When we think about leadership, we tend to focus almost entirely on the leader. Yet without followers, there is no leader. Leadership is participatory: leaders and followers exist in a mutually beneficial relationship where each adds to the effectiveness of the other.
Key to this process is listening, because leadership is as much about listening as it is about talking, or perhaps more so. From the beginning, a leader must be informed by the followers’ values, beliefs, and aspirations, the followers’ identity. The commitment gap people frequently experience, the difference between what the leader desires and what the followers actually do, can often be traced back to not aligning the elements of leaders’ and followers’ identities—who they think they are—to find common ground on which to function and grow.
In an article that appeared in the August 2007 issue of Scientific American Mind, titled “The New Psychology of Leadership,” authors Stephen D. Reicher, Michael J. Platow and S. Alexander Haslam present research supporting the idea that effective leaders—those who can move followers from one behavior to another—grasp what their followers believe they are and represent, and then create a shared identity. They write, “The development of a shared identity is the basis of influential and creative leadership. If you control the definition of reality, you can change the world.”