What Does it Take to Get People to Follow You?

There are many wonderful lessons on leadership in Clint Eastwood’s new film Invictus, a movie based on how Nelson Mandela changed the conversation in South Africa from divisiveness to solidarity. Whether you are an executive, a manager, a coach, a speaker or a writer, you are seeking a following. Here are some tips to help you build your community.

Mandela demonstrated the power of engaging people who see the world differently than you do. It’s easy to get like-minded people to follow you. Yet, as Peter Block says, “Like-mindedness is the enemy of the future.” Your strength as a leader is to engage everyone and to unify diverse, creative thought toward a common mission. Here are a few tips gleaned from Mandela’s wisdom:

Leadership Tip #1: Help people know they can accomplish more than they thought they could. Stand for what is possible not just in your organization, but for each individual including low performers. Your belief in them will often change their minds.

Leadership Tip #2: Truly see people. Know what their joys in life are. Know what they hope for. Know what they think stands in their way. One of the bodyguards in the movie said that he felt he was invisible to the president before Mandela. Yet Mandela knew he loved toffee and often brought it to him after a trip. Feeling visible inspired his dedication and achievement.

Leadership Tip #3: When people come to you for advice, don’t give it to them right away. Discern what they know and fear first, and then discover the answers together. Being “the one who knows” stunts their growth. In Gary Cohen’s new
book, JUST ASK LEADERSHIP: Why Great Managers Always Ask the Right Questions (McGraw Hill/2009), he shows how CEOs, managers, and supervisors can ask the right questions in the right contexts. This empowers coworkers, opening the door to greater productivity and creativity. Gary draws on his own experience as a successful CEO and from his interviews with 100 leaders across the country.

Leadership Tip #4: Forgive. What truly inspired the captain of the rugby team to align with Mandela and lead his team to the World Cup was Mandela’s ability to forgive those who imprisoned him for 27 years. Mandela changed the conversation from Us vs. Them by refusing to fall victim to negative emotions. He didn’t want to live in the story of the past. He sought to create a new story for South Africa based on creating the future. This required hope, not revenge.

The poem, Invictus, written by William Ernest Henley in 1875 kept Mandela’s resolve during his dark years in prison. The last two lines read,

“I am the master of my destiny. I am the captain of my soul.”

As a leader, you are an example whether you are consciously choosing your behavior or not. Don’t let past transgressions and current fears dictate your behavior. Be clear about your mission, and then see the gifts each person brings to the table. People will follow you based on how you acknowledge and treat them. No matter how brilliant you are, you must show that you care about them to engage their commitment to you and your cause. You can do this if you remain the master of your brain, commandeering your emotions and your actions in the service of your vision.

Happy new decade. May it be truly amazing.

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