I like to play with words and their definitions. It’s fun to tear something apart to see how it works, then put it back together in a different way so that it’s exactly what I need rather than what someone wants me to have. If you want to be technical, it’s called analysis and synthesis. Or, just making it fit. I do it with words . . . machines. . . relationships . . . crafts . . . you name it.

So, of course I played with the words in the title of my leadership book Why Are They Following Me? to see why they fit . . .

Why Are They Following Me? Because you take time to know them. Because they know you will protect them and make sure they feel included.

Why Are They Following Me? Because they want to go where you are going. Because they believe in your vision and that you’ll get there.

Why Are They Following Me? Because they believe in you. You aren’t perfect, but you are consistent . . . even when you don’t know or mess up, you say so, and you talk about why you messed up.

In the same way, I played with the words in the Section Headings of the book: Inclusion & Diversity; Vision & Translation; and Character & Reputation.

“Inclusion and Diversity” are used to talk about who is following you. Knowing and understanding the people in the organization. Learning more than just strengths and areas of need… knowing what motivates or encourages. Knowing what disappoints or engages. Knowing when to push and nudge and when to leave alone for reflection and thought. That takes intention and time. It also requires filling the organization with (or appreciating) people who are not “like” you. Making sure that there is opportunity for different perspectives, opinions, practices, schools of thought… whether you choose and select the followers or you “inherited” them… and making sure they know that they are included in all aspects of the journey toward the goal… not just “tolerated” with eye rolls and snarky humor when they contribute. Knowing Who is following you and including them is the foundation for what I think of as effective leadership.

“Vision and Translation” are the words used to describe the concept of why people follow. For me, they go hand in hand… the leader needs to know clearly where the organization, family, or team is headed. What is the goal? Yet, it’s not enough for her to know it… she must, must, must be able to translate that destination to every single person she wants to follow. No one can be unclear or unsure. No one can “not know” where they are going. She may not know exactly what she’ll find when she gets there or what it will look like… but she must know where and Why they’re headed in that direction and so must her followers.

Finally, the point of the spear is you… “Character and Reputation.” Understanding why people follow you, or don’t, is critical when thinking about what kind of leader you are. There is a Scottish proverb that my Cuban/Scott grandfather would say, “O wad some Power the giftie gie us, to see ourselves as others see us!” I repeat it to myself frequently because it is so powerful… it doesn’t matter one whit how I see myself as a leader (person), it matters how others see me because they are the ones who will chose to follow… or not! So ask for feedback. Pay attention to the way followers interact with you. Watch how relaxed (or anxious) they are when you’re in the room or in their space. Do they share struggles with you or tell you that everything is “fine” even when it is obviously not? Can they depend on you to keep your word or do they have to guess and second-guess whether or not you’ll come through? These and so many other things either make You a leader worth following or one who is not.

That’s why I like to play with words! They connect and lead to additional thoughts or insights for me… even when my connections don’t make sense to other people.

People ask me why I wrote the book in the format that I did. That’s an easy answer, it’s the way I explain, give talks and speeches, and think! I like to know how things connect to information I already have and to information I don’t yet have or don’t even know that I need. Knowing who is following and then understanding and defining where you want to lead them just naturally connects with whether you are worth following… at least in my mind (laughing).

It really doesn’t matter if you’re leading a large multinational organization or a small local one… a family or an educational institution… someone is leading and if it’s not you, then does he really know who you are and where he is going? If he doesn’t and he’s not someone you want to follow, shame on him. If you’re the one people are supposed to be following but you don’t know who they are as individuals, don’t know where you’re going (and neither do they), and you aren’t worth following, shame on you!