How to be a Leader Others Want to Follow

By Alison Greenfield, MWBC Intern

If you’re an entrepreneur who wants to improve your leadership skills, check out The Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner

This summer, I am taking a class on leadership. In this course, I learned a concept that caught my attention. My teacher said that when you are in a leadership role (or working in a group), one of the best ways to assure your success is to NOT watch over every group member to make sure every step is done perfectly. He explained that when you do this, people believe it is because you are not confident they can complete the task. When they feel you, their leader, don’t believe in them, they become insecure about their own skills and are less likely to succeed.

This made sense in theory, but as I started to reflect on my own history with group work, I was surprised by how rarely I actually followed this advice. When it comes to group projects, I’m the one checking in with everyone three times a day to see how much work they have gotten done. Not surprisingly, in these cases the final product has been less than stellar. And each time a group member disappoints me, I tell myself that I was right to doubt them all along. However, after reading this chapter on trust, I started to think of other examples of leadership I have experienced.

I taught a class this past semester for incoming freshmen. I wrote my own lesson plans, came up with homework assignments and projects, and decided on the rubrics to grade everything as well. Weekly meetings of my peers and our advisor were very open-ended and mainly involved our comparing lesson plans, rather than having our advisor give us specific directions for the upcoming week’s class. At the time, this frustrated me greatly. I wanted exact details on what our advisor expected from us. Looking back, I realize that by doing the exact opposite of what I wanted, my advisor was showing that she trusted us. This demonstration of her confidence in us made me feel capable, which played a large part in my success as well as the success of my peers.

I like to think of myself as a leader, and what I’ve learned is that there’s a difference between good leaders and great leaders. Being a great leader is something that can be learned, worked on, and improved. It is important for those starting their own business to not be too angry when their employees don’t accomplish the task assigned to them, but instead to reflect on the verbal and non-verbal cues sent to the team. Make sure you trust your team and more importantly, make sure your team knows it!

About the Author

Alison Greenfield is an intern with The Washington Center. She is a senior attending Florida State University majoring in International Affairs and Spanish. She plans on earning a Masters in accounting and using this along with her knowledge of Spanish and French to help entrepreneurs start and expand their business.

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