What People Expect from their Leaders

Owners and leaders were talking about leadership this morning in a small group of the faithful. What’s the job of a leader? A founder’s job is to build an organization based on the values the founder holds dear.  A corporate leader serves the company while being true to her own values. Leadership is never about the leader; it’s about the organization and people you lead. You lead through your expressed thoughts — your words — and your actions. The power of our words is greater than we can possibly imagine.

The messages you send by your actions is even more powerful.   If you exhibit or tolerate behavior which does not match expressed values, before long your credibility as a leader will be lost.  And, you strengthen the culture of your organization when you recognize, praise and thank the people who  do things to support and further the agreed-upon values.

Whether you lead a small team or large company, “… expect that you are the subject of dinner conversation every night,” said one. “Everything you do is known and everything you say is recalled and taken as gospel.”

The people you lead expect a lot from their leaders. They want to know: where are you taking us? Where do I fit in? How will what you are doing impact what I am doing? Their perspective is often focused on self first. They don’t realize that the leader entering an organization or faced with a crisis doesn’t have all the answers. That’s right; they expect a lot from their leaders.

How could you possibly have all the  answers on day one? Your influence comes from your authenticity and ability to communicate. You will have to harness a variety of resources — including your experience and ideas,  the ingenuity, history and experience of the team — to navigate change. One private equity firm leader has entered many companies in times of transition. He usually addresses the employees in due course to introduce the intentions of the new owners.

“The owners and I have determined that the company is falling short of its potential. We can do better. We don’t yet know exactly what that means or have all the answers. We need your help and we are all going to figure that out together.”

Herein lies an opportunity. Three types of performers emerge in times of crisis. The ostrich. The resistance. The positive opportunist. The ostrich keeps his head down, acts like nothing has changed and tries to do his job without being noticed. The resistance organizes around dissenting, preventing or obstructing change. They can be heard saying, “we tried that and it didn’t work.”

Then there is the third group: the positive opportunist. The positive opportunist recognizes the leader needs help and approaches the period of transition as an opportunity to help and provide service, to raise their hand or say yes to information requests.

How each follower shows up will determine his destiny to some extent. Each decision is an “opt-in” opportunity, a self-selection process. Who will lean in willingly, ready to be led to higher ground? Who will opt out with negativity and resistance to change? And who will stand still and hope they can escape change by digging their heads in the sand?


Special thanks to the leaders in the Baltimore Chapter of the Ignatian Business Conference.

Gerri Leder, CPC, is a leadership coach and founder of LederMark Communications and Coaching. 

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