4 What do followers need?
Taking the time to understand the needs of your followers is an important step. Responding to and meeting those needs will allow you to form positive relationships with your team.
Jackson and Parry (2011) explain that followers have several needs that the leader must attempt to fulfil, for example:
- the need for clarity, for example, what should we be doing? Where are we going?
- the need for meaning, for example, what are we doing this for?
- the need for safety, for example, will it be ok if we do this?
A Gallup research team asked over 10 000 followers what the most influential leaders contribute to their lives. The research (Rath and Conchie, 2008) identified four basic needs:
In an interview in the Gallup Business Journal (Robison, 2009), the researchers elaborate:
- ‘Trust is primarily built through relationships, and it’s important because it’s the foundational currency that a leader has with his team or his followers.’
- ‘Leaders need to be thinking constantly about what they’re doing to create a basic sense of security and stability throughout an organization.’
- ‘Followers need to see how things will get better and what that future might look like. Leaders need to build that foundation of stability, and hope sits on top of that.’
- ‘At the individual level, compassion can manifest itself in many different ways. You can show you care, for example, by having tough conversations with people about their performance and their positioning.’
Considering the needs of different types of followers is an important exercise. If you currently have followers, it will allow you to interact with them more effectively. If you don’t, it will be useful preparation for future leadership and may help you to pre-empt certain issues before they arise.
Activity 5 Identifying the needs of your followers
Choose a typology and think of some examples of different types of followers you have encountered. If you are not currently leading anyone, think about a leader you follow and consider your fellow followers and their types.
Answer the following questions:
Did you observe behaviours that were positive or negative?
What were the reasons for their engagement or lack of it?
What do you think those followers needed?
What actions did the leader take to identify the needs of those followers? What actions could they have taken?
The followers you were considering might have a common type or you may have identified a range of different types of followers. Their needs might be the same, but expressed differently, or you might have a range of issues that you need to address. Are there any common themes that could be addressed with the whole team? Use your leadership journal to explore any issues in more detail.
Depending on the size of your team, you may not be able to address everyone’s needs individually, but there are likely to be group activities, communications strategies etc. that you could facilitate or delegate. You’ll learn more about how a leader might approach common challenges, including building teams and motivating staff, in Week 6.
A positive step towards engaging your followers is to emphasise your commitment to their development, and you’ll focus on that in more detail in the next section.