When Chicken Little cried the sky is falling, most of the animals panicked with her because they, like most humans, were followers. Leaders take the time to ask questions, to dig deeper, to check their emotions and use them as data to consider, not as a master to follow. Being a leader takes mental work. Most people are prone to avoid unnecessary mental work. That’s not a criticism, it is a fact of biology.

It is hard work for our brains to think critically and evaluate a situation. It burns a lot of physical calories, calories that may be needed for more basic survival needs. In order to conserve energy we are hardwired to take in the least amount of new information necessary and create assumptions about that information based on our biases and memories so decision making is easier. Leaders are motivated to do the mental hard work.

4 Characteristics of Leaders

  1. Leaders have more energy efficient brains – they have more mental resources available for critical evaluation of information.  Leaders have greater EQ and /or IQ – Intelligence in either dealing with emotions (EQ) or with facts (IQ.) People with higher intelligence in either of those areas tend to rise to positions of leadership due, in part, to their brain’s capacity for energy efficiency. Followers conserve that energy in order to make faster choices.
  2. Leaders use emotions as information, they know that emotions are neither good nor bad, they simply are. They accept them without getting pulled down into them, consider what the emotion reveals about their inner beliefs, what message it is trying to convey, and how to use that information to make better decisions. Followers tend to let emotions drive actions even when they know those emotional responses will lead to unwanted consequences.
  3. Leaders don’t follow the crowd. Leaders don’t fit in. They take a stand on hard, unpopular issues and are in the minority because of it. Leaders aren’t afraid to be different and risk rejection when the majority rails against their refusal to panic. Followers know it’s safer to go along with the crowd and let someone else lead. It assures that they will fit in, be accepted, and have a support system around in times of need.
  4. Leaders respond confidently to what is actually happening instead of reacting in fear of what might happen. Watch the response to the Covid 19 virus and it will tell you if someone is a leader or a follower. Leaders are looking at actual known facts and making rational decisions about what to do in the areas they have control over. Followers will check a headline, not bother to read much of the story beyond a few bullet points or look at a graph, and let their storehouse of mental biases fill in the rest. That’s the reason a news website can write a headline like “Experts Predict Covid 19 will kill over 2 million in the next 6 months” and have that parroted all over social media as gospel truth when the rest of the story actually says it is a worst case scenario that could only possibly happen if we took no preventative measures at all. People don’t read the rest of the story and do a critical examination of the facts. They see the words “Experts predict” and “will kill over 2 million” and that’s enough for them to fill in the rest of the story.  This leaves them with more mental energy to focus on their immediate needs to buy security blanket items like toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

Leader, or follower? Which do you want to be? Neither is better. We need both. If you are in a position of leadership, or want to be a leader, evaluate the 4 characteristics above. You can choose to grow in any of those areas, your capacity is not fixed and unchangeable.