Two years ago, I wrote about one of the core principles you and I need to understand as leaders: People Always Watch the Leader – whether we want them to or not. I was reminded of that again last week. Here’s the story…

I had just finished lunch with a friend and colleague in our cafeteria. We were headed out of the cafe when I decided I didn’t want to carry my almost empty drink cup with me. We had already walked past the recycling bin, and we were trying to finish a conversation. So, as we approached the next trashcan, I tossed in the cup.

My friend said, “You can’t throw away that cup; you’ve got to lead!” He was right. I love having friends that will call you out when you screw up. And, in that moment, it was not about saving the planet – it was about my example as a leader. People always watch the leader.

Over the years, I’ve tried to determine what it is that people are looking for while watching the leader. Here’s my current thinking; I’ve reduced it to two big ideas…

They are looking to see if we are trustworthy. Does our walk match our talk? Are we doing the things we say are important? That was the essence of my post two years ago. We may still work for someone we don’t trust, but our followship quotient will be extremely low. When we hear them speak, we often just hear: “Blah, Blah, Blah, and Blah.” Men and women who’ve lost our trust have lost their moral authority to influence our behavior. We may stay on the team, but we’ll likely not follow them into battle.

They are looking for clues to what’s important. If you are trusted as a leader, you will be emulated. Not in a twisted, mini-me way, but what you value will be valued by the team – over time. If you value customers and show it, the team will also. If you value innovation, over time, the team will too. I realize this is a rather simple explanation, and the real world is far more complex. But generally speaking, people do want to please the leader. That’s one reason they are watching – they want to know what you value. You will see more of the behavior you model – good or bad.

Without thinking, with my decision to throw away that cup, I was signaling, albeit unintentionally, I don’t think recycling is important. That’s not what’s in my heart on this issue; but people can’t see your heart, they can only see your actions.

Today, I want to be that friend who reminds you: People Always Watch the Leader – don’t throw away that cup![GLS_Shield]

I hope today’s post has stirred your interest on this critical topic. Later this week, I’ll be launching my FREE ebook, entitled: Leaders Go First. I hope you’ll check it out and pass it on to others.

Author: Mark Miller

Mark is a business leader, author, communicator, photographer, husband, and father. He spends his time helping leaders grow.