How to Become a Leader People Want to Follow

How to Become a Leader People Want to Follow

“I think the true test of leadership is leading volunteers” (Tony Morgan, Simply Strategic Volunteers, 47).

One of the reasons why leading volunteers can be so difficult is that you aren’t paying them. When you trade pay for performance, you have leverage in the relationship.

If the person doesn’t show up prepared, or simply doesn’t show up at all, you can fire that person and find their replacement fairly quickly.

It’s hard to do that with volunteers.

When they email at the last minute to let you know they won’t be there, you just reply with a simple, “That’s okay. See you next week.”

When you see them – 5 minutes before the program starts – looking over the lesson for the first time, you make light of it and they make a quick excuse.

We’ve all been there. And what option do we have to do it differently?

If you’re at a larger church with a deep base of potential volunteers, I guess you could fire them (though you probably wouldn’t call it that) and find a replacement. But most of you that I’ve talked with aren’t in that situation. You’re working with the small pool of people who have made themselves available.

Either way, whether you’re at a large church or small church, who among us hasn’t wanted to let a volunteer go, only to realize that there isn’t anyone else ready or willing to take that role right now?

It happens to all of us from time to time.

So, what do we do? We either let it go with a word, or we have yet another conversation with the person about our expectations and their performance.

A way forward is to raise your leadership game. You have to maximize your leadership potential by becoming a leader that people want to follow…especially your volunteers.

“Is that possible?” you ask.

I believe it is.

Here’s how…

What Do People Want in a Leader?

James Kouzes and Barry Posner have researched and taught leadership for over 30 years. They began their research on what people expect of their leaders.

They started with an open-ended question: “What values, personal traits, or characteristics do you look for and admire in a leader?”

When all the results were in, the list of several hundred different responses was distilled into a list of 20 characteristics. That shortened list then formed the basis for their updated survey aimed at identifying the exact traits most people admire in leaders.

Here’s what’s interesting:
For 25 years they’ve given this same survey to over 75,000 people around the world. Over time, they discovered that only 4 of the characteristics have received over 60% of the votes across different countries, cultures, organizations, genders, educational levels, and age groups.

While every one of the characteristics received some votes, only 4 stood out from the rest. That means that what most people look for in a leader – a person they would be willing to follow – has remained constant over time.

By the way, here’s a link for you to download a Word doc of the survey. I would encourage you to save it, print it, and give it to your volunteers at your next meeting. Have them fill it out and talk about their responses together. I think it could spark some neat conversations, plus I’d love for you to come back and let us know in the comments which ones scored the highest among your group!

4 Characteristics of Leaders People Want to Follow

1. Honest

Kouzes and Posner report, “In almost every survey we’ve conducted, honesty has been selected more often than any other leadership characteristic…Since the first time we conducted our studies, honesty has been at the top of the list” (The Leadership Challenge, p. 32).

2. Forward-Looking

“People expect leaders to have a sense of direction and a concern for the future of the organization…Whether we call that ability vision, a dream, a calling, a goal, or a personal agenda, the message is clear: leaders must know where they’re going if they expect others to willingly join them on the journey” (The Leadership Challenge, p. 33).

3. Inspiring

“People expect their leaders to be enthusiastic, energetic, and positive about the future…A leader must be able to communicate the vision in ways that encourage people to sign on for the duration and excite them about the cause” (The Leadership Challenge, p. 34).

4. Competent

“To enlist in a common cause, people must believe that the leader is competent to guide them where they’re headed. They must see the leader as having relevant experience and sound judgment. If they doubt the person’s abilities, they’re unlikely to join the crusade” (The Leadership Challenge, p. 35).

The Foundation of Leadership

When these 4 characteristics are taken together, what emerges is a true foundation for your leadership: Credibility.

Kouzes and Posner summarize by saying, “If you don’t believe in the messenger, you won’t believe the message” (The Leadership Challenge, p. 38).

Your Move

Today, I want you to evaluate yourself as a leader. In fact, it would be a good idea to ask a few other people evaluate you – ask your coworkers, your volunteers, a few parents, maybe even a few of your high school students.

Do they see you as honest?
Do they think you’re forward-looking?
Do they believe you’re inspiring?
Do they see you as competent?

If you want to become a leader that people want to follow, the results are in. These are the traits that people are looking for in a leader.

Books Mentioned in This Post:

Simply Strategic Volunteers - Tony Morgan and Tim Stevens The Leadership Challenge - Kouzes and Posner

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Trevor Hamaker (DMin, McAfee School of Theology) is an author, adjunct professor, and youth ministry coach. He helps youth pastors see their potential, develop their skills, and reach their goals.

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