How to Lead? The Way the People Want.

Blog post written by guest blogger, Neil Thompson, Founder of Teach the Geek

There are a lot of books and articles out there on leadership. I haven’t read any of them. But I’m certain when I say this: the ultimate question when it comes to leadership is – how do you lead to get optimal results? 

I’m a firm believer in leading the way people want to be led. If you’re so hell bent on leading your way, and the people don’t like that style of leadership, you may find yourself leading no one. Or, perhaps even worse, they follow begrudgingly. 

While there are different approaches to leadership, since people prefer to be led in different ways, there are certain traits that everyone can appreciate. 

I worked as a research associate at a startup company. A lot of lab work. Do experiment. Write down what happened. Repeat. My first boss was a new leader. He had never had a direct report. For a year, I thought I was doing well…until my performance review. It was then when I learned that he was deeply disappointed in my performance. I didn’t show initiative, he said. I didn’t know that he wanted me to show initiative, though. He never even mentioned it until that performance review. He wasn’t clear in what he wanted. Needless to say, I wasn’t all that inclined to follow him after that. To be clear is to be easy to perceive, understand, or interpret. A performance review is not the place to be caught off guard. If my boss was clear from the start, I would have known that showing initiative by suggesting experiments to run was something he wanted. Being clear with others makes it more likely that they’ll follow you. 

I had a boss at another company. Similar work. Do experiment. Write down what happened. Repeat. This boss would often ask for my thoughts on how to do something. I’d offer my thoughts. Then we’d do everything the way he wanted to do them all along. This was a regular occurrence. Eventually, I was not motivated to offer ideas, and I certainly wasn’t interested in following him. My boss didn’t listen. To listen means to take notice of and act on what someone says. This boss rarely acted on anything I said. To be an effective leader, you have to be a listener. No one knows everything. No one always has the best idea. Listening means that you are open to the thoughts of others. Listening to others also makes it more likely that they’ll follow you. 

The CEO of a company I worked for was a cantankerous brute. I have no idea how he became CEO. No personality whatsoever. I had to do project status updates in front of him and the rest of the executives. Snapping at other executives was a frequent occurrence for him. “Well, that was dumb” was something he’d often say to them in regards to a decision they had made. For those other executives, I figured they must have been making a lot of money to accept being spoken to like children. The CEO was not thoughtful. To be thoughtful is to think of others and modify one’s conduct as to avoid hurt to others. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me if, at some point, the other executives tuned the CEO out, stopped following him, and simply did enough to keep their jobs. If you’re a leader, be mindful with your words. You don’t want to elicit an unnecessarily negative reaction. Being thoughtful of others makes it more likely that they’ll follow you. 

I admit that there many ways to lead. However, there are traits that we all can appreciate in our leaders.

Essentially, as a leader, when you talk, be clear and thoughtful. When other people talk, listen. 

If you implement these traits into your leadership style, you make it more likely that people will gladly follow you. 

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