If nobody is following you, then you’re not leading.
It’s a phrase that anyone in leadership has heard over and over again. I was recently in a leadership class at my church being led by a person from Kineo Resources. During the session as he was discussing the four reasons people will follow you, I reflected on what I had learned that night I thought about how it applies to education.
Whatever your role is in education, you are a leader. However, the true mark of leaders isn’t how great their ideas are; it’s the number of people they can get to follow, plan, improve, and execute those ideas. There are four levels of followers each leader has and each level of follow is a reflection of the relationship between the leader and the follower.
Some people will just follow you because of your position. They do what you say because they are the student and you are the teacher, or they are the teacher and you are the administrator. It’s a level of compliance based on the position you hold over them or because of your ability to “get them in trouble” if they don’t listen to you. This is the lowest level of followers and the lowest level of relationship. If you constantly have to remind somebody that you’re in charge, you’re the adult, or you’re the boss, and they’re the student, they’re the child, or they’re the teacher, then you only have position followers. These followers might be compliant at best. They will do what you say when you’re but might talk about you behind your back. This is also the entry level of following. We follow people because of their position and test the waters to see if we can build that relationship to the next level.
When you realize you have a position level follower, it is your role as a leader to cultivate that relationship. The follower wants to see that you have a vision and a mission. They want to see that you have a plan and a purpose. Most of all, they want to see that there is a benefit to being your follower. If they can’t see your vision and mission, they’ll never buy into you. If they don’t see a benefit of being a follower, then they’ll never get to the next level of following.
Permission is the next level of following. This level says, I give you permission to lead me. Ultimately, position followers are not true followers at all. True followers are followers not out of obligation, but because they give you permission to lead them. They are followers out of choice. They have begun to buy into you as a leader, therefore they are buying into your vision and your mission. They haven’t seen the results of following you yet, but they believe the results are coming. This is the student who came into your class not liking your subject, but because they like you they give it a shot. They don’t think they’ll be good at math but because they have begun to trust you, they follow your instructions. This is the teacher who has bought into the vision of the principal and the district. They haven’t seen the results in the classroom yet, but they trust the instructional leaders and therefore are implementing the plan to the best of their ability.
There is only one way to continue to move the followers up to the next level of following, and that is through results. If a leader’s vision and mission fails to produce results, then those who followed you out of permission are going to revoke that permission. You see it all the time is sports. A new coach comes in, builds a relationship with his or her team, they implement the new system, maybe have some immediate success but then things go south. They start losing games and the new system doesn’t appear to be working any longer. What happens? The coach loses the locker room, loses permission, and then loses his job. The same thing happens in our schools. At some point, your leadership has to begin to consistently produce results in order to move to that next level of followers.
When those following you begin to see the good results, then they move to that next level, production. This level says, I followed you because of your position, you built trust in me and I have you permission to lead me. Now I see the good results of following you, so I will follow you further. This is a great place to be. I think back to my high school algebra teacher, Ms. Rupar. She was a tough lady. She certainly taught through fear to a certain degree and I’m not sure her methods would work today but they worked back then. I remember listening to her because she was my teacher and she could put you in line if you didn’t pay attention. Then I remember as the semester went on that I developed a good relationship with her. I learned that we could connect and she was actually very easy to talk to once you got over your fear of her. So I gave her permission to lead me. No longer was I doing things because I didn’t want to get in trouble but because I didn’t want to let her down. Finally, I found out I was pretty good at this algebra stuff and I had her to thank for it. I was getting consistently good results, so I kept following her.
I don’t care what your position is, how many degrees you have, or how many years you’ve been doing this, if you can’t produce results, people will stop following you. This is where a lot of leaders falter because they realize they’re not getting the results they want, but they aren’t willing to change. They are not willing to adapt to a new way of thinking. Their plans become more important to them than their vision and mission.
But if you, as a leader, can grow, change, and adapt throughout the process and produce results, then you have a chance to grow into the type of leader who leads people to that final stage of following.
We will all follow somebody who makes us a better version of ourselves. This level says, I will follow you because I am becoming the leader I want to become because of you. We reproduce after our own kind. Dogs breed dogs. Cats breed cats. Corn seeds are planted and corn grows out of the ground. Leaders produce leaders. I said it at the top of this post, if nobody is following you, then you’re not leading. I also say, if you’re not producing new leaders, then you’re not leading. People will obey somebody because of their position. They will give permission to somebody they trust. They will follow somebody whose plans and leadership produce results. They will flock to somebody who helps them develop personally to the leader they want to be. This is the principal who changes schools and half the staff at their previous schools puts in for transfers to his or her new school. This is the teacher that every student in the school wants to have, like my high school Latin teacher Mr. Boone. Mr. Boone taught 11th grade ELA and Latin. By the time he retire, he taught five classes of Latin a day. He was such a great teacher who instilled within you confidence, a love for learning, and a passion to follow your dreams. Every student signed up for Latin just to guarantee they had Mr. Boone as a teacher.
In the end we have to remember that there is more to life than producing good results. If you are just using people to get the results, you need them in spite of your results, you will lose your followers. We are in the people business. Our students need to know that we are interested in developing them as people and working with them so they will become the leaders they want to be. Our staffs need to know that we pour into them, not just to get results, but because they are worth pouring in to. It’s all about relationship.
Here, in just the start of second semester, let me challenge us to reflect on where we are as leaders. Are people following us just because of our position? Have people given us permission to lead them and are we honoring that permission by working with them to produce results? Are we doing more than producing by pouring into those who are following? Are we producing leaders?