Thursday, September 23, 2010

Fundamentals - How to Build Followers

Earlier, we finished with a question: how do leaders ‘build’ followers? The answer is simple, in the sense of the vaudeville line that to make the statue of David all Michelangelo had to do was take a large block of marble and chip away everything that didn’t look like David.

Building followers is, in that sense, very ‘simple:’ it requires nothing more than convincing others to adopt your goals. As Ray Kroc said of leadership (and his hamburgers) the trick was ‘to convince others to have it my way.’ How you go about that convincing is the essence of leadership.

History is full of stories of leaders, but many of them provide little in the way of insight as to exactly what they did to build their followers. Motivating others is, much like carving marble, fairly easily stated: find out what gets someone energized, figure out how to relate that to your goal, and then communicate your goal and show how achieving your goal brings them to their goal as well. Eventually, your goal will become their goal. And at that point you will find leading those people is no longer required, they are, in a sense, on their own, self-motivated, self-actuated. Pretty Simple!

And as ‘simple’ as it is to so motivate just one person (if you have ever had to motivate someone you know hard it can be), how can you possibly motivate hundreds, even thousands of people, particularly when you often can’t even hope to come into direct contact with them all?

The answer, the one that virtually every great leader has come upon, is that you must create a goal that you can ‘sell’ to those you would make your followers. You must establish a goal and then find a small team, at first just one or two, later perhaps a dozen, and show them, in any way possible, that they should adopt your goal as their goal. You begin by connecting their own goals with your goal, and you end by ‘converting’ them, and your goal becomes their goal; you need to make them ‘believers.’ Very successful people invariably have a small group of assistants/followers that often come across as more committed then the boss to his goal. This is essential. Because their job is to spread the message. They have to ‘believe’ so that they can go out and recruit more followers.

But this all gets back to how do you actually motivate others? In a very real sense, you can only convince people one at a time. Leaders must learn to communicate in such a way that it come across that they are speaking to each person individually. That is a learned trait. It begins with the future leader learning to communicate, and connect, one-on-one. You often hear people, followers, say that ‘I felt like he was talking just to me’ or words to that effect. That effect is essential, particularly when you have moved beyond the first ten or twelve followers and find yourself speaking to, and trying to motivate, hundreds or thousands of people. But, to convince someone else to accept a new goal – your goal - as their goal, you still have to understand their motivations and then be able to connect achieving your goal with their motivations. And that begins by understanding the people to whom you are speaking. You must find common, underlying motivations and then develop your message so that it touches upon those basic, fundamental motivations.

But, to return to the beginning, building followers begins with an initial cadre, usually just one or two people, who are usually close associates and friends. These are people who you know well and with whom you already have rapport. In a very real sense, these are people who are already ‘on board;’ for example, your deputy. Your deputy, even before you tell him your specific goals, wants the organization to succeed. But you have the opportunity to spend considerable time with your deputy, explaining your goal and vision, receiving feedback and adjusting your ‘message’ and connecting with him so that your goal becomes his goal.

Make no mistake, you need to spend this time. You need to create ‘another you,’ someone else (and then two or three) who can provide insight and detailed guidance to support the goal even when you are not available. And despite an already existing rapport, making someone this committed a follower will take more time than you think. You need to be certain that the first few followers think as you think, speak as you speak.

And then you must spend the time to refine your message. Eventually, you must be able to connect your goal to the common threads, the everyday motivations of all the people who work for and with you, the rank and file, the citizenry. And to do that you must understand them. You must spend the time to understand those who work for you and those who you wish to lead. Once you understand them, connecting your goal to their goals will become ‘simple.’