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Leaders and Followers
Submitted by: Francisco B. S. Magalhaes

It is only natural that not everyone becomes a leader; however, those who follow will no longer accept old fashioned leaders, full of authoritative ideas and who impose new management techniques on others. They want leaders with well- rooted human values and who will respect talents and contributions given by others. They want to feel enthusiastic in all their actions.

People want leaders that can create an atmosphere of risk and creativity.. They reject intimidation or manipulation, and want to be recognized as an important part in these changing times.

Continuous innovation and constant improvement in quality requires more and more effort from workers, who are constantly up against new technologies, cultural changes, and intense international competition. If we stop to think for a moment, we will conclude that not all of this modern explosion, and changes in working habits comes exclusively from an ever changing technology, but also from the creative performance of people.

People are the real force behind this transformation, and it is the people that are paving the way towards the new millennium. What can a sophisticated machine do if there was no one to invent it in the first place? To attain success we depend on people and people depend on leaders. Leaders that have the capacity to reinvent companies and can get the most out of their collaborators stand tall.

But first, leaders must look within themselves to find new ways of influencing people and changing the course of companies. It is the leader that must be the first to change;. The leader then gathers followers, but not those that only do what they are told. Leaders want mature and responsible people that can look ahead. As a result a partnership will be formed with those people who are personally committed to themselves and the success of the business.

Leaders assume the responsibility of keeping teams together. They have the obligation to take command, establish rules, determine values and principals that will lead to success. The leader must look at leadership as a responsibility and not as a position of privileges. The effective leader is responsible for all final decisions, and he must not fear the force of his associates or subordinates. He must encourage, instigate and be proud of all those that collaborate with him. The leader must look at others success as being his as well.

Many years ago, I experienced a great example of leadership. I had just arrived at the railway workshops to work with a team responsible for the renovation of all electric installations in passenger coaches. With the passing of time, I concluded that we could reduce to less than half the cost of these electrical installations, by simply reducing the electric wire diameters, that were found to be super dimensioned.

When I spoke about this matter to my work colleagues, they weren't very responsive. " If it has been done like this for so many years, what could be wrong," was their reply.

I thought about this for a few days, but finally decided to go ahead with my conviction. I spoke directly to our leader, who immediately began analyzing my proposal. He too concluded that my calculations were correct, and encouraged me to continue with my work.

With full support from our leader, we made various tests for a period of six months, to verify all the safety conditions. Many of my colleagues who doubted my initial proposal began helping me with the project, because they felt the leaders enthusiasm.

After a long wait the official approval was granted. From that day on, all coach wiring was to follow the orientation that I had worked out. Our leader had opened the way, so that the teams would feel supported by him to make a success of our undertaking.

In the end everyone found that our work had been very gratifying, but it didn't stop there. Our leader went to the railways chief director and reported all the results that had been obtained by our teams and referenced my suggestions - giving me full credit. With this attitude, the leader showed his respect for my initial idea, the responsibility of supporting the teams in developing this job, and loyalty for not taking the merit for himself.

Our success was also his, because without his leadership my original idea would have been filed, and the railways would carry on losing money unnecessarily. This was a lesson in leadership that I Iearned nearly twenty- five years ago, and that will remain with me for the rest of my life. It is a lasting example of how a true leader can influence someones future.

Let's look at leadership requirements. A necessary requirement for a leader is to gain confidence from the people he works with, otherwise there will be no followers, and to gain confidence in a leader, the followers must be convinced that he has integrity, speaks the truth and has authority. Be it absolute or delegated.

There are three types of authority.

  • Authority granted by position: here we include the title, the position occupied in the company, and the power bestowed on a person.
  • Authority of personality: These are natural influential qualities, where the leader is recognized by others because of his behavior and mode of action.
  • Authority of knowledge. In this type of authority, we count on technical and professional know-how, apart from other types of knowledge that are essential in certain areas.
In the past, there was a tendency for leaders to be supported by the position that they held in the company. Nowadays the tendency has shifted to the other types of power, where personality and knowledge are essential.

I strongly believe that technical knowledge is not everything. It may be necessary in the beginning of a managerial career, where the person tends to be a specialist. But with the passing of time, he must expand his knowledge to areas where leadership, communication and the power to make decisions are essential. On the contrary he will not become an efficient manager and even less a leader.

Next is the exploration of leadership characteristics. Leaders must have some qualities required by his teams, although this may not be true in large organizations, where leaders have many people to get their knowledge from. But in many cases this is not possible.

As an example: If you want a sales manager, obviously he must have some sales knowledge. If you want an engineering manager, then engineering characteristics will be required, otherwise it will become difficult to maintain respect. The leader must mirror his team mates.

There is a great deal of controversy on how to define a leader, but one thing that everyone agrees on, is that a leader must have character and personality. These are the moral qualities by which a person is judged, apart from other values such as: intelligence, competence and special talents.

Another characteristic that we may find, is the leader that surges from certain situations. These may be known as situational leaders, and there are many examples to illustrate this.

Let us assume that an aircraft crashes in an isolated forest. While still flying, the captain was the leader, holding the power of decision. From there on everything will depend on the situation. If there are many wounded passengers and a doctor is present, he will become the leader. After all the people are attended, leadership will then pass automatically to anyone who has the knowledge of surviving and a sense of orientation in that type of vegetation. He will be the only hope left and everyone will follow him.

This goes to show the importance of know-how in relation to the situation, and many times without anyone noticing, leadership flows from one place to the other. Great leaders know how to get people to share their knowledge.

We must not forget that although technical and professional skills are important in authority, it is not everything. To become a leader you need to have leadership abilities, the power of decision and the facility to communicate with people. A person must be flexible and have the good sense to transfer certain decisions, when the matter gets out of your own knowledge sphere.

The true leader is a person that can adapt himself to many different situations, and never stops learning. He is always interacting with people, and getting everyone to work together with a common vision, so as to produce fantastic results. People will follow him without even recognizing they have taken on the role of follower… this is what makes the leader different from the others.

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