Karin’s Leadership Articles

The Best Leaders Take These Simple Steps to Be Easy to Follow

Are you easy to follow? Before you say “Of course!” please know that everywhere I go these days, I ask this question. “Is your boss easy to follow?”

The #1 response is just a belly ache laugh.

The #2 usually contains some expletive.

I’ve also heard some great metaphors, including:

Understanding how my boss thinks is like putting together Ikea furniture. It looks easy when you leave the store (meeting), but when you get back there a lot more screws than you need and the directions are in another language.

Most leaders make following harder than necessary.

See: Leadership Skills: 6 Competencies You Can’t Lead Without

10 Ways to Be a Leader Who’s Easy to Follow

1. Be crystal clear

Be sure your team knows the number one mission so well they can say it in their sleep.

Sure you’ve got competing goals, but be crystal clear on how your team can change the game, and what you need them to do to make that happen.

I recently ran into a guy who once worked on my sales team at Verizon Wireless. He was now working at a small company where I was consulting. He heard I was there, so he walked into a leadership program I was doing to say “Hi.”  We had just finished talking about being crystal clear, so I took a chance.

“Eric, back when we worked together, what was the most import goal (what we now call in our leadership training programs the MIT, most important thing)?”

He didn’t miss a beat. “Winning in the Small and Medium Business space. Everyone needs to get ‘All Aboard’ (which meant everyone needed to sell at least five lines a month)” 6 years and another company later, he remembered.

Be that clear and you will be successful.

2. Be approachable

You want them to understand what needs to be done. If they don’t, they’ll spend a lot of time guessing. Be super approachable.

If you’re “missing that gene” as one senior leader recently shared, start here: Psychological Safety: Why People Don’t Speak Up at Work

3. Be a teacher

Get in there and show them what to do. You’ll be seen as credible and helpful. Don’t do it for them. Be a teacher.

We’ve some amazing success with incorporating a “leaders as teachers” approach into our leadership development programs.

4. Be forgiving

People want to follow human beings who understand they’re human too. Be forgiving.

5. Be human

Show a little vulnerability. Be clear you don’t have all the answers. People find it easy to emulate people, not rock stars.

6. Be knowledgeable

For goodness sake, know what you’re doing. And if you don’t, do everything you can to get smarter on the subject matter quickly. It’s hard to follow a bozo.

7. Be connected

The easiest to follow leaders are those who remove roadblocks by phoning a friend. Have lots of genuine connections to call when your team is in need.

8. Be trustworthy

Employees worry they won't get credit for ideasOne of the biggest courage crushers we found in our research on psychological safety and courage at work came down to managers stealing credit for ideas or not following through on their commitments.

You can’t be easy to follow if your team doesn’t trust you.

Do what you say. Every time.

9. Be a role model

Psychological Safety: This is the way we've always done itThe easiest way to be easy to follow is to role model the behaviors you want to see. And yet, we often see managers ask one thing of their team, and do another. For example, they might say, “I really want you to speak up and share ideas, but then don’t actually listen to their ideas. Or even more frustrating, they don’t speak up to advocate for their employee’s great ideas.

10. ?

Number 10 is up to you. What would you add?

If you haven’t done this recently this is a great “Courageous Question” to ask your team.

“What’s one thing I could that I could do to be easier to follow?”

And then be open when she tells about the “damn spreadsheet” that’s making them crazy or the meetings that suck the life out of them.

Great leaders are easy to follow. Be that guy or gal.

P.S. I’m here to help. Please call 443-750-1249 for a free consultation on how we can make this your team’s best year ever.

This is number five in the series on 7 Ways to Beat the Competition. If you’re just tuning in…

1. Get there early

2. Be an explainer

3. Pay attention to your own game.

4. Help your team get smarter

2021 How to Be Easy to Follow Update

Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of MIcro-Innovators, Problem Solvers and Customer AdvocatesIf you’ve stumbled upon this article, you’ve found some of my earliest leadership writing.

Check out some of our more recent articles on leading virtual and hybrid teams and download the first few chapters of our books: Courageous Cultures or Winning Well.

