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A Key to Creating the Future: The Leader, Followers, and Their Relationship

by Jeet Kumar

Everyday when I wake up, I ask myself three questions: Is something bothering me? Am I incomplete about anything? Am I being someone who can show up as a leader today? Some people pray, some people meditate, some people go straight for the coffee, I reflect on my being state. This ritual allows me to become very present to what is missing that could get in the way of me showing up as the leader I am committed to being. 

As a CEO of a global company, there is little to no room for error or ego. I am expected to be my best self every minute of every day. And that is great. It is also impossible, because I am human. I was recently faced with a situation in which an employee challenged my intent in a leadership meeting. While I was not upset by this, it did cause me to reflect on the possible gap of understanding that can exist between some leaders and the people they are leading. 

Showing up for yourself as a leader

In order to show up as a leader for others, you must first show up as a leader for yourself. I treat myself and my thoughts with dignity and respect. I make sure I am healthy, peaceful, and joyful in all areas of my life. After all, if I don’t show up for myself in that way, how can I expect others to show up for me that way?

I also make sure I am complete with myself so I can give my whole self and full attention to those I am leading, which starts with the above questions I ask myself every morning. The importance of this ritual was made very clear when the situation at the leadership meeting arose. I was not upset by the challenge, because I was complete with myself and fully listening to what the employee was actually trying to share. I was able to be present and recognize what was missing for the employee in that situation. 

Equally as important as starting your day with the three questions is reflecting on your leadership at the end of the day. Ask yourself: How could I have shown up differently? Was there a situation in which I missed something that I need to clean up tomorrow? Then, make sure to take the required actions right away.

Relationships between leaders and people they are leading

Leadership isn’t one-directional. It is a two-way street where both leaders and followers should be open, communicative, and caring. Additionally, it is a constant journey both parties are involved in. This creates an essential time for followers to offer their leaders what I like to call feed-forward. I refrain from using the word feedback, as you can’t change the past but you can always create the future. Without providing feed-forward, the leader won’t know what needs to improve. That being said, the leader needs to be open to hearing feed-forward from the followers and implementing the shared insights into their leadership.

Leaders are never perfect. In fact, I look at perfection as a recipe for disaster. Both leaders and followers need to leave room for failure. If not, expect to be disappointed many times. With failure, both the leader and followers need to be committed to being open. Without openness, the leader is bound to fail in the end. The relationship between a leader and those they are leading varies constantly. Since we are all human, it is important that both sides offer each other grace for their mistakes. Followers should offer grace to the leader for their first mistake.

However, if the leader continues to make the same mistake, followers should hold the leader accountable and make sure that it does not happen again. When a leader is met with resistance, it most likely means they are not listening to something in their follower’s sharing. In the end, both the leader and followers are working towards achieving the same goal, and until their relationship is based on love, care, and openness, the desired outcome won’t be attained. 

Creating a shared vision is the key to a successful relationship between leaders and followers. As a leader, I always make sure to be transparent about why we are together. I clearly define the “what,” “why,” and “how” of the vision to ensure the followers are aligned with the vision. Sharing the success metrics is an additional way that I involve my followers in the process. The last critical step in this process is for a leader to make sure it is clear with the followers what to expect when the team falls short. If the leader lacks this transparent communication, their leadership could be undermined. 

Ways For the Leader To Listen

The leader should always share with their followers what they can count on them for. I always explicitly let my followers know that I am open for feed-forward. This gives me an opportunity to improve and make changes. 

In order to get feed-forward, the leader should be upfront about it. I like to ask questions such as:

  • “What should I start doing?”
  • “What should I stop doing?”
  • “What should I continue doing?”

These questions give the leader an opportunity to figure out what is working well, and what is not working well. By continuously asking some of these self-reflecting questions, I have been able to improve my leadership skills and strengthen my relationship with my followers.

Ways For the Followers To Share

As a follower, you must hold the leader accountable in order for him to lead the group effectively. This is where it is critical that followers have the courage and trust to provide feed-forward. This step will benefit both you as a follower and the leader. Followers should always focus on the “thing” that is not working for them, rather than on the “person” who is leading them. 

For example, instead of saying, “It bothers me you are always late to meetings,” you can share that the meetings are not effective if the leader is late. That ensures the leader is not being attacked while still allowing a conversation to lead to change. While providing this feed-forward, it is also necessary that you remain kind and loving towards the leader. When followers help support the leader to get better, everyone benefits from it and the group achieves remarkable results. 

Living Leadership

It is important to note that leadership is not a switch that you can turn on and off. If you are committed to being a leader, it is essential to ensure that you are constantly living leadership and must be consistent with everything that you do. 

In our related podcast discussion, our followers share a few ways that leadership is lived: 

  • Empathize with followers
  • Let your ego go
  • Want the best for every follower
  • Connect big picture to day-to-day tasks
  • Show up with followers in any situation and be there with them 

Leadership is a life-long journey. It can be challenging at times, but the reward of helping others to reach their highest potential is remarkable.

The group moves forward and amazing results are produced when leaders make a commitment to being whole and complete all the time and show up for their followers with the leadership mindset. At the end of the day leadership is all about serving others so, if one isn’t serving the followers, one shouldn’t be a leader. 

Whether you’re in a leadership position or following someone, I encourage you to take a look at how things are happening around your life. If you are in a leadership position, ask yourself, “How am I showing up for my followers?”; “Do I work hard to lead my followers effectively?” If you are a follower, ask yourself, “How am I showing up for my leader?” “Do I work with my leader shoulder-to-shoulder and help him to lead effectively?” The relationship between the leader and followers most of the time decides whether a group achieves mediocre results or great results. If a group of people is committed to creating the future, the relationship between the leader and followers is the key; the leader must earn followers’ trust and respect, while followers must treat the leader with grace and kindness.

Check out the podcast on this topic as well.