70% of American workers are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” (Gallup, 2013). That figure represents a failure of leadership. Leadership is the ability to impact and engage people in important work that causes positive disruption. That clearly isn’t happening. Whether you tell someone to follow you or ask them, there are only three possible responses that person can give you: Yes, No, or Maybe. So at the end of the day leadership is about getting someone to engage and (voluntarily and repeatedly) say “yes.”
How do we get people to respond, “yes?” There are three methods leaders rely upon to get people to follow. People will say “yes” is to our knowledge and expertise. They will follow because they trust our competence. They will follow so long as they trust our competence. So the “yes” might not be repeated in all situations. Most promotions to positions of leadership are given in recognition of a person’s knowledge and expertise in their role. How do we reward them? We move them up. Now they have a position of authority. This leads to the second method for getting people to say “yes.”
For a time people will say “yes” to our position. We may be in a position of authority over them. We are their supervisor or manager so they follow. In this case, the “yes” is not voluntary; the “yes” is to our position, not our leadership. Be warned that there is a very limited shelf life to leadership that relies on positional power to get others to follow. Engagement will be low and performance lagging on teams where the leader leans to heavy on “I’m the boss, that’s why!”
The third way to get someone to say “yes” is through who we are as people. This is the way of personal power. This is the most powerful and lasting method of leadership. Competence is assumed. Position is respected but not paramount. People say “yes” and follow from a place of trust in our truthfulness, our consistency, and our compassion.
Becoming and remaining this kind of leader – someone who can get another person to (voluntarily and repeatedly) say “yes” all the time requires our full attention and intention. It is a daily practice and a life-long journey. It is a journey that heroes make. It is a journey that brings about stronger, more effective, and more authentic leadership. This should be the focus of leadership development – helping men and women commit to this practice and journey. The fact that it is not may well explain the 30% engagement rate of US employees (Gallup, 2013).
Maybe it’s time to forget everything you know about leadership and focus on being someone to whom another person would voluntarily and repeatedly say, “yes.”