The Four Needs of Followers: Leading Through Disruption

Great leaders consider the emotional aspect of their teams’ experiences, guiding them through challenges.

By Tim Hodges, Ph.D.

Business People Meeting At Conference Table

Ask yourself, “Which leader has most positively influenced your daily life?” Think about them. Picture them. Write down their name. Now, consider what that person contributes to your life. What are the first three words that come to mind?

Like many of the 10,000+ participants in an extensive Gallup research project, a few key themes likely emerge in your answers. Across thousands of respondents, four key themes emerged. It’s likely that many of your answers will be reflected in the themes that emerged from this study. And even if your thoughts diverge, it’s almost certain those you lead probably seek these characteristics in you. At Gallup we call them “the four needs of followers.”

It’s important to understand that in times of disruption—or really any time—people are emotionally driven. Many people believe that we are rational, leaning on our prefrontal cortex to make conscious decisions. Yet, behavioral economists have suggested that nearly 70 percent of our decisions stem from emotion, relying on our limbic system. We often make decisions quickly, instinctively, and subconsciously. This explains why when someone slams on their brakes in front of you, you don’t have to consider what to do next—you just react! Teams are often the same way. Feelings are facts. Great leaders consider the emotional aspect of their teams’ experiences, guiding them through challenges.


TRUST is paramount for followers. When discussing trust-building leaders, words like honesty, integrity and respect often come up. How do you build trust? You might be tempted to talk about trust at every staff meeting. That may emulate low-performing teams. On the contrary, high-performing teams don’t spend a lot of time talking about trust. They spend their time acting trustworthily. Trust comes mostly from consistent, right actions over time. Leaders are candid, honest, and open about their own struggles and flaws. Leading in this way creates a culture where others can do the same. A crucial finding from Gallup’s research is that to earn trust, leaders must first trust others. Great leaders hold focused, frequent, and transparent conversations with their teams. They don’t micromanage, but delegate real responsibility and give their teams the opportunity to grow through autonomy and trust.

To foster trust, ask your team, “What task that I currently handhold should you take on or own entirely?”


COMPASSION is the second necessity. Compassion is a feeling, an emotion, drawing from the Latin roots “pati” (to suffer) and “com” (with). Compassionate leaders recognize their team members’ struggles and respond with an authentic desire to help alleviate that suffering. Followers in Gallup’s research study also mentioned words like caring, friendship, happiness, and love. A critical element of employee engagement is to have a supervisor, or someone at work, who cares about you as a person. When we have that compassionate and caring person in our workplace, we’re more likely to stay on the job, be more productive, and boost engagement and profitability. Great leaders show compassion by being present, listening emotionally and actively, and responding appropriately.

To nurture compassion, ask your team, “Beyond work, what matters to you and why?” This question will show that you care about the whole person, not just the employee, and may take the relationship to a new level.


The third need of followers is STABILITY. It is exhausting to follow an unstable or inconsistent leader. Especially in uncertain times, stability becomes essential. Leaders who create stability during chaos have a calming effect on their teams. Gallup research shows that managers influence 70 percent of the variation in team engagement. While company culture is important, the most important factor in our day-to-day experience is what happens locally, and our immediate supervisor is in the best position to create that culture. Great leaders establish stability by first understanding the big picture. They then consider their own values and the values of the organization. Finally, they leverage their own leadership strengths and the strengths of their team members to progress.

To instill stability, ask, “What are you clear and unclear about concerning your work duties?” Clarity about expectations alleviates stress and enhances stability.


Lastly, followers seek HOPE. Hope is the belief that the future will be better than the present, and that you have the power to make it so. Hope begins with a clear goal. Hopeful individuals are optimistic about their goals and understand the associated hard work. They understand that there will be resistance in pursuit of worthwhile goals, and they accumulate the people and resources that will help them overcome obstacles along the way. Hope happens when you have ideas and energy to achieve future goals. Dr. Don Clifton, father of strengths-based psychology and grandfather of positive psychology, once stated, “The more you do what you do best, the more hopeful you are.” Utilizing team strengths during times of disruption and change is a useful, hope-building strategy.

To inspire hope, ask, “What uncertainties do you have about work’s future, and how can I help boost your confidence?” and “What would you like to be doing differently in the next year that would play to your strengths?”

Consider the four needs of followers: trust, compassion, stability, and hope. Teams seek these in leaders, hoping for reassurance and that they can be part of the solution in these turbulent times. Which of the four needs do you need to focus on? Commit to a personal and team-based improvement action.


This article is powered by Excelerate Partner: Visit Omaha

About the Author

Tim is a senior consultant at Gallup. He serves as executive director of the University of Nebraska - Lincoln’s CliftonStrengths Institute and is an assistant professor of practice in the management department at the UNL College of Business.


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