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Good followers make great leaders, by Bob Vecchiotti

I’ve written a lot about leadership. It’s a term we are learning more and more about as it evolves from its early focus on male qualities alone.

In the past few decades we’ve learned that leadership is a process that brings leaders and implementers — a more active word for followers — together to meet common objectives. Modern researchers report that this important relationship between leaders and implementers defines effective leadership and success. How much do we really know about this important relationship?

Since the Civil War, leadership has been described by the qualities of male civic, business and military leaders. The list is familiar and includes such traits as decisiveness, curiosity, competitiveness and dominance. Survey after survey added to the list to the point of becoming meaningless in describing leaders.

Then came a surprising finding: Implementers share similar qualities.

So how do you distinguish between the leader and the implementer? There was a need for a new list, and the surveys in 2001 took a different focus, to include being more a visionary and a critical evaluator. With the dawn of the new millenium, more and more women leaders were emerging in the survey data with a different set of skills and further distinguished between leader and implementer.

Women leaders demonstrated more concern for employee development and adaption to change. They displayed a focus on promoting interdependence, collaboration and a focus on both the short term and long term to anticipate change.

These findings marked is a significant shift away from the earlier understanding of leadership that focused on direction and command. The studies show female leaders are more willing than men to admit when and where they need assistance. They, in effect, ask their implementers to offer their services.

The research has added the importance of trust in the leader/implementer relationship. Each party must cede to the other a significant degree of influence, when appropriate. Such circumstances can include a mutual vulnerability when dealing with the unknown, emergencies or unexpected results. This trust strengthens the relationship going forward.

Today, millennial leaders are augmenting our understanding of leadership with their own traits and abilities. Leaders and implementers are closer than ever in meeting mutually-agreed-upon goals. They are more likely to see each other as a resource. But make no mistake, millennial leaders can take charge when necessary and induce willing cooperation. Typically, it is for a short period of time, and the implementers know it. This builds mutual and dynamic confidence to meet rapidly changing circumstances.

Adding to our more complex picture of leadership is the growth in importance of teams.

The leader/implementer dynamic is expanded in a team setting. For success, a team relies on people with different sets of knowledge, capabilities and ideas, and responsibility for managing those falls to the team leader.

The team leader must build cohesion and trust. He or she works hard to motivate and provide feedback on team performance. That last point is important; feedback is something millennials tend to crave more than earlier generations.

Research on the relationship between leader and team implementers is rapidly moving forward. One day, we will learn the best team composition and leader/implementer characteristics. Teamwork depends on the leader’s ability to motivate, suggest changes, increase collaboration and constantly look for the conscientious team member. It’s what stimulates the development of successful teams.

Bob Vecchiotti is a business psychologist, adviser, and executive coach to businesses in the Monadnock Region. He can be reached at rav@leadershipexpert.com or 924-2012.

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