Leadership Advice: Getting Others to Follow Your Lead

Leadership advice: Getting others to follow your leadA few weeks ago I began offering my readers the opportunity to sign up for my new eNewsletter. I set up the process in such a way that when readers subscribe they receive a “thank you” email from me along with a question about what their biggest leadership challenge is. The responses have been eye-opening and far-ranging.

My friend and colleague Mack Collier responded that it is probably the ability to convince others to follow him where he wants to go.  It seems to me to be the quintessential leadership challenge and yet, such a difficult one depending on the situation, the team and the initiative at hand. For those of us who are consultants, this challenge can even extend to getting clients to follow our lead and advice. 

So, Steve Woodruff and I decided to tackle the topic of, “How to Get Buy-In…Getting Others to Follow Your Lead” at this week’s Leadership Chat.

I believe getting others to follow your lead comes down to four critical elements:

1. Vision

People need to know where you’re going to take them and what this destination is going to BE for them when you arrive. Remember, even if they don’t like where they’re at currently, they at least know what to expect each day when they wake up.

Going somewhere new involves opening themselves up to change and different experiences. They don’t know what to expect, so they’re not sure if they’ll like it there, or if it will be in their best interest to go with you to this new destination.

This is why it’s critical for you to be very clear about your leadership vision. If it’s not clear to you where you are headed, then you’re asking your followers to take a huge leap of faith and a very large risk. How likely would you be to follow someone who asked you to do the same?

2. Trust

This is where trust comes in. You would be more likely to follow someone who asked you to take a leap of faith if it was someone you trusted implicitly; someone who you knew had your higher good at  heart.

Getting others to buy-in and follow your lead requires trust on a multitude of levels. How are you working to establish and nurture this trust?

3. Communication

Once you have that vision clearly established in your mind, you must convey all the aspects of that picture to your followers. What does it look like? Feel like? What will it BE like for them there, and for your customers, stakeholders, etc…?

Is there a Higher Purpose to being at this new place that your followers could become passionate about? If so, help them to see and understand this through words, pictures, video and through your actions.

One of the most difficult things for leaders to do is to communicate consistently and effectively with all levels of the organization. This requires a sincere focus on communication strategy and execution to do this well. Leaders who skimp on this step pay the price!

4. Energy

I have learned through a lot of soulful work during the past year about how we as humans absorb other people’s energy. Though I have written about the critical importance of the words “Observe, don’t Absorb,” it is still very difficult for me to master.

In essence, if I am working with someone who is exuding very high (positive) energy regarding the work we are doing, I will absorb that and reflect it back into my day and into other projects. On the flip-side, if I am working with someone who is emitting low (negative or flat) energy I absorb that as well. Our energy feeds off of each other as humans, so if I’m absorbing negative energy and feeding off of it, it does not bode well for my creative flow and effectiveness for the remainder of the day.

We all “absorb,” but to different degrees.

Leaders must be aware of this fact when desiring to have people follow their lead. What you want people to absorb – and thus, reflect back into their work with you – is highly positive energy. If you are not emitting it, others will not receive it and reflect it.

This may seem inconsequential but it’s actually critical. If you’re presenting your vision to others you have to be very careful about the energy you’re exuding.  If you are speaking and leading from a place of fear it will be picked up subconsciously by your followers.

So, my leadership advice for getting others to follow you where you want to go… Have a clear vision, establish and nurture trust; communicate clearly, consistently and effectively; and go into your work with positive energy.

What did I miss? What’s your advice on this quintessential leadership challenge?

Please share in the comments and join me and Steve at Leadership Chat on Twitter this Tuesday, November 8th at 8:00 pm Eastern Time for a lively discussion!


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Photo is Lead me Columbus! by Cpt <HUN>.


  1. alan hill says:

    I have a slightly different perspective – I don’t lead others where I want to go, I lead them where they want to go.

    My job really is to clear the corporate cobwebs and make sure they don’t misstep along their way.
    Not leader as Americans believe in leadership, just Sherpa.

