Leading So People Will Follow
October 2012, Jossey-Bass
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An interview with Erika Andersen, author of LEADING SO PEOPLE WILL FOLLOW
Q: When did you begin to realize that the leader story found in folk and fairy tales was actually an applicable “map” for leaders in the 21st Century?
A: It was about 15 years ago. I was reading lots of stories to my kids, who were small at the time, and at the same time I was thinking deeply about leadership and how people ‘chose’ their leaders. I noticed a difference between appointed leaders and accepted leaders – that getting a leader job didn’t necessarily mean that people would completely sign up to follow you. At the same time, I noted that every culture has stories where a young and untried person develops and demonstrates a handful of characteristics that allow him or her to fulfill an important quest (slay the dragon, free the princess) and become the just and beloved king or queen. I began to think of these stories as the ‘map’ to our deeply wired-in requirements for a worthy leader.
Q: Did it surprise you that you unearthed a blueprint to effective leadership from this source?
A: No, actually, it didn’t surprise me at all. Stories have played an essential role in human development. Until the past few hundred years in our history, most people couldn’t read or write. So all the important beliefs, observations and prescriptions about the critical requirements for being a successful human being were disseminated through an oral tradition – people told stories.
And to be able to discriminate between good leaders and bad – that was definitely a critical capability. If you chose poorly, you were much more likely to die: to starve, or be killed by enemies. The ability to choose effective leaders is a group and individual survival skill: stories passed along the essential criteria.
Q: You outline six traits of a fully accepted leader. Of those traits, is there one that is particularly crucial in becoming a leader that people will follow?
A: As we’ve been validating our multi-rater assessment around these six attributes, the research has been supporting what we’ve observed for over a decade: each of the six qualities is ‘necessary but not sufficient.’ In other words, each is important, but it’s the interplay of all six that makes someone truly accepted as a leader.
Q: Does a leader need to model all of these characteristics before people will follow him or her?
A: If your followers see you as having 4 or 5 of these characteristics, and they see signs that you’re working to develop those you demonstrate less consistently, they’ll generally give you the benefit of the doubt.
And the more fully and consistently you demonstrate these attributes day-to-day, the more completely your people will ‘sign on’ – and that gives you the opportunity to build a strong and committed team that can do great things.
Q: You offer readers a leadership assessment; with plenty of leadership assessments already out there, what makes yours unique?
A: The main point of difference is that the Accepted Leader assessment is based on what we call ‘followability.’ There are a handful of attributes that people need to see in a leader before they’ll fully ‘sign up’; truly commit to that person as their leader.
Often leaders are smart, strategic, results-oriented, and high-energy – all the things we’ve come to think of as essential elements of leadership – and yet they can’t seem to gather the team or the organization together and move it forward. We’ve found they need to also be far-sighted, passionate, courageous, wise, generous and trustworthy, in order to build a team or an organization that’s fully committed and ready to move with them.
The Accepted Leader assessment offers a way to find out if your followers see those key attributes in you – and, if not, how to develop them.
Q: Do you believe that someone can learn to become a leader? Or do they possess only the capacity to improve their innate talent for leadership?
A: Yes, and yes! We believe people can learn to lead by building on their innate talent for leadership. Just like anything else – some people are more naturally talented as leaders than others. But if you really want to lead, are open to feedback and willing to be honestly self-reflective, and you’re clear on the skills and capabilities required and what it takes to develop them – you can dramatically improve your ability to lead.
Q: If readers took away one thing from this book, what do you hope that would be?
A: People long for good and worthy leaders. Here are the qualities they’re looking for, and here’s how to develop them. If you’re willing to make the effort – which requires humility, openness, and consistent focus, like any other complex and worthwhile endeavor – you can become the kind of leader you want to be, so that people will turn to you and say “We’re with you – let’s go.”
Praise for LEADING SO PEOPLE WILL FOLLOW
“Erika Andersen does it again. In her brilliant first book, Growing Great Employees, she showed management how to help employees meet their potential. In this book, she cracks the code on how to be a great leader, offering six essential leadership attributes supported by clear and concise stories. This invaluable resource will make you the leader you team needs.”
– Jack Covert, president, 800CEOREAD; author, 100 Best Business Books of All Time
“Leading So People Will Follow hits on something simple and deep: people want good, inspiring, capable leaders. Erika shares how it’s possible – with honest self-reflection and clear intention – to become that kind of leader.”
– Chip Conley, Founder of Joie de Vivre Hotels and Author of PEAK and Emotional Equations
“Leading So People Will Follow is incredibly insightful – it lays bare our longing to work with and for worthy leaders – leaders who do the right thing despite the politics, who show us what we are capable of, who earn our loyalty through their example and actions. And importantly, Erika shows how we can all become that purposeful, inspiring leader.”
– Maryam Banikarim, SVP and CMO, Gannett
“Leave it to Erika Andersen to connect her well-honed leadership development expertise with the archetypal heroes of children’s bedtime stories. The result is a practical, direct and actionable set of tools for assessing and improving your leadership impact.”
– Beth Comstock, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, GE
“A must-read for those who wish to skillfully plan and navigate the corporate jungle, and moreover a toolbox for success in life that you will never pick up at business school. Erika is a trustworthy guide, part cheerleader, part sociologist, part economist who brings all these elements together in an easy to read format.”
– Eisuke Tsuyuzaki, CTO & Corporate VP, Panasonic North America
“Erika’s new book is a powerful tool for insight into how others perceive you as a leader. Getting that clear view of yourself is essential to becoming the kind of leader that people will want to follow.”
– Andrea Wong, International President of Sony Pictures Entertainment
“A fresh, approachable and compelling guide for improving one’s leadership profile. It is a very worthy read.”
– Douglas R. Conant, Retired President and CEO Campbell Soup Company, New York Times bestselling author of TouchPoints
“For over a decade, I’ve worked with Erika and her colleagues, and they’ve consistently helped us get ready and stay ready for the future. In Leading So People Will Follow, she gives all leaders the tools to craft a desired future in their own lives and work.”
– Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, Chief of Sport Performance, USA Track & Field
“In Leading So People Will Follow, Erika has captured much of what has made our work with her so valuable over the years. She answers the complex question of what it takes to lead well, in an engaging, practical and inspiring way.”
– Dawn Ostroff, President, Conde Nast Entertainment Group