40under40 is all about identifying the leaders of tomorrow. Bearing that in mind, we asked one of the leaders of today to give us his views on what taking charge was all about.

Defining leadership has been the subject of debate for decades. Many books about leadership have been written and many speakers have tried to capture the essence of leadership.

In my view, leadership is defined as “willing followership”. What does willing followership mean? Leadership is simply a function of the willingness of others to follow you. Providing a vision, a goal, or communicating a need that is so compelling, individuals willingly help you achieve it, is the essence of leadership.

Followership is more than merely blind allegiance. It means personal commitment to the goal set before them and engagement in overcoming the challenges that inevitably are confronted.

The level of commitment of those who follow often measures the effectiveness of a leader. Building commitment in others means finding ways to express your vision or goal in terms that are understandable, easy to remember, and in such a way that the listener finds a personal benefit to buying in.

People make decisions about committing to things based on a combination of facts and emotion. The emphasis on these two criteria may vary from individual to individual, but when making decisions, people always consider these two criteria. This might explain why particularly charismatic people can be effective leaders. In most cases, an individual’s emotional biases are affected by their past experiences. Charismatic leaders are naturally able to appeal to this side of the decision-making equation.

It should be noted, however, that history is replete with charismatic leaders. Some of them have been heroes and others have been villains. The morality of their vision and

the quality of their goals are the subject of an entirely different discussion.

For those who may lack natural charisma, we see a tendency to convince others of the factual logic in the vision or goal. However, overwhelming others with the facts in an effort to convince them of the viability of a goal is not usually an effective approach because it does not recognise the emotional side of the equation.

Effective leaders take the time to understand the needs, interests and backgrounds of those from whom they wish to gain commitment, and shape the communication of their vision or goal in such a way that the target audience can find a compelling reason to support the leader.

Many of us have heard of the concept, “management by wandering around”. I believe the strength of this management approach (although it is only a small component of leadership) is that it affords the leader a chance to connect with every employee in the company. In doing so, the leader is able to better understand their interests, concerns and backgrounds. This information assists the leader in shaping messages and actions that further build commitment to goals in the future.

The so-called “born leader” inherently knows how to do these things. However, I believe individuals can develop leadership skills, no matter what role they play. Being an effective listener, shaping your messages to appeal to the interests of the target audience, and allowing others to help plan the actions that will be necessary to achieve the desired goals, are all part of the effective leader’s repertoire. These actions all facilitate building willing followership.

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