    I have found that when I really care about those in my care, I take them where they want to go.
    Today I do that same approach in job search. I show people the truth in their frustrations and let them decide what actions they want to take, not have to take or go where I insist. I work on their identity and value and they change their own actions accordingly.

    Imagine someone who feels they are worthless and have nothing to offer trying to find work. Now contrast that same person to someone who understands their unique value, worth and the contribution they can make to a company. Those two people will conduct their job search quite differently. Even if on the outside they take some of the same actions, the results are different.

    I personally don’t generally follow the person out front pounding their chest loudly proclaiming they are a leader (or manager) and they should be followed. I follow the person who, through wisdom, insight and compassion for others earns the right to be followed. I expect those who ask for my help getting where they want to go want me to be the same.

    Everything you mentioned in your list is critically important, but I believe somehow the flavor of the interaction is quite different when you follow someone leading you where you wish to go.

    • Hi Alan,

      I can absolutely appreciate your perspective. I love how you talk about your role in helping others to find the right job for them…you are leading them to find what they are truly meant to do. At the same time, I actually think that’s where *you* want them to go. They truly are following you where you want to go, they just end up at the center of their own heart, which is your vision for them.

      In the corporate world it would be very difficult to be a leader and say you’ll take your followers where they want to go, as that can lead to chaos. But – you will find no one who agrees with you more that in following you, it’s critical that their role represent their own True Path, or they will not follow with their hearts.

      In the end, you and I are absolutely on the same page. Thanks, as always, for such though-provoking insights, Alan.

  2. Very very timely for me Lisa…
    Your points are spot on, and well thought out – Vision, Trust, Communication and Energy are extremely key in leading others. Throw in Integrity, Adaptability, Focus into the mix.

    Integrity in terms of the leaders ability to be trustworthy. Does the leader have the team and the company’s best interest in mind.
    Adaptability in terms of the leaders ability to treat others at their level of ability. (At everyone has the same skills, desires, and abilities) Can the leader access each individuals core values and strengths and work with them to focus on their strengths. In the end, while you are building a team, you still need to treat people as individuals.
    Focus in terms of the leaders ability to key in on those disciplines, ideas, strategies that are the focal point of the organization and key to completing the vision. (Not everything is LIFE OR DEATH!)

    If you don’t mind, I would like to through a “wrench” in the question…or in my case, in my answer. What do you do when you have inherited a team – how do you get them to follow your lead when perhaps, they shouldn’t be on the team in the first place. One of the biggest challenges I find in leadership is “getting the right people on the bus” to begin with. Yes, leadership is about working within the structure you have been given, but at the same time, I believe it is important to get the right people on the team inorder to get them to follow your lead. (Does that make sense?)

    I am a strong believer that Leadership does start with the hiring and firing process – not everyone is going to make the trip and others can and will influence your team’s thoughts (for good and bad) on your leadership.

    Thanks Lisa – I hope you don’t mind the detour – your post is (as always) very thoughtful – something I can expect from you!!!



    • Steve,

      Thank you for the excellent additions: integrity, adaptability and focus are all critical. Thank you for adding them. In regard to your question, I’ve written a few times about how the one thing CEOs always say they wish they’d done sooner is let go of team members who were not a good fit for their role or the company. Usually, when they do finally let the person go it benefits the entire team and lifts the team up enormously. So, you’re right, not everyone will make the trip and not everyone is meant to make the trip. Good leaders help those individuals who are not meant to be on that path to find the path that they *are* meant to be on. :) Hope to see you tomorrow night!

  3. Lisa,

    Thanks for the wonderful post! I have a question.

    In point number three you talk about how important it is to convey all aspects of your picture to your followers. What if you have a clear vision in mind but not an exact picture of how it will manifest? I find it difficult to communicate parts of my vision to others especially when the form or model is not clear. I have faith that if I stick to my vision, things will unfold as they should and even if the end result is not what I imagine it to be now, it will be an expression of that vision. Does it boil down to trust with others? Or is there something more?

