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Convert your followers into leaders

Written by Lyndsey Simpson on Tuesday, 02 December 2014. Posted in Leadership, People

A good entrepreneur understands that employees need opportunities to grow and advance. This month Lyndsey Simpson looks at bringing out the leader in the best of your lot

Convert your followers into leaders

Imagine the scene – your business is thriving, your employees are feeling engaged and empowered and they've become ‘followers’ of your business values and ideals. There you are, leading them all on your pathway to success. Utopia right? Wrong. Let’s face it, we’re not going to be around forever, which means you’ll need others around you to help inspire, motivate and lead all of your followers in order for your business to reach its full potential.

Last month I addressed ‘how to convert your employees into followers’, to become not just workers for your business but believers in it. Well this month I thought I’d take that a step further and look at how you can take these followers and make them into dynamic and passionate leaders for your business.

We've all heard the saying ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ and that couldn't be more true than in a business environment. However, we all know too well how difficult things can be when the leaders of a group and their responsibilities are not clearly defined. The key is to find the happy medium, not only the right leaders but good leaders too.

In this current age of business, structures are often seen as ‘flatter’, with many individuals looking for progression and more responsibilities. Furthermore, over the last decade we have seen a cultural shift that has changed the leader stereotype. No longer a supervisor’s role, a leader nowadays is often immersed within their team, making changes in a ‘hands-on’ manner. With this in mind, I wanted to first address the types of leaders you might come across within your business.

What types of leaders are there?

A titular leader is often the most dangerous kind for your business. It is exactly what it says on the tin: a leader in name but not in nature. They are typically given a job title that reflects a management role, however do not deliver on the leadership responsibilities. As a result they can have a significant negative effect on group efficacy. So how do you convert your followers into titular leaders? Well, you wouldn't want to. You should avoid this scenario by keeping the use of ‘artificial’ job titles to a minimum wherever possible.

A formal leader is a leader in the truest sense of the word. They are appointed – be it by management or peers – into a position of responsibility. Formal leaders are likely to have respect and acceptance from their followers but their influence over them often lies solely on their position of authority. The process of converting these types of leaders will be business dependant and will often follow quite a smooth process of promotion. In order to truly maximise the effectiveness of formal leaders, a clear delineation of roles, responsibilities, and leader / follower boundaries should be developed.

Last, but by no means least, you may find peer leaders within your business. These types of leaders are a different breed entirely but can turn out to be a business’s best friend. Often referred to as ‘cultural architects’, these will be the movers and shakers down on the ground, whom peers look to for guidance.

A great way of finding out who may be the cultural architects in your business is to instigate some change and sit back to watch. Followers will look to their peer leaders for a signal on how to react, whether to accept or reject the change and whether to gauge it positively or negatively. 

The benefits of knowing who your peer leaders are and being able to work alongside them are significant. But the real question is: how do you convert your followers into peer leaders?

A guide for conversion

The first step in any good programme is acceptance. If you’re able to accept early on that your business may be controlled by peer leaders over the leaders you appointed, even in some small part, then you’re on to something. Once you've identified who these characters are, acknowledge them and bring them into your inner sanctum. Share with them plans in advance, gain their input and support before rolling out communications or change and then you have the power of the ground-up motion of support. 

Through the process the peer leaders will become aware of their influence and the titular leaders will become aware of their lacking influence. Being the one to highlight this in both scenarios can be very advantageous and then help both groups find their place and role in your business with this identified.

Once leaders are aware of their position and effectiveness within that position, they must take ownership of their responsibilities. For formal leaders, this is a likely to be something they already excel at, assuming they’re good at their jobs. However for peer leaders and titular leaders in particular, this will take a little more effort.

You can assist leaders at this point to ensure they have total clarification over what they should be ‘owning’, be it the management of projects or other individuals or the responsibility of being a ‘voice’ for other people. As soon as they have a clarification of their accountabilities, they’ll be in a better position to act autonomously and ultimately more effectively.

Much the same as learning how to ride a bike, it takes time and effort to become an effective leader. This is particularly true when making the transition from a follower to a leader.

Allow your leaders to have some room for trial and error time, perhaps even shelter them during this time. Provide support and training and ensure you help them on their journey but also make time for regular feedback from you as to what’s going well and what needs to be worked on. Also, from their perspective, keep asking them what scenarios they find the trickiest and help them work through solutions and tactics to overcome them.

Good luck with converting your followers to leaders and don’t forget to identify and utilise your peer leaders as one of the most effective routes to your teams. 

About the Author

Lyndsey Simpson

Lyndsey Simpson

Having grown HR firm The Curve Group into a multi-million pound business in six years, Simpson is the ideal fit for our people section. However, HR hasn’t always been her bag. She had many trials and tribulations dealing with recruitment in her previous role at Barclays. Simpson saw the light though and now works tirelessly in making sure that every client is left feeling ‘Curved’; think Tango’d but more professional.

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