Are you a leader if no-one follows?

I've had a number of conversations and read several articles that made me think a lot about the leadership/management boundary. Can you be a leader if no-one follows you? It seems a little counter-intuitive but I think it raises some interesting points.

Why aren't people following?

Is your message not resonating with your audience? 

Are you not appealing to their motivating factors – money, recognition etc.?

Are people initially following then abandoning you?

What are you leading? Does it need to change?

For me this applies both out with and within the workplace. I think that leadership is too often used as an excuse for managers to forget some of the important lessons about teams. Leading is not always about making big, dynamic changes – sometimes it is about maintenance. The style you need to adopt depends upon the situation at the time. It's also about the people and you need to know your teams. For me it has always been team, company then me.

The leaders that I had the most respect for in my early career were Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard of HP. I never met them, but they created a company culture where, even after they'd long left HP and the company I was working for was called now Agilent Technologies, staff were still talking about Bill and Dave walking around the production line in Scotland. My colleagues had real respect for them. But Bill and Dave took a company from a garage in Palo Alto to a multi-national electronics firm – I'm sure the leadership traits were different at different times, but that they always remembered it was about the people.

About David

Hi, I'm David. I live in Aberdeen (UK) with my beloved wife and two (sometimes beloved) cats. By training I'm an engineer, but a strange sort of engineer who has social skills and is happier working with people rather than designing stuff. Professionally I work in the oil industry facilitating collaborative technology development. In my spare time I'm a non-exec at Aberdeen Forward, an environment/sustainability social enterprise. If you're interested then check me out at or
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