Leaders Protecting Followers: How Many Forms Do You Think That Takes?

Leadership Lesson: Aside from protecting followers from outside forces, intrusions, and obstacles, leaders should also protect followers from the many ways they may limit, do in, and derail themselves.

I recently came across a graphic on Instagram that simply stated Leadership = Protection. In the caption below the illustration, the account asked Are you protecting your followers? Are you protecting your leaders? and then subsequently concluded A true leader protects all people around them.

Generally speaking, this is true. But many people might see this graphic, read the brief commentary, and believe that the “protections” mentioned are those traditionally thought of as automatically provided by leaders against outside forces. They may think such protections are against other team members and workers, superiors up the chain of command, or customers, among so many other possible outside forces.

But there’s more to it than that. There are more negative forces that we need to undo, break through, or block than may be obvious at first glance.

Specifically, there’s one force that threatens to take away everything a follower is, stripping them of their ability, energy, pride, results, skill, potential, yada, yada, yada – all of the good stuff that can contribute to what a leader needs and can utilize from that person.

The culprit? The follower themselves.

If left to their own devices, followers can do themselves in more quickly than most other external forces. More remarkable than the way in which the average person can be built up and reinforced is how quickly they can be chipped at and broken down.

What’s unfortunate – and hopefully obvious to all – is how much easier it is to break someone down than build them up.

Just consider that followers – or any of us for that matter – can be limited by the four factors below, among many others. Through acknowledging these factors — to start — leaders can provide the protections I’m talking about here.

Self-Esteem

Optimal performance and success can both only take place if you believe in yourself enough. Yes, some people may “fake it until they make it” – the definition used here meaning to put on a façade of complete control and act braver than they truly believe themselves to be in order to gain others’ assurances and support — but that will catch up with them at some point.

We should all understand (and accept) that no one is perfect, and that we’re all working toward something. We’re works-in-progress. The important part is to keep pushing forward.

Too often, leaders don’t check in with how people feel. They’ll check in to see how someone is doing on a task at hand and what they’re producing in deliverables but not the person’s general comfort or confidence levels.

Related: Is Your Definition Of Confidence Holding You Back Or Pushing You Forward?

This is how leaders can protect others when it comes to Self-Esteem:

Leaders need to foster an environment that is open enough where people can be honest about how confident they feel and what other guidance and help they might need.  They should monitor and keep a look out for signs and behaviors of both confidence and self-doubt. An open door policy should be considered when it comes to general concerns not tied to the specifics of work. Simply ask How are you doing? What can I help with? — and mean it. Yes, it’s that simple. It’s mind-blowing how many leaders, bosses, supervisors, managers, etc., don’t ask how others are doing and what they themselves can provide. They think they need big budgets to achieve blockbuster breakthroughs and have forgotten the basics of simply reaching out to who people are.

Knowledge

Lack of knowledge can be a crippler. That lack of information and understanding of the tools of one’s trade, industry, and work is dangerous. Nothing good can come from its absence. The person lacking the knowledge is eating up the resources of time and value, staying stagnant, compromising what the group wants to achieve, while everyone around them is moving forward.

It’s amazing how many workplaces and leaders don’t arm their followers and team members with the right tools in terms of knowledge and training to do their job effectively. They just let great potential die on the vine.

This is how leaders can protect others when it comes to Knowledge:

Keep them sharp with the information, guidance, and tools that are needed to evolve in the environment. Keep an open door policy when it comes to needs for tools, support, and guidance. Most important: It’s not only a matter of providing tools to be learned but also a habit of fostering an environment of continuing evolution and a cultural mindset of ongoing improvement. Today’s knowledge will not suffice for tomorrow’s needs. The leader needs to have the foresight to establish an engrained sense of both curiosity and urgency.

Related: If We Need To Evolve Beyond Today, Don’t “Teach A Man To Fish.”

Ambition

Ambition is made up of goals you want to reach, benchmarks you want to achieve, and finish lines you want to cross. And it’s all uniquely yours – what you want, how badly you want it, and what you’re willing to do to get there.

And there’s nothing like having your hopes and dreams — both things you strongly desire — crushed.

Some leaders and workplaces don’t take ambition into account when it comes to…anything. Some may even see ambition as a form of entitlement, a bar of expectations set way too high, or possibly a threat to the environment or themselves. They don’t think about harnessing that drive and motivation to make everyone better.

Related: To The Future Leaders: Make Sure You Recognize Your Drivers and Motivators

This is how leaders can protect others when it comes to Ambition:

Harness it. Understand it. Learn from it. That ambition is a drive that, in some way, shape, or form, can benefit the environment. Determine how that ambition and drive can be parlayed into sharing it to build, expand, and engrain an ambitious mindset into the environment.

Integrity

Someone’s ability to bring who they really are to the table is important. They shouldn’t compromise who they are, what they believe, or their values because of any pressure on them from the environment. If they give up too much of who they are, the leader is not getting the entire person. Instead, the follower will feel like a piece of them is missing, and they will feel incomplete, unable to provide their best. Therefore, the leaders are missing out on that person’s full potential.

Some leaders and workplaces don’t take into account who it is their people are, what they want and how they represent that need. Depending on what the environment engages, encourages, and empowers — and expects of them — someone may be working in a direction that doesn’t jibe with their work ethic and values.

This is how leaders can protect others when it comes to Integrity:

Understand who is sitting in front of you. They should be able to represent who they are. They should be allowed to reflect who they are. They should be encouraged to represent and work to their values. They should be allowed to tell their truth without changing their reasoning and opinions to completely fit someone else’s agenda. (And, no, they can’t have 100% of what they want. It’s up to the leader to find that balance. But err on the side of caution, and seek out their needs.)


Like with any other one of the lists that I share, this isn’t an exhaustive list. There’s no way it could be. There are just too many factors that impact us all differently. Each of us may have something different that’s holding us back – and down.

And like any other coaching, leadership, or workplace scenario, these particular factors won’t fix everything. They won’t help everyone. In some instances, no matter how much a leader may try, some followers can neither be reached nor coached. Nothing should be forced.

A leader’s main job, aside from getting the best result for the mission overall, is to make sure they leave everything better than they found it. And that includes both the environment and the people.

Related: In Working With Others, How Do You Challenge Them To Make Them Better?

The best a leader can do is set the best environment they can – note: not a perfect environment – and hope things continue evolving, reassessing as they go and making adjustments accordingly. This goes for both those in their immediate charge and those around them who are impacted by their work. Creating the best environment is a simultaneous act of enhancing the positive factors and mitigating those which are negative. And those two sides – the ability to grow and the ability to hinder — exist just as prominently in the individual as they do in the environment.

Beyond the environment, it falls on leaders to make sure those around them are not limiting themselves. So, yes, you could say a leader can help others protect themselves…from themselves.

But a leader can only do so much. There needs to be balance of what works between the leader and the follower. Neither side should compromise too much of what they need for themselves or the mission at hand.

Leaders may not be able to control who followers have been to date, leading to today, but they should make every effort to help shape who each person can become for themselves going forward.

And part of that process entails a leader protecting their followers. Followers are a leader’s charge.

Helping to shape someone can’t happen without protecting them from both outside factors and themselves.


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