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

41 Comments

  1. Steve Borek

    I’m 6’5″ so being tall makes it easier for people to follow me. If you’re height challenged, you can always learn to walk on a set of stilts. 🙂

    I like being approachable. To do that you need to establish trust.

    • Karin Hurt

      Steve, You know, after going to the Macy’s Parade this year, One of the things on my list to do this year is to walk on stilts. I’ll be sure to send you pics 😉

    • Kevin Wolbach

      Really Steve? Why would you make such a comment if you want to be approachable and establish trust?

  2. Randy Conley

    Excellent list Karin. I’ve been mulling over this same topic. Recently I had a conversation with a friend and she mentioned her boss being an easy person to follow. I know he exhibits many of these same characteristics. Leadership may be complex, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Common-sense usually prevails.

    Randy

    • Karin Hurt

      Randy, Thanks so much for sharing your example. I so agree that common sense goes a long way!

  3. Dan Rockwell

    Thanks Karin,

    How about be easy to follow by following others when they’re leading. Or, let others lead and follow them??

    Cheers

    • Karin Hurt

      Dan, YES! Great leaders also know how and when to be great followers. As you would say, “KAPOW!’

  4. LaRae Quy

    I would add consistency, Karin.

    One of the most frustrating experiences can be leadership that switches, changes, or fails to be consistent in their policy. It leaves the rest of the team not knowing what the reaction to their choices will be and how they can strategize to make the right decision.

    Great article!

    • Karin Hurt

      LaRae, Oh YES! It surely hard to follow someone who can’t make up their mind.

  5. Andrea

    The #10 for me, is Be You – have a laugh and be genuine. As you have touched on with a few of the others about being approachable, human and trustworthy, I want to follow someone with a sense of humour and passion.

    • Karin Hurt

      Andrea, My favorite leaders were always the ones with a sense of humor.

  6. David Tumbarello

    I think you already provided #10 — Be a leader who asks for feedback regarding ways to improve!

    I also think about one more leadership skill … be a story teller. I remember this time when …..

    • Karin Hurt

      David, Oh, I hate stories… just kidding 😉 Great add.

  7. Alli Polin

    Everyone thinks they’re so easy to follow but I know more people that hate their boss than love them. When I look back on my old bosses, one comes to mind that I would follow to the ends of the earth but others would not. With me, his guard was down. He took your advice in #5, Be Human but one step further. He was just real, person to person, leader to leader. With his other direct reports, he was always in “leader mode” and inevitably there was a wall that impacted engagement and our overall success.

    Great series!

    • Karin Hurt

      Alli, Thanks as always for enriching our conversation with your specific examples!

    • David Tumbarello

      Alli – I’m learning from your story. A leader must be human and vulnerable and different people are going to react differently to this style. I’ve run into problems by using I-statements – I owned my point of view but these statements were received as if I were limiting another person. I’m trying to say that the leader you admire had a style that worked with you but was unwelcome by others. What is the best solution to this? It’s a difficult position for everyone involved. Thanks for your story because it gets me thinking!

      • Karin Hurt

        David, I think the very best conversations are a cocktail of truth-speaking, vulnerability, questions, silence, and careful listening.

      • Deborah

        I’m sure you already know this: the answer is to know your employees, how they are different, and what they need from you. I have people who need/like things sugar coated, and others who just want the straight info, no frills. I can’t deal with them in the same way. Some like small talk, others don’t. You can’t lead everyone as if they were all the same. Right?

  8. Terri Klass

    What a great topic, Karin! Being easy to follow is the way people choose whether or not to connect with us. Number 2 rings so true to me- being approachable. Bosses and colleagues who are approachable are open and willing to clarify any confusion.

    I recently worked with an HR director who was mostly unavailable and any time I had questions to clarify what she needed, it took so long to get an answer. As a result I had to back paddle on my presentations at times.

    Thanks Karin!

    • Karin Hurt

      Terri, That’s so frustrating when people do that. I wish folks understood the impact of all that wasted time. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Richard Cortese

    Be consistent, make the tough decisions and whole people accountable. Anyone can delegate work but to hold people accountable. That is the most over looked task.

