Be real: If you are the boss, would you follow you? As I have written before, there is a lack of leadership in our culture. And it’s not because we have a lack of bosses.

There are plenty of bosses.

A lack of leadership causes companies to flounder in both prosperous and poor economic times. As Warren Bennis wrote, “A business short on capital can borrow money, and one with a poor location can move. But a business short on leadership has little chance of survival.”

If your subs or your employees are not doing what you want or expect them to do, it’s not an employee problem: it’s a leadership problem. In my last two columns I wrote about how a critical part of being a leader is your ability and your willingness to communicate your vision and your expectations, your ability to step up and address sensitive issues respectfully and empathically, and your the ability to hold constituents accountable for the results you desire.

As a boss, you are responsible for the productivity of your people. If they are not more productive because of your presence and influence, then you are an expense to your business. If that’s the case, your position should be eliminated and no one would ever know you were gone.

It reminds me of what Jimmy Buffett sings with the Zac Brown band, “Wrote a note and said, ‘be back in a minute’; bought a boat, and I sailed off in it. Don’t think anyone is going to miss me anyway.” 

This lack of leadership permeates all areas of business and life. In one study, about 50% of employees said that they only put enough effort into their jobs to hold onto their jobs. Interestingly, 84% of those same employees said they could work better and be more productive if they wanted to.

So why don’t they want to?

When Gallup surveyed the top 25% of the workforce – the most productive workers in any organization – they found that those workers needed a great boss or manager to maintain their productivity. In addition, they found that these talented workers would stay with a toxic company if they had a boss or manager that they liked and respected and with whom they had a great relationship. The fact is, the single most important determinant of an individual’s performance and commitment to stay with an organization is the relationship with his or her immediate supervisor.

Probably the most critical issue bosses face today is choice. The constituents in the organization can choose whether to follow the boss or not. Remember that the definition of a leader is someone with followers.

If there are no followers, there is no leader.

Why would a constituent choose to follow? Why would someone work harder? It may come down to how the boss uses his power. As someone once said, “The measure of a man is what he does with power.” 

Many new bosses have the mistaken belief that a new title will give them the power and authority to take charge, make constituents listen and make them follow. They forget that no one – themselves included – likes losing the ability to be in control or losing freedom of choice by being told what to do, how to do it and when to do it. When that happens, most of us will shut down or do the opposite – it’s the natural fight or flee mechanism.

By the way, that’s not leadership, that’s coercion! Coercion is what Mao Zedong meant when he said, “Power grows out of a barrel of a gun.”  Fear is usually the result of coercion. Fear clearly sabotages productivity. (If you don’t do this or that, you’ll be fired, or laid off or you’ll lose your bonus!) Bosses can demand loyalty and that their constituents follow, but loyalty cannot be demanded; it can only be granted.

A boss will sometimes be granted loyalty by followers by using his/her power to give rewards or incentives. This is called utility power. Constituents do what’s expected and wanted because they are rewarded. However, utility power is easily lost when the incentive is taken away, or the constituent’s need for it becomes satisfied. The problem is that a satisfied need no longer motivates. Granted loyalty through utility power is at best marginal. A boss may temporarily improve productivity, but it is not long lasting. A boss can buy his/her constituents’ hands, but he/she can’t buy their hearts.

So what will make constituents grant loyalty to bosses and follow? Paradoxically, it’s not the power the boss has over them; it is the power the constituents grant. It’s what Blaine Lee, in his book “The Power Principle,” calls Principle Centered Power.

Principle Centered Power is the power constituents give to their leaders because they honor them. That power is based on principles of honor, trust and respect for the leader. Not only do they honor the leader, they honor the person. That’s why Lee writes, “You will never be more effective as a leader than you are as a person.”

Think about it: who has been very influential in your life? Who would you follow anywhere? Is that person someone you honor, trust and respect?

In my research, I have found that virtually the same principles that create customer loyalty for a business or salesperson are the same that create loyal followers for “honored” leaders.

That honor starts with trust. Trust is the foundation of all relationships. Trust has two components, one of character and the other of competence. Both are critical in extracting honor from constituents. The character component requires pure intent, i.e., the leader cares about his constituents and has their best interests at heart.

The other character component is congruence. Does the boss walk the talk? Or does he or she say, “Do what I say, not what I do?”  Is the leader a person of integrity – correspondence between word and deed? Leaders with this trait talk straight, not with a forked-tongue; they demonstrate respect for others; they right wrongs; they are transparent; they keep commitments; they listen first and extend trust to others. What could you do to demonstrate your pure intent and make yourself more congruent?

The second component of trust is competence. We trust those who have skills, knowledge and who are wise. How much trust would you have in a leader leading you into battle who was incompetent? You would probably say, “You go first, I’ll follow, but from way back here.” Leaders with this trait deliver results; they confront reality; they are always working to get better, they clarify expectations and practice accountability. What could you do to make yourself more competent and skillful?

Beyond trust, when honor is granted to a leader there is an emotional commitment that the constituent makes. It’s all about the relationship. Whether the leader is known personally by the constituent or not, the constituent must feel that the leader cares. Great leaders get to know their constituents, their families, their issues and their struggles. Great leaders are granted honor because the constituents feel connected personally to the leader. I promise that if your constituents feel you care more about the numbers than them, their productivity is not optimal.

So what are you? Are you a leader with followers or a boss with employees? It doesn’t matter where you are in the journey. Eventually, by practicing the sound principles of honor, trust and respect, you can become a leader with many followers, after all leadership is a skill and can be learned. The question is, where are you in your learning?

Are you ready to follow you?