Strengths Based Leadership. Understanding Why People Follow

Updated: Mar 19, 2018

While defining the different aspects and skills a leader needs to have, the follower is usually neglected. A leader has been defined by legendary investor Warren Buffet as one who gets things done through the others. Studying the leader’s action only without considering the followers might not be the right unit of measurement to study leadership. For a better study of leadership, it is important to focus on leaders as much as followers so as to understand why and how they impact each other. By studying followers, we get an insight into their needs and expectations that one should try to fulfill to become an effective leader.

The article “Understanding why people follow” questioned and analyzed a random sample of 10,000 people in order to define their needs and expectations from the leaders. The following questions were asked: What leader has the most positive influence in your daily life?; List three words that best describe what this person contributes to your life.

These questions were carefully selected. First of all, there is focus on “positive influence” in order to make sure the leader studied does not primarily have a negative influence. Second, there were no choices concerning the words that best qualify these leaders. People had to describe their leaders in their own way in order to avoid bias.

Surprisingly, amid all the answers, among the 25 most frequently cited words, many of the customary characteristics such as purpose, wisdom and humor did not show anywhere close to the uppermost of the list. In addition to that, more than 1000 people have cited the exact identical word inspite of not providing any categories or selections. This actually explains that people have a clear image of the ideal leader they choose to follow, a leader who is trustworthy, compassionate, and who delivers stability and hope.


Trust was described as the plain relationship filter and the foundation of leading that helps people define whom to spend time with and whom to put faith in. Trust is achieved through respect, integrity and honesty. When people trust each other, it is easier to get past formality and move on to more important things. In a workplace environment, trust increases speed and efficiency. At the same time, it is linked to engagement in the workplace. Employees are most likely to engage if they trust their organization’s leadership.


People need positive energy, which implies that they simply do not want to follow negative people. A leader therefore needs to have a positive outlook in order to bring out people’s energy. Compassion is reached through caring, friendship, happiness and love. No matter how idealistic it seems to be, it is appropriate and very effective. Followers whose leaders express compassion are more likely to stay with their organizations, have much more engaged customers, are substantially more productive and produce more profitability for their organization.


Followers need to feel stable with their leaders. They reported that the best leaders were the ones they could always count on in times of need. In order to meet this requirement, a leader is supposed to provide security, support and peace, as well as strength. For instance, an employee is most likely to engage in his or her job if they are confident about their organization’s financial future. It makes the employee self-assured and clears his or her way for rapid growth compared to those with lower confidence about their organizations.


Hope was described as a higher level need. It is about initiating for the future, creating enthusiasm and optimism. In order to accomplish this need, it is important for a leader to provide direction, faith and guidance. For instance, in times of crisis, a leader should play as much for the future rather than just reacting to the moment’s needs. It gives people something to look forward to and helps them see the way through chaos and complexity. Giving people hope results in more engagement in the workplace and develops more than uncompromising visions.

To conclude, you are a leader only if others follow. It is important to bear in mind that people already have an idealistic image of the leaders they choose to follow with a set of expectations and needs that specify their choice. First of all, people want to follow a trustworthy leader, who is respectful and honest. Secondly, people want to follow a compassionate leader for positive energy, someone who cares about them and loves them. Thirdly, as people seek stability, they need a transparent leader to follow in order to feel secure, supported and confident. Finally, hope is people’s higher level need. They want to follow a leader who directs and guides them towards a better future. All in all, followers’ consciousness about their choice of leader requires that the leader should be able to

provide these four important basic needs.

Milena Kochanska, LDI Intern

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