to follow God, the Lord, and Leader of all. Sin, is, at its very core: a rejection of perfect leadership. But our leadership is far from perfect. So, with this Gospel-truth in mind, do not be shocked, or discouraged when those you lead struggle to follow you, but instead keep your eyes fixed on the perfect Leader: Jesus, who not only showed us how to lead, but how to lead those who struggle to follow.