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Be Worth Following

The greatest leaders are fundamentally no different from you and me.

They choose certain ways to behave, either through instinct or education, formal and informal. Great paragons of leadership forge new paths and bring about something remarkable, all because they have one thing in common: people are willing to follow them.

Seriously, break it down: Isn’t leadership simply the act of leading others toward something? If you want be followed, you must convince and inspire others to believe that you are worth following. It’s all right there in the job title. But if you’re like most leaders out there, you have a problem…

A study by Gallup found that only 15 percent of workers say they are “highly involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace.” Furthermore, it’s estimated that actively disengaged employees cost the United States $483 billion to $605 billion per year in lost productivity. So… that’s not great.

Not only that, there’s a widespread issue with trust. The Edelman Trust Barometer comes out every year and reports on people’s feelings about trust and credibility. It has shown that trust in our traditional institutions is consistently lackluster. Whether we’re talking about CEOs, experts, or traditional media, the revered gatekeepers and trust signals are now being questioned more than ever. But that’s not all! Job stress is also climbing:

The survey of nearly 2,000 professionals, conducted by Korn Ferry, also asked professionals up and down an organization about the impact workplace stress had on them. More than three-quarters of the respondents, 76%, say stress at work has had a negative impact on their personal relationships, and 66% say they have lost sleep due to work stress. A small but significant number, 16%, say they’ve had to quit a job due to stress.

The largest source of current stress: bosses. The survey shows 35% of the respondents say their boss is their biggest source of stress at work, and 80% say a change in leadership, such as a new direct manager or someone higher up the organizational chart, impacts their stress levels.

Study after study shows that the problem is bad and getting worse. Much of this is brought on or at least exacerbated by technology. The world is changing around us because things are moving faster than ever before.

Technology has allowed for more jobs to be performed remotely. Although this is great in some ways, it has produced a few notable consequences. Wages are driven down because less expensive global talent is available. Remote workers can also often feel isolated from their peers and disengage easily. Employee retention has become more challenging as new technologies have opened the communication and information visibility landscape. This means that your teams can find new opportunities, that your competitors have greater access to privately communicate with your employees. Do you have what it takes to keep your best employees, or will they be lured away? For many, leadership is just something that comes with their title. It’s something they were dropped into and that they do without passion or purpose. To those people, I humbly submit that leadership is more important than an afterthought.

An employee who feels disrespected, unappreciated, or disengaged at work brings that energy home with them. In some cases, they may not have a healthy outlet for those feelings. What happens at work doesn’t just stay at work. The days of compartmentalizing each aspect of our lives is rapidly eroding, because our “always-on” smartphone culture has changed the boundaries where work and life are supposed to balance. We’ve seen the unhealthy effects of that behavior, and although our leadership cannot solve all of the world’s problems, it can help.

As a leader, you can make a safe environment for your team. You can alleviate stress rather than cause it. You can make people feel valued in the place they spend the vast majority of their waking hours each day. You can be an ethical compass and inspire your team members to be a force for good, even after they clock out.

This post is an excerpt from the introduction of my forthcoming book, The Lovable Leader.

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