What Followers REALLY Want from Leaders. (Really.)

So the question is, what do your followers want and need from you?

Several years ago, James Kouzes and Barry Posner, in their seminal leadership work, The Leadership Challenge,  cited their earliest research in the 80’s in concluding that, consistently, what followers need most from leaders is Honesty. Telling the truth was more important than some of the things we typically guess leaders should do – inspire, plan, strategize, cast vision, etc. Of course there have been many lists that purported to codify the most important stuff a leader should be doing. Former Harvard professor John Kotter focuses on leading change. American Express CEO Ken Chenault has said that a leader must do two things above all else: Define reality and give hope. You get the idea.

More recently, the Gallup Organization conducted a study of 10,000 followers seeking the same information in a more contemporary context. What do followers want from leaders? What do your followers want from you?

The answer? Four things. Four BIG things.


They seem rather soft and squishy don’t they? Very emotional. Perhaps more emotional than our old preconceptions about effective leadership. Along with those four words come actions that reflect that leadership is, first first first, about relationships.

  • Tell the truth, be who you say you are.
  • Forgive easily, demonstrate consistent mercy.
  • Be predictable without being stagnant.
  • Model your belief that things will be better. That, as my pastor often says, “the rest of your days will be the best of your days.”

Because of the nature of church leadership, these qualities may be even more important for church lay leaders, pastors and ministers. Most of the time, you don’t have the fallback options of authority or command and control. More than in other contexts, your follows must truly want to follow you. So, if those four things are the primary measure of your leadership effectiveness, how are you doing? What would your followers say?

You can read more about the Gallup Study in Tom Rath and Barry Conchie’s book, Strengths Based Leadership.