Five Things That Make People Want to Follow the Leader

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by Denise McKinney

I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership lately.  Most of it is from a ministry context, but those thoughts and reflections are spilling over into a variety of leadership situations I’ve been observing.  I recently watched an episode of Undercover Boss and was reminded of the kinds of issues employees can face—inside and outside of the church.

I don’t have any research handy to back up these thoughts.  But, I’d be willing to bet that these ideas strike a chord with people who wish their leader was less distant and removed from knowing and understanding their lives and their jobs.  My humble thought is that even though this list is by no means complete, if I just do these five things when I lead, I will find that the people I’m supposed to lead follow not just because they have to, but because they want to.

Recognize my inconsistencies and growing edges.

Since there is no perfect human leader, I’ll get much more cooperation from people if I don’t pretend that I’m always right or have nothing to learn.  I think that sometimes leaders come across this way because they are afraid that admitting to their liabilities weakens their influence and authority.  What they don’t realize is that owning their imperfections strengthens the respect of followers and builds common ground.

Roll up my sleeves and get dirty.

Getting in the middle of the hard work reminds me how hard people work on behalf of my vision.  It also gives me a reality check for ideas or practices that I’ve implemented that may not be working.  Mostly, though, it builds a bridge of appreciation and camaraderie among everyone on the team.

Recognize the strengths in others that I do not possess.

I can think of no greater compliment or inspiration for a volunteer or employee whom I lead than to let them know I cannot accomplish a task without their expertise.  Too often, leaders are afraid that others will surpass them in recognition or influence.  I think our goal in leadership should be to encourage the abilities of people who can build and expand on what we started, and quite possibly do better than us someday!

Respect healthy workload boundaries.

My administrative assistant told me once that another administrative employee described my leadership style as something that would drive her crazy!  Although it was shared lightly, I took that gentle reprimand from an outsider to heart because I knew the basis for the comment was how much work this person saw me generating for my administrative assistant.  I started asking if deadlines were realistic and gave permission to be told when enough was enough.

Rebuild people when they mess up.

This is probably one of the hardest things to do but one of the most important. Instead of leaving a mistake in the place of frustration and consequences, take a mistake and offer a journey of redemption. Even if permanent changes have to occur, like loss of a job or responsibility, it doesn’t help the leader or the follower if all that remains is the broken pieces of a work relationship.  Leaders need to help their workers process what went wrong and support as much as possible whatever a “restart” could look like, whether continuing under the same leadership or moving on.

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Denise McKinney grew up mostly in the wild western town of Casper, Wyo. where her parents lived out ministry right before her eyes as foster parents to dozens of kids during two decades. Continuing in that legacy, she’s been walking the road of faith with students and their families for about 15 years: as Director of Student Ministry at Redeemer Covenant Church in Tulsa for 13 of those years, and now as a ministry coach, writer, and communicator.

Second only to her heart for students and their families is her passion for music. Whether she is performing, leading worship songs, or directing a choir, her hope is to take people on a personal and spiritual journey with through the expression of music.

She is the author of the YS book, Mile Markers: A Path for Nurturing Adolescent Faith, a speaker for camps and retreats, and a singer/worship leader. Her favorite place on the planet is the Teton Mountains in northwest Wyoming and she considers cinnamon rolls dietary necessities for health and happiness! She lives in Tulsa, Okla. with her husband Gary, and two kiddos, Lanie and Garrison.

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