    • Karin Hurt

      .Richard,Yes! I was just working with an organization today where one of the biggest issues is letting people off the hook. Supervisors are trying to be”nice and caring.” But they are doing such a disservice to the company, the people they are developing, and themselves.

  10. Joel Maart

    I would add to be a good listener. Don’t fall in love with your voice and interrupt others. Let others share their thoughts completely, even if they disagree with you. I read earlier this week that the true meaning of consensus isn’t that everyone agrees with the decision. It is that all pertinent voices have been heard, then the best decision is made. I believe most people simply want to be heard out. By “heard out,” I mean in a genuine way, not in a “Yeah, that’s great” patronizing manner. Show respect for your subordinates by listening to them. Just because you are the boss doesn’t mean you have the only voice worth listening to.

    • Karin Hurt

      Joel, Just beautiful. Please come back. We need more of your voice here on LGL.

  11. neil bailey

    I wish to participate on discussions

    • Karin Hurt

      Neil, Excellent! Glad to have you join us.

  12. Angom Ocan

    In answer to #10 A leader should have integrity and follow through on what they have committed to. Perhaps good leadership is also not to over commit and ensure that however small your followers trust that you never go back on your spoken word.

    • Karin Hurt

      Angom. Love it. Thanks so much for sharing your views. Do what you say, everytime. Even when it’s hard. Amen.

  13. Marty W.

    CHARACTER MATTERS. For No. 10, I offer: “Go back and read 1-9 again. Don’t just read the words and try to execute a behavior that corresponds; think about the concepts and internalize them such that they become part of your character.”

    Also, I’ve recently been thinking a lot about this notion: “Talk to your people/team; don’t talk at them”

    I appreciate your positive approach!

    • Karin Hurt

      Marty, Wow! Thanks so much. Yes, yes, yes! Figuring out the right behaviors, and doing them consistently is the “secret” sauce. So glad to have you here. Please come back.

  14. David

    Great article with practical insight. My #10 would be Learn to speak their language so you can communicate clearly and effectively.

    • Karin Hurt

      David, Thanks so much. Exceptional add. I hope you will come back to add more insights for our LGL community.

  15. Tom Smith

    Karin. This is one of the best treatments on this subject I have seen in over 35 years of practice.

    I have shared it with several emerging leaders already.

    For me, #9 is the lynchpin. I’ve always reminded those I’m working with of the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”. It’s critical to trust.

    • Karin Hurt

      Tom, Your kind words filled my heart with joy. Thank you so much. And thanks for all your working in growing leaders.

  16. Ian McClellan

    Something that has always aided me in my young leadership career is simply to do what an old saying says best… You have one mouth and two ears because you should listen TWICE as much as you speak. Listening to those around you impacts #6 (Be Knowledgeable) and #7 (Be Connected). By letting people weigh in, and understanding how to handle the good and bad input that comes from that, you gain allies on that project, and beyond.

    • Karin Hurt

      Ian, Indeed, Thanks so much. Great to have you here. Please come again. Namaste.

  17. Andrew Houston

    Hi Karin, great article, thank you! I also enjoyed the comments made by all. Repeating a couple of items already raised, I would add “great listener” and “Accountability – as a leader, and holding people accountable. Both as a recognition and correction/growth opportunity”. I know that is 2 extra but I view these 2 equally vital for leadership.

    • Karin Hurt

      Andrew, Great to connect with you here, and thanks for joining the conversation. So agree, listening and accountability are vital.

  18. Jeff Wilson

    #10: Be firm. Don’t be a hardass, but hold the line with your team. They may not always like it, but they’ll respect it and they’ll understand as long as you’re applying the other 9 to go with this.

  19. Jane

    This is an inspiring list and as the topic is being easy to follow, I noticed immediately how easy it is to relate to what you’ve written. My number 10 is to be a good listener. I don’t mean just listening with your ears. Everyone does that. But really listen. Where are you eyes? Are they looking all over the room? Are you leaning in? Do you listen to understand even if the person speaking is not interesting, is a whiner, is odd, is not your favorite personality? Just a thought …

    • Karin Hurt

      Jane, Thanks so much! You’ve added some great insights here. Namaste.

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