There are three reasons to follow a leader; the highest must be freely given because of who we are.
When discussing leadership, it is not unusual to distinguish it from drivership, though rarely in those terms. A leader goes in front and convinces the rest to follow. It is a higher way than a driver who pushes the droves from behind.
But even excluding drivership, “leadership” remains a generic term for a variety of relationships.
One way to distinguish leaders is be contrasting immediacy with trust. Just as the immediate threat of a whip is a less secure way of driving someone than the more distant threat of blackmail, so the immediate promise of a reward is a less secure motivation in leadership than is the more distant promise of security.
An extreme example of trust-based motivation is the debilitating effect of consistent abuse, which can continue driving a victim decades after any threat has passed. If a leader can inspire that level of trust there is nowhere the followers will not go.
Another distinction between leaders is the quality that causes others to follow them.
The most basic motivation in following a leader is the promise of a tangible reward. The carrot, the pay slip, the retirement plan—all serve to motivate by promising a reward. A trust-inspiring carrot-quality leader can keep followers with IOUs, while the less trusted start losing followers the first time a promise fails.
Next we have reigns-leaders. Not to be confused with drivers, these are leaders to whom the followers willingly give the reigns, believing that the leader is better able to direct their efforts than are they themselves. A simple example is the mentor-pupil relationship Mentor-pupil is a subset of teacher-student, the latter also including jumping hoops for a grade (carrot) and sometimes even drivership. where the pupil follows the superior experience of the mentor. Reigns may also be given hesitantly or trustingly, the difference showing in how many mistakes the leader may make.
At the top we have those who lead with love. I would follow my father even if I knew he was wrong … though I would try to share with him why I thought him wrong. because I love and respect him. Again, this quality permits varying levels of immediacy: I would follow my father much farther down a bad path than I would my friend; I love them both, but I trust that love more for my father.
It is not uncommon to hear people accuse others In my experience, these accusations seem to come almost exclusively against people who are either not present or are in a social environment that puts them at a disadvantage in replying. of being blindly obedient, loving blindly, etc. The implication of these statements is that they are following bad leaders, and that if they would only “open their eyes” they would see that and would stop following.
I think in almost every case all this actually means is that the accuser underestimates the quality that is present in the leadership. They assume a lesser quality and the trust that would be needed to keep following at that quality seems irrationally high. There are certainly cases where people are too trusting, but I think that case is more rare than people assert.
There is nothing blind about following out of love; you may be fully aware the leader does not deserve the reigns, yet still let the reigns go because the leader does deserve the love. There is nothing blind about handing the reigns to someone who cannot even promise tangible rewards; the best path may not be the one with the most gold.
I think that the right thing to do here would be to provide some suggestions for how to be a leader that motivates with love and trust. Unfortunately, the only one I know is “be a good person”.
There are books and programs that can teach all kinds of tricks that will develop leadership below the love quality. I’ve read several, and some of them are quite good, with lots of nice ideas. But the best teacher, the best manager, the best parent, is one that is loved, properly and for the long haul.
The only way to get there is to be, not to do.