Following People

People follow for a number of reasons, but in my experience primarily two; they follow people first and second they follow big ideas that have room for them. People get followed, not just because they are charismatic or outgoing, but usually because they have some competency others want. A skill, a vision, a focus, an exclusivity. That leader embodies these things and so others are willing to follow.

Following Ideas

The other reason people follow is because of a big idea that has room for them. It is an idea that allows them space to insert themselves, yet to somehow be a part of something big. Like the 5000 men that are reported to have responded to Ernest Shackleton’s newspaper advertisement in the London Times Newspaper in 1901, looking for Sea crew to man an expedition to the Antarctic – our need to be part of something bigger than ourselves, lures us to follow.


On the other hand, obeying instruction is entirely different from following and is sourced in a whole new set of motivations. Obedience comes from a response to authority and involves compliance. It is rule governed and has the implication of punishment looming over it. People who respond to this authority, do so out of obedience and often out of fear. Fear of loosing a job, a promotion or some form of security, causes people to follow out of compliance. Out of obedience.

In the end the job gets done either way. But along the way the followers are more engaged and have a sense of freedom that inspires greater contribution. The obedient workers are also getting the job done, but only so that they don’t loose their jobs. It is playing not to loose, instead of playing to win and there is no joy in it.

Two questions then:

  • Are the people you are leading, following or obeying you?
  • If they are obeying, the problem is not them. Do you know how to lead them?