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Follow the Leader

Craig Jutila

Myth #1: People are loyal to a cause, not a person.

Sure, there are people who are fiercely loyal to a cause -- but it was a leader who motivated them to their cause. The opening line of Daniel Goleman's book, Primal Leadership, says, "Great leaders move us." How true that is. Causes have no voices without the people who rally support.

Myth #2: Charismatic leaders create loyalty.

If someone possesses a convincing, confident, and compelling air, we may think that person charismatic and easy to follow. Typically people follow charismatic leaders because -- let's face it -- they're cool. It's an initial asset to have a welcoming, delightful, and fun personality. These people move us to action. Even so, building loyalty -- not a following  -- takes more than charisma. My experience has taught me that charismatic leaders tend to flicker out over time rather than build momentum. Charisma alone isn't enough to build, breed, and sustain loyalty over time. The leader who makes careful, consistent, and correct choices over time is the one who builds loyalty.

Myth #3: Creating loyalty is manipulating people.

This depends on your definition of manipulation. To me, manipulation is when I get you to do something for me or my cause that only benefits me. Motivation is when I compel you to do something that benefits us both and the cause we represent.

So where does the rubber meet the road? Right here! To write this article, I visited with some of my staff and volunteers who've served with me for many years and asked them a question I've never asked before. I'll be honest -- doing so took a little courage and vulnerability! I simply asked, "Why are you loyal to me?"

The following are five principles taken from their responses to help you build your team's loyalty to you.

Principle #1: Know where you're going and how to get there.

Some people call this vision, some call it leadership, and some call it "the ability to hide your panic well." I believe it's all three. As I talked with my leaders and volunteers, I found that they perceive that I have an uncanny ability to "know the future." The reality is, nobody knows the future. This is about making your best decision about the direction you and your team should go and sticking to it.

Proverbs 29:18 in God's Word Translation of the Bible says, "With­out prophetic vision people run wild, but blessed are those who follow God's teachings." Boldness in your direction is a building block for loyalty.

Principle #2: Grow and push yourself.

You don't know everything -- no one does. And if you refuse to stretch yourself, you stagnate. Your words and actions carry great weight, and your team is watching you. People who view their leader as a learner have a deeper sense of loyalty. Leaders who work hard to stretch themselves and their teams inspire respect and loyalty.

Principle #3: Deal with adversity like a leader.

Difficulty is a part of life. It's been said that God is more interested in our character than our comfort. How leaders handle difficulty while immersed in it and while emerging from it is a trust builder or buster among their teams.

Principle #4: Handle -- don't hide -- mistakes and their consequences.

We all make mistakes. How we handle them in front of others can make or break your team's loyalty. An authentic hand up in the air and loud voice proclaiming, "I made the mistake and I take ownership for it" does a lot more for trust building than pointing that same arm out to blame others. Loyalty is built not when you make the great and easy decisions but rather when you take ownership for the poor ones.

Principle #5: Build a proven track record.

The other day I watched Tiger Woods in a playoff against Stewart Cink. Big surprise, Tiger won…again. I enjoy golf. I play about once a week, and you know, I haven't gotten much better over the last two years. I'm in a rut-an average golfer with an average handicap. Each time I miss a fairly easy shot or putt, I turn to my friend Ron and say, "Ron, do you know the only difference between Tiger Woods and me? Consistent performance over time."

The only difference between Tiger and me is repeated, consistent performance over time in golf. In other words, he makes many more pars and birdies in a row than I do. Tiger is famously, consistently good.

This is the bottom line in leadership, too. Leaders with a loyal team have a proven track record of right choices concerning people, vision, mission, and values for the team over time. And when they goof, they refer to Principle #4.

•••

Remember what the children of Israel said: "If you are strong and brave, we will obey you as we obeyed Moses. We'll even put to death anyone who rebels against you or refuses to obey you."

Now, I don't recommend the death part, but you can see what people will do for their leader if -- yes, if -- they trust that leader. Are you willing to answer the "ifs" when it comes to your team?

Craig Jutila is the children's pastor for Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, author of numerous books, including 2-Minute Encouragers for Teachers (Group), and founder of EmpoweringKids.net and HadassahsHope.org.

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