How to Be a Better Leader: Strategies for inspiring rock-solid loyalty and building the organizational dream!Today we are talking about how to be a better leader – at home, at work, or wherever. Now, before we dive into this, I one of the things I mention frequently on my blog is that in order to find your truth, you need to be open to finding all the puzzle pieces that make that picture up, wherever they may be.


Likewise, nuggets of real wisdom can be found all over the place, and sometimes in the unlikeliest of places. And that’s relevant today because the inspiration for this topic of leadership actually came in just that kind of unexpected way: the BBC television show, Merlin.

Leading like a king?

I was never one to watch a lot of television – I’m really more of a book kind of girl – but when I got Netflix I started discovering all sorts of new and interesting TV shows that I’d never seen before. Merlin is a loose retelling of the classic Arthurian legends and when I started watching it I was really fascinated by the character of Uther Pendragon (played by Anthony Stewart Head, of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame).

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Now, to my mind, Uther provides a really interesting display of a really old-fashioned understanding of leadership. He seems to genuinely want the best for Camelot and to establish it as a great kingdom, but his perspective and actions are so counterproductive to what he’s trying to accomplish.

Don’t mistake fear for loyalty

What Uther believes is that leaders must be feared if they are to be effective, and that a good leader will not inspire loyalty among his people if they are not afraid of him. To Uther, blind, instant obedience to his commands is the mark of true loyalty among his subjects. So he’s constantly doing nasty things to display his power and make the people afraid of him, in the belief that this will make the people loyal to him.

But what Uther fails to understand is that fear is a very fickle thing. If you’re depending on your people’s fear of you in order to run your empire (whether it’s a kingdom or a corporate team), then it’s very very easy to corrupt that loyalty. If the only reason your people are loyal to you is because they’re afraid of you, then all I need to do in order to turn them against you is to make them more afraid of me than they are of you.

Leading through fear doesn’t work

This is something that few failed leaders really understand — intimidation doesn’t work in the long run. Ever. And there are two main reasons for that. The first reason is that when people are afraid of their leader, they’re not happy. And unhappy people tend to be very passive-aggressive and will constantly be looking for ways to “get back” at the fear-inducing leader by constantly undermining that leader’s authority in a thousand little ways.

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And the second reason is that, especially if you’re looking at something at a societal level, is that you can only grind people into the dust for so long – at some point, when an abused and oppressed population realizes that they have nothing left to lose and that, together, they outnumber the oppressors, all hell tends to break loose and you end up with a revolution on your hands (or your company ends up going under). Fear. Doesn’t. Work.

The one other thing about leading through fear is that people will NEVER trust a leader that they are afraid of. And that trust, as we’ll see in a minute, is key to being able to get your people on board with whatever long term vision or goal you have for your organization (or your kingdom).

Leading through love

All of which brings us to the idea of leading through love. Actor Jim Carrey once said that every decision you make in life comes down to a choice between love and fear, which I thought was very profound and very, very true. So if leading through fear doesn’t work, then what about leading through love?

Think about it: If, as a leader, your people love you, or at least love the vision or cause or grand ideal that you represent, it’s a lot harder to shake their loyalty. When you follow someone or some cause out of real love, you are prepared to walk through hell and back if you believe.

If you follow a dream out of love, you're willing to walk through hell to make it happen. #loyalty Click To Tweet

And if people follow you because they love you, then they will also TRUST you. And that means that when the going gets tough, as it does with any dream – whether it’s an individual dream or an organizational or corporate vision – then your people will be far more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt and be willing to buckle down and work through those tough times with you.

Inspiring loyalty

So, how do you go about choosing that second path and learning to lead through love and inspire loyalty in the right way? In his book, Hiring Greatness, author David Perry says that there are 3 things that leaders need to do well in order build rock-solid loyalty:

  1. Help their people to believe in themselves
  2. Build a caring organization (so, your people need to believe that they are seen and valued as individuals)
  3. Instill “common cause” by inspiring people to believe in the organization’s vision and goals

So, how do you do all of that? Well, put yourself in your people’s shoes and think about what you would want if you were in their position. First of all, do you even know who your people are? Or are they just numbers to you?

How to be a better leader

Start by making it a point to connect with them on a personal level. And for the love of all that is please note that this does not mean enforced weekend team-building retreats – those are evil! Remember that making your people do work stuff after hours means you’re pulling them away from their lives and their families. And when you do that, you deprive them of the recharge time away from work that they need in order to bring their A-game when they’re with you. (You can learn more about why that’s so important in last week’s podcast, by the way – I’ll link it in the blog post for today’s episode.)

Employees do not quit companies, they quit bosses. ~David Perry

So, instead of eating up chunks of their personal time with enforced retreats, trying to get people to know you and each other, consider, instead, adopting an open-door policy where employees are invited to share their thoughts about innovation and such with you.

You could also take the time to walk your floors and actually talk with your people about what they’re doing; give people opportunities to get to know you and LIKE you so that they can learn to trust you. Help them to understand the WHY behind your programs and directives and how all these pieces help bolster the vision you’re trying to build for your organization – help them to understand the importance of their own roles and how they fit into that big picture — and they’ll be more likely to dedicate themselves to making it happen

Finally, just believe the best about your people – human beings have a tendency to live up to (or down to) your expectations about them, so expect the best and believe the best… and that’s what you’ll likely get.

Summing it up

The long and the short of it is this: it’s not loyalty if it can be bought and sold. Loyalty is earned, and you earn it by treating your people well, connecting them to your vision, and helping them to believe that they really do have what it takes to make it all happen. All individuals need to have and understand the WHY behind a big dream if they’re going to be able to weather the ups and downs along the road to success, and in an organizational situation, the leader is critical to getting all of that right.

If your actions inspire other to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. ~John Quincy Adams

Don’t try to scare people into doing what you want them to; it never works. Remember that love is a stronger force than fear can ever be. If you lead with tyranny, your people will find ways to rebel and they will always be looking for someone to replace you. They will break ranks at the first sign of trouble and abandon you.

But if you lead through love and inspire them to trust you, and to believe in the dream, then they will do everything in their power to make it happen. This is how to be a better leader.

photo credit: cc (modified by me)

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