The other morning my wife and I did our normal walk-n-talk around the neighborhood after we got the kids off to school. Shortly into our walk, we saw a tiny bird near the mailbox of my neighbor. The small bird sipped water droplets off the blades of grass around him.
I’m a bird lover. I have so many bird feeders, baths, and houses hung up around my yard, it looks like Saint Francis of Assisi lives here. I go through 80 pounds of seed each week. Recently, I stopped cutting my grass, because my lawn mower is in the shed where a little Carolina Wren laid her eggs. And I’ve stopped using the front door because another bird built her nest in the jasmine that climbs the post just outside the door.
So when I saw this little bird, seemingly unafraid of our presence at all, it caught my attention and made me worry a little.
Do birds get rabies? I wondered vaguely.
As the bird continued gathering little water droplets, I stooped closer to see if he looked injured or foamed at the mouth.
Then it happened: HE JUMPED ON MY SHOULDER!
Ever cool, I allowed only a small amount of urine to run down my leg.
Stunned, I turned slowly to look at the bird; the bird turned to look at me.
Then, quicker than I could blink, HE JUMPED ON MY FACE!
For about 3 minutes the bird hopped all over me before finally alighting to a branch 30 feet overhead. Next to me, my wife took pictures of the whole thing.
No, I didn’t lie about the subject in the blog title, “How Leaders Attract Followers.” Really, I’m not just sharing this story as my not-so-subtle way of letting you know that I’m so cool even the birds love me. True as that might be, leaders attract willing, engaged followers the same way I attracted that bird:
1. Leaders show interest in others.
Something amazing happens when you take an interest in a person: that person usually takes an interest in you back! Are you on LinkedIn? If you are, what do you do when someone you don’t know checks out your profile? Chances are good that you check them out right back.
Leaders never try to be the most interesting person in the room. Instead they seem almost invisible except for the way the nod, lean into, and make it all about the other. By doing so, leaders create engaged and engaging followers.
2. Leaders look for the right time and the right place.
My bird friend was a fledgling, just out of the nest and not quite ready to take wing on his own with confidence. Had I showed up a few minutes sooner and later, I would have missed out on this experience.
Similarly, leaders know that the best time to create followers is to invest in people who are not yet able to succeed on their own. At work, if you invest too early, an employee might not get full value of your effort, because he won’t even know what he needs to be successful. Invest too late, and an employee might wrongly believe that he or she knows everything or doesn’t need you as an ally.
3. Leaders know when to let people soar.
While I love birds, I would never dream of caging one. Birds are meant to fly and be free.
Likewise, people aren’t meant to remain followers; rather, people follow for a time, gather their strength, learn a few things, and then spread their figurative wings to soar on their own. And when that happens, the leader is the proudest person in the room.
Poet Christopher Logue said it best:
Come to the edge, he said.
We are afraid, they said.
Come to the edge, he said.
They came to the edge,
He pushed them and they flew.
There is no greater joy than seeing your child or employee…or bird…take off and make it on his own. Leaders take pleasure in knowing that they had a small hand in creating a person’s transformation from follower into fellow-leader.