Chapter 15. What Kind of Leader Do People Want to Follow?

Michael Maccoby

We urgently need leaders, but it has become harder than ever to get people to follow. To explore why this is so and what we can do about it, this chapter addresses the following questions:

  • Why do we have such an urgent need for leaders?

  • Why do people follow a leader or resist being followers?

  • What kind of leader will be most effective at the present time?


To answer these questions, we need to be clear about the definition of a leader. Many commonly used definitions don't hold up to analysis. Leaders are sometimes defined as visionaries, but many visionaries have no followers. Indeed, there are visionaries in mental hospitals. Leaders are sometimes defined as people who set goals or motivate people, but increasingly teams also set goals and motivate themselves. Leaders are sometimes defined as people who influence others to change their behavior, but so do psychotherapists and philosophers.

The ideas presented in this chapter are further developed in my book The Leaders We Need. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2007.

One definition of a leader is irrefutable: a leader is someone people follow. Although this definition may seem too simple for some academics, it raises the difficult questions of why people follow a leader and how people follow. This definition implies that leadership is always a relationship between leaders and followers. If someone is in a leadership role but people don't ...

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