3 Reasons Your Team Won’t Follow You

by  David Dye  |  Leadership Development
3 Reasons Your Team Won’t Follow You

Is your team stuck? On a recent trip to the mountains, one of my daughter’s friends drove his car into a ditch. To be fair, there was nearly two feet of snow on top of slick mud.

He slid right into the ditch and his wheels sunk as he tried to back out. It was time for a tow.

Fortunately, he had a tow cable and my SUV has low ratio four-wheel drive. We secured the cable to both vehicles and then he asked what would happen next.

He had never been on either end of a tow before, so we discussed how you hook the cable to the cars, what direction we would go, and how to gradually build momentum. We talked about how failure to do these things would end up damaging one or both of our vehicles.

As we talked, it occurred to me that towing and leadership share some things in common. If your team won’t follow you, there’s a good chance you’re making one or more of these mistakes:

  1. You Lack A Strong Connection – Don’t hook your tow-cable to the bumper. You can find many videos where someone rips the bumper right off of their friend’s car. They didn’t attach their cable to the car’s frame and when they pulled, they tore apart the car.

    As a leader, your influence depends on the strength of your connection to the team. Do you share the meaning and purpose behind the work? Do you know what your people value and connect those values to their daily tasks?

    The most meaningful connections you make are with shared values and clear reasons why activities must happen. Without these connections, you’re probably asking your team to do something that makes no sense to them (with little chance of success).

    You can strengthen your connection to your team by getting their input. Ask what they think the team is capable of, why they do what they do, and how they would improve the results they produce.

  2. You’re Pulling The Wrong Direction – When you tow, you don’t want to pull the car sideways or you could rip off a tire or an entire axle. Once again, there are plenty of videos available showing you what happens. Instead, you start by pulling the vehicle in the direction it was going or else directly opposite of that direction. This minimizes stress on the car and gets the wheels rolling.

    With your team, you have to know their current capacity, training, and priorities. If you ask something of them that they don’t know how to do, or that their current workload can’t accommodate, or something that is in conflict with their current priorities, you’ll end up frustrated.

    I’ve worked with many managers and supervisors who respond to this scenario by pulling harder (they yell, belittle their people, and get upset). Naturally, the team loses respect for their leader.

    When you need to get your team going a different direction, start by examining the capacity, training, and priorities. What can you remove from their plate? What training can you get for them? How can you help reprioritize and gradually get them rolling in the new direction?

  3. You Go Too Fast – Don’t slam on the accelerator. When I pulled my daughter’s friend out of the ditch, the dirt road was very muddy. If I had accelerated too quickly, my tires would have spun and dug into the mud – trapping both of us.

    Had the road been dry and I went too fast, I probably would have ripped something off one vehicle or the other. If you’ve never seen this, it’s easier to watch than to describe. Check out this video and then keep reading. As a leader, you have a vision for your team. You’ve got a clear picture of where you’re going and what needs to happen to get there. It’s obvious to you.

    But what’s obvious to you won’t be obvious to your people without significant communication. I’ve worked with countless numbers of frustrated managers and team leaders who told their team about a change in procedure once, six months ago, and are now angry that their team isn’t implementing the change.

    To pull gently and build momentum, you’ve got to frequently communicate what is happening, why it’s happening, the specific tasks each person is responsible for, and then check for understanding. At the end of discussions, ask team members to share what they understand the expectations to be.

Slow down just a little bit and you’ll see huge results in how fast your team is able to build momentum in the new direction.

Remember, you give your team a chance to follow you when you clearly connect their work to meaning, purpose, and shared values; ensure they have the capacity to do what’s needed; and slow down to communicate and check for understanding along the way.

How have the best leaders in your life helped their teams to build momentum and move quickly?

About The Author

Articles By david-dye
I work with leaders who want to build teams that care and get more done with fewer headaches.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Page Cole  |  19 May 2015  |  Reply

Great thoughts David!

Another analogy came to mind. I’ve had to tow a vehicle for some distance before. There can be a HUGE catastrophe if either person, the tow-er or the towed, reacts too suddenly or overcompensates without good communication. If the tow-er slams on the brakes without warning or drastically slows speed, it can cause the person being towed to ram into the back of the person towing them.

The critical analogy I see here is that it’s incredibly critical that the person leading, or “out front” recognizes the need to overcommunicate about any changes in direction or speed. Blaming the person you’re leading for not paying attention doesn’t “uncrumple the bumper” if a wreck between the two vehicles happens because of a lack of communication.

Thanks for the analogy! My brain will be working on this one all day!

David Dye  |  20 May 2015  |  Reply

Fantastic analogy extension Page! Reactivity and lack of communication make following very difficult.

John Smith  |  19 May 2015  |  Reply

Hi, David:)

First, thanks for the “tow” into some excellent leadership thoughts. This is a great analogy and very visual. I have images of bumpers flying off cars stuck in my head now.

Second, I thought immediately of my first Very Good Boss, who had a way of talking me through thinking out a problem and the solution. It strikes me that his methods were much like a well-done tow: I was stuck in the ditch and, with some planning and thoughtfulness, he could pull me right back up on the road and I would be on my way.

I think it is important to remember, staying with this analogy a bit longer, that once you are out of the ditch, you can and should often proceed forward on your own power. Every mistake does not require a trip to the garage or service station … sometimes all you need is a little help getting going again.

I plan to steal this analogy for my coaching … thanks:)


David Dye  |  20 May 2015  |  Reply


I love the added “once out of the ditch, proceed on your own power” – of course!

Thank you :)


Paul LaRue  |  20 May 2015  |  Reply

David, I think if you observe any situation, you can find a universal truth of leadership principles and draw an application from it.

You certainly pulled that together from this example. Not only was the analogy great, but your observations give us continued insight in how to lead more effectively.

Thanks for all you do!,


David Dye  |  20 May 2015  |  Reply

Hi Paul,

I imagine that’s true when you’re looking for it. This one jumped up and grabbed me at the time. I had to take some quick notes and return to the task at hand :)

Appreciate you!


Joanie Connell  |  25 May 2015  |  Reply

It’s images like these that stick in people’s minds. I love the image of pulling the car sideways and ripping the wheels off. I can relate to steering the team in the direction it was already headed to start them off with that image in mind. I will share this with other leaders because it’s language we can all relate to. Thanks for bringing leadership to real life terminology!

David Dye  |  15 Jun 2015  |  Reply

My pleasure Joanie – I’m glad the image was helpful!

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