A good many years ago, D. E. Host, president of the China Inland Mission, was in a meeting with other leaders. There was a fierce debate going on regarding the nature of leadership. During a pause in the deliberations, someone turned to the venerable leader and asked him what he thought. His response was, “Who’s following him?” Simple, but true. Leadership is about having followers. When you don’t have anybody following you, you’re taking a walk by yourself, regardless of your title or position.
What kind of leader will people follow? What do followers want, need and expect from those who lead them? Zig Zigler said, “You can always get what you want in life if you are willing to give enough other people what they want.” So what do followers really want? Here are a few things to consid
1. Followers want to see CHARACTER in their leader
If you are like me, you are disappointed and somewhat jaded buy all the scandals we have seem over the last few years; in the business world, the world of politics and sad to say, in the church. What most people long for is pure and simple old-fashioned character quality. More than anything else, followers want leaders they can trust and emulate; leaders who are ethical and honest. They are getting harder and harder to find. This quality in a leader is increasingly being found at the top of the list of things that followers want most. For years I believed that competence was the most important thing called for and expected in a leader. It IS important, but not the most important. I learned the hard way that I was very wrong in my perception. Experience has taught me that more leaders plateau, quit or are relieved of their responsibility over character than over competence. Richard Nixon would be a case in point. In fact, General Schwarzkopf (Gulf War fame) said: “99% of leadership failures in the 20th century were failures of character.”
2. Followers want to see COMPETENCE in their leader
The dictionary says competence is “Rightfully belonging…qualified or capable.” In a USA TODAY survey, executives in responding to what they thought the most important skill to get to the top was, ranked competence over ambition, intelligence, and personality. Competence has to do with the ability to see what others don’t see, and before others see coupled with being able and willing to do something about it. Few things are more frustrating than taking your car, your taxes, your teeth or your back to professionals who clearly don’t know what they are doing and don’t seem to care that they don’t know. It think that “average” is in and “excellence” is out in so many quarters today and leadership in the body of Christ is no exception. I am firmly convinced that people long to follow someone with high standards and a solid work ethic, who does things well! It is said of Jesus in Mark 7:37, “They were astonished beyond measure, saying, He has done all things well” When Jesus turned water into wine, it was the BEST wine.
3. Followers want to be CHALLENGED by their leader
A favorite expression of one my daughters during her teen years was, “I am soooo bored.” I think there are a lot of flat out bored followers out there who are operating far beneath their potential. There is a story of a church service where an announcement was made that there would be a meeting of the Board after the service. A couple, visiting for the first time, showed up at the meeting. “Excuse me,” the pastor said, “but this is a meeting of the Board.” “That’s why we’re here,” they responded. “Nobody was as bored as we were”. I think it borders on sin to create an environment where followers are bored and have lost interest in making a difference and in giving their God-given best.
Followers crave excitement, challenge and a vision worth giving their life to. We have the TGIF restaurant chain--Thank God/Goodness It’s Friday. This slogan reminds me that many, if not most, people don’t like their job and can hardly wait for the weekend. I am ready to start a TGIM club for those who are stimulated in their jobs, look forward to the regular challenge it brings. Leaders who challenge and bring out the best in followers are the key. I believe that people are looking for something bigger than life to give themselves to.
In many ministries today, the bar is being lowered to attract more people. I think what many people want and need today is a bar that is set higher, that will tap the best in them. There are many “extreme-challenge” sports. Marathons aren’t enough. Runners are now embarking on 100 mile runs, or 24 hour runs. What motivates some people to flirt with death and live as close to the edge as possible? One reason might be because they are bored with their jobs and lives and crave something exciting and challenging. Nothing could be more challenging than the Great Commission and Great Commandment and helping to change the world.
So, as a leader, be a person of character, develop high competence in what you do and don’t be fraid to challenge people to the best, not the average.