The absolute best leadership book that I’ve read is The Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner. The book is based upon their 20+ years of research on leadership, and it is undoubtedly one of the most comprehensive books on leadership ever written. (I refer to it often and have even offended some by calling it “the Bible of Leadership Books.”) Amongst the many helpful insights they share is a 20-year study on the traits that followers most admire in leaders.
The top four are (1) Honesty (2) Forward-Looking (3) Inspiring (4) Competent. These four seem to show up near the top of the list, no matter who takes the survey or when they take it. KP suggest that these top four traits added up to one big word in the eyes of followers—credibility.
So, as difficult as it can seem to be a good leader, it still comes down to building trust by possessing high credibility. Regardless of the other political things that go on in an organization, the thing that matters the most to employees is how their direct supervisor leads. KP found that when people perceive their immediate manager to have high credibility, they’re significantly more likely to:
- Be proud to tell others they are part of the organization
- Feel a strong sense of team spirit
- See their own personal values as consistent with those of the organization
- Feel attached and committed to the organization
- Have a sense of ownership of the organization
Conversely, KP found that when people perceive their manager to have low credibility, they are significantly more likely to:
- Produce only if they’re watched carefully
- Be motivated primarily by money
- Say good things about the organization publicly but criticize it privately
- Consider looking for another job if the organization experiences problems
- Feel unsupported and unappreciated
What do these findings tell you about the connection between followers and leaders? Perhaps it’s time that supervisors and managers acknowledge that as important as technical skills are, what is sometimes called the “soft” people skills are equally as important. Is it possible that we spend too much time trying to get “them” to be something or do something and not enough time on our own behaviors. Leaders might discover that if we worked harder on “us”, employees might work harder for us.
If you want followers to “connect” with you as a leader AND be highly productive, it’s all about credibility. And part of credibility is having the self-awareness to recognize your own shortcomings and work diligently to overcome them. That’s the kind of leader to which people want to connect!