Ever wonder why some people have huge followings? Whether you’re talking about a person, brand, sports team, radio show host, or just an online personality on Twitter or Instagram or any of the many social channels, the reason is always the same. It’s not that there are thousands of followers. It is that there is an extreme lack of leaders. This is true in all realms.
Being a leader is risky, but risk pays. Yes, some people have to lead and may not have planned on it. Business owners are perfect examples. Perhaps they started their business because of a passion and it grew to the point that it needed employees and thus leadership too. Others choose to be leaders. They want to be the outspoken resource for personal fitness, encouragement and strength, startups, venture capital; heck even coffee or toys or hosting service or cloud security. These people are taking risks, putting their opinions out, being outspoken on topics, and not always in agreement with the masses. Safe positions will not be exciting. Consider talk radio hosts for a moment. Have you noticed how many of the callers disagree with the host? Yet, they are listening and following? This represents precisely why people gain popularity. They start a conversation and put an opinion out there.
Following a leader feels good and creates opportunity. At heart, humans have a pack mentality. We like to be part of a pack and to follow a leader. It contributes to a feeling of commitment and belonging. However, we also like to know where we stand in the pack. Status and position are extremely important. One thing to note here is that there aren’t just two positions – the leader and follower. There are many in between. Wanting to be a specific leader can be part of the reason to follow that leader. Take personal fitness and the online personalities who have evolved as popular characters on their channel. Many people follow just to be in line with that leader. They like the forward momentum and the feeling. Do not mistake this for a casual desire to follow. Many of these individuals follow because they now have access to the whole pack. They can share their stories and pictures. They can win their own followers as a small subset of the full pack. They can possibly win recognition from the leader. These examples can be seen in politics with factions of a party or with boyscouts who want to have recognition with the most merit badges.
Being real and imperfect is leadership. The polish of yesterday is gone. Livestreams, instant recordings on YouTube, Vine or Instagram and the thousands of citizen reporters have exposed the raw truth about every leader. They are not perfect. They do not sit in ivory towers that are untouchable by chaos, scandal or mistakes. The veil of Oz has fallen. The element of being real and having failures actually propels leaders forward.
Think about Elon Musk and Tesla Motors. He tackles adversity in innovation and critiques in the media head-on. He doesn’t shy away. He doesn’t hide behind polished press releases. He is real. You only need to consider brands like Starbucks which are challenged with permitting guns to be carried into their establishments or promoting equality for the LGBT community. These brands are real and people follow that. They may not agree with the leader in all instances, but they follow because of what they represent at the core.
Leaders give followers what they want. This will vary by follower, but there are basic elements that drive all followers to engage.
Future – A leader provides the follower with a vision for the future. They paint the picture of tomorrow and the opportunities and glories that are to come. Leaders also don’t shy away from reality. They tell it like it is. If tomorrow will be tough, but the days after great – they don’t just say it. They proclaim it.
Access – A family of followers represents a network to be tapped by any follower. Connecting with people of the same mindset and similar goals can be a priceless opportunity. Building a network is not just for the followers. You will consistently see leaders reach out to tap a new audience, embrace another group, and grow the family.
Empowerment – People need motivation. They want motivation. Leaders provide this through encouragement and empowerment. It’s like the army’s “Be all you can be.” for everyone. Without empowering others, leaders will not succeed. Look at all the great leaders and you will see that they don’t cut down people to get ahead, they raise them up.
Competition – People generally want to succeed. This means they need a challenge. Leaders provide subtle and direct challenges. Oftentimes, the challenge may be expressed directly in a goal such as weight loss or it may be indirect but comparable to others such as how many miles did you run this week. As a pack member you get to decide what success is.
What can brands takeaway from this review of Leaders and Followers? Be different. Apple said Think Different and they were right. It’s not about blending into the crowd and making safe choices. Striving to avoid conflict with any one individual or group will simply make you boring and irrelevant.
Speak up. Stand out. Take the reins and lead. Leadership is there for the taking. Don’t be shy.