Leadership: Getting Others to Follow

Several years ago while working as VP of Human Resources for an oil service company, I was trying to figure out two things:

1. How can I be more effective in leading the organization’s 3,000 employees?
2. And how can I gain the skills necessary to advance my career even further?

I discovered there were three skill sets I needed to master for me to accomplish my goals: appreciating differences, communicating well and inspiring others.

Leadership is the ability to get followers to follow. So just how does one achieve that task, which seems to be so simple yet baffles most of us during our careers? The leader must have a very basic and fundamental understanding of and respect for human nature. However, this does not mean it requires a degree in psychology.  Having a keen ability to observe human behavior and an interest in learning more about human nature are fundamental.  Appreciating differences and leveraging those differences for the benefit of the organization is the best way to build an effective team.

Next, it is essential for the leader to meet the follower, especially in the area of communication. The leader must adapt his or her communication style to fit the follower. Once while coaching a client, I was going into great detail on a topic. After some time had elapsed, he looked up at me and said, “Hey, I got it. You do not need to go on any longer.” In the area of communications, I had to learn that one size does not fit all. Good leaders have learned to communicate in such a way that the follower really hears and understands. As a leader, that is my responsibility.

I grew up in a small farm community in Missouri where I learned the value of hard work at an early age. Through leading organizations for more than 40 years, I have seen over and over again that those who succeed have the requisite skills coupled with a passion and devotion to what they truly believe in. Essentially, if the leader is energized to get the work done and accomplish the goals, the followers will feed on that enthusiasm in their own work.

Most of us can look back on our careers and identify people or mentors who taught us leadership through their examples. For me, that mentor was Joe Cox. He demonstrated daily the traits discussed above. Additionally, Joe taught me to remain true to my values in everything I did for the organization and for myself. He once purposely tested my integrity, and fortunately I passed. It was a lesson I have never forgotten and one I have referred to many times in my career. I often thank God for Joe’s mentorship and try to replicate that in the people I coach.