It may be useful, after our discussions earlier this week about the potentially destructive dynamics between certain types of leaders and their followers, to consider one more aspect of the problem. It has to do with the “ability” of leaders to attract legions of inspired, impassioned, dedicated followers.
This sounds like a wondrous thing, especially if you aspire to be such a leader, yourself. We know we’ll never be rock stars; but this seems pretty close, and within reach to boot (and, mind you, this unspoken fact sells a lot of books and seminars).
But let’s take a look at it from the perspective of the followers. This market for leadership is not fluid, filled with rational consumer‘s making logical decisions, and then remaking them as events unfold and new models enter the field. Once a commitment is made to a leader, demand becomes inelastic; The new market clearing point soars so high, it often takes a catastrophe to reach it. Such a point is upon us now, arrived at via such an event.
This commitment is often made due to an emotional connection with the chosen leader; a prime reason for its inelasticity. With classic buying psychology, the decision is subsequently stubbornly defended with putatively rational explanations, often provided ready for use by the very leader whose abilities and actions they justify.
But the truth is that the purchase was and remains fundamentally emotional. How could it be otherwise? After all, this leader was taught to make the sale through fundamentally irrational, emotional devices: the crafting of a grippingly lofty vision, the delivery of deeply evocative communication that inspires on a profoundly individual level, the expression of a sense of purpose and passion that engenders confidence – that awakens an abiding faith in the person of the leader.
That’s what the modern individual leader wants: uncritical commitment, steadfast devotion, unquestioning obedience. There is little room in contemporary leadership theory for qualified, deliberative followership; extended, modified, or rescinded at the initiative of the follower.
And followers oblige. To their initial emotional investment they make additional installments as demanded. No revelation of personal or professional shortcomings can undermine their faith. Crisis only deepens their attestations of loyalty. There is too much money in this pot, and no matter how bad it gets, they are all in, and continue to throw away good money after it.
At stake is not only their chosen leader’s credibility, but their own. They have so much of their personal psychic energy sunk into this marriage that divorce has become unthinkable, not to mention a deplorable forsaking of someone who needs their continued faith and devotion in these troubled times.
They are complicit in their own blind faith. They cannot – they refuse to – see clearly. Desperately singing hymns of frantic loyalty on deck, down with the sinking ship they go.
If you’re a groupie, this sort of fealty to a fading rock star does no real harm. But do you really want to be this sort of a follower to a business “leader?”
And do you, as a senior executive, really find this sort of followership productive? Do you want to develop a style of individual leadership in yourself that cultivates such followers? Do you think your boards (or, at least, your company’s shareholders) really want you to do that?
Today’s tips: Speaking of non-rational selection of leaders, please see this article by Bob Sutton about some disturbing evidence in this regard.
And, speaking of organizational dynamics, please make a point of viewing this must-see piece by Steve Roesler about how they influence cultural – and cross-cultural – assumptions and communication.
For the weekend, you may also wish to consider the following items:
Next is Cultural Offering‘s explanation of why he knows who to thank for his considerable good fortune, and no longer recalls those possibly associated with less happy events – an approach which tends to generate more of the former, and fewer of the latter.
Finally, please be sure to see Seth Godin‘s brief piece about what he learned, from a panhandler, about delivering an effective sales presentations.
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