  4. Henry Motyka says:

    I used to lead by example. I did this even if it meant doing tasks that I was not supposed to do because I was at a higher level. Nothing is worse than having a leader talk about change and then go in their office and shut the door. A real leader personally leads the way. Then others see that change is not difficult and not so bad. Without this kind of attitude, a leader only creates people who gossip behind their back. I don’t like talkers. I like doers. That goes for the ones with the large private offices.

    • Henry,

      Very well said, being a doer is absolutely critical. Leading by example is a way of life. Thank you so much for this addition and I look forward to seeing you tomorrow night!

  5. Thank you Lisa! Ok now I am going to make sure I get all my business and errands taken care of today, so I have time to attend #LeadershipChat tomorrow night ;) I was actually talking to Liz Strauss and Terry Starbucker about #LeadershipChat and I told them that I don’t actively participate that often, because the level of discussion intimidates me. But I definitely will tomorrow night!

    I think for me, the difficulty lies in figuring out how to assert myself enough to inspire people to follow my lead. Luckily, I am much more extroverted online, which is how I could help build the #Blogchat community, but if I had tried the same thing in a completely offline setting, I am not sure it would have had any success.

    So I will be very interested in tomorrow night’s discussion, and thanks again Ms. Petrilli ;)
    mack collier´s last blog post ..An honest look at being a Social Media consultant

    • Mack,

      I honestly couldn’t be happier to know that you’ll actively participate tomorrow night because I know you have so much to share when it comes to leadership. You are a natural leader – as clearly evidenced by the way you created, nurtured and continue to evolve #blogchat. Your #Blogchat Community is made up of people who would follow you over a cliff because of the trust you have created and because of the guidance and care you’ve given everyone involved. You have a vision, you clearly have positive energy, and you absolutely love and believe in the community.

      Thus, please do not let the “level of discussion” ever intimidate you at Leadership Chat – you are one of us and we value your experiences and opinions completely! Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow night. :)

  6. Lisa, excellent question and I think your answers are good starting points, but I go back to Alan Hill’s comment, the element that is lacking emphasis (although it comes under building trust) is the “them” bit – deep listening, tailoring your leadership to the actual people you are leading rather than the concepts. I have written a whole book just on leadership communication and in a short post like yours and comment like this, we’re not going to be able to cover everything. However, I think we have to continually emphasise that leadership is a human activity undertaken to benefit others (if it only benefits you, its not leadership, it’s just personal ambition and exercise of authority). Therefore the foundations of your leadership must include knowledge of the people you wish to lead, the benefits they are seeking and the values that you all share.
    Geoff Barbaro´s last blog post ..APEC & the business leadership of women

    • Geoff,

      I appreciate your perspective. It’s funny because so often I feel like I’m delving way too deeply into the human aspects of my posts and less into the concepts. It seems that in this one I perhaps didn’t express it well and I’m thankful that you and Alan are helping me to see that. Certainly, it’s something I feel strongly about and that we talk at length about during Leadership Chat. I hope you’ll join us one Tuesday evening!

  7. I believe communication is the most important of the elements, if you lose touch with your team then you are just acting blind and it is sheer luck if you end up doing the right thing. Strong leadership involves a cycle of feedback and without that you are bound to fail.
    leadership quotes´s last blog post ..Leadership Quotes – Part 3

  8. All good points – and needed – but as a leader it’s the confiendence that you exude in every action, speech and direction that’s the Pied Piper magic tune. Confidence begets confidence so even if your goal is to lead employees to achieve their goals – it’s born from the confidence that you demonstrate. They believe in people that believe in themselves. It inspires.

    • Brilliant point, Sam. I absolutely agree with you – confidence is critical in all aspects of our lives, expecially in leadership. Thank you so much for adding this to the discussion and for being part of LeadershipChat last night!


  1. […] my LeadershipChat co-host Lisa Petrilli wrote in her prep post for our discussion this week (Leadership Advice – Getting Others to Follow Your Lead). Package together Vision, Trust, Communication, and Energy, and what do you have? Effective […]

  2. […] Prep post: Leadership Advice: Getting Others to Follow Your Lead (Lisa […]

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