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3 min read

Private Club Leadership: How Great Leaders Create Star Followers

Dr. Sue Tinnish has seen her share of leaders through her career. As an executive coach, a past college Dean, and a facilitator for a national CEO peer network, Sue knows leaders better than they know themselves. As the Dean of the School of Hospitality Management and the International School of Business at Kendall College in Chicago, Sue’s leadership background is as much academic as practical. She has learned that leaders need to communicate clearly, be decisive in their actions, and empathetic with their team. Most importantly, great leaders also have great followers.

The Need for Compassionate Leaders

Strong and compassionate leaders are needed now more than ever as the workforce places a high priority on culture. Hiring top talent and retaining your best team members are critical in running a successful organization - especially in the hospitality industry, where turnover can be high. Dr. Tinnish says the old “Command and Control” approach to leadership is failing in many cases because the business challenges leaders face today are more complex than ever. 

“You have to be more collaborative, and you have to engage more people to solve these more complex, nuanced issues.”


And yet, getting staff involved in complex decision-making is not always easy for leaders. In addition, Sue says that leaders can become derailed and thus less effective as they elevate in their organizations. This happens for two reasons; first, a leader's knowledge of happenings deeper in the organization becomes dated, and it’s harder to stay current on issues. Secondly, Dr. Tinnish says research has shown that a leader’s self-awareness or emotional intelligence starts to decline. 

“You know, success is good, but it also can feed us to a point of thinking that we are infallible, that we don't necessarily have blind spots or spots where we need help.” 

And that’s why great leaders do something really important; they create great followers. Or as Tinnish calls them, “Star Followers. 

”When you have great followers, it is a reflection on you and your leadership style. And you're going to have people that are going to stay with the organization, and they're just going to be better employees.”

So for leaders, what are the keys to creating “Star Followers?” 

  • First, Dr. Tinnish says it’s important that leaders welcome feedback. She suggests that leaders should invite feedback on specific problems or even their leadership style. Tinnish says leaders don’t have to do anything with the feedback that is received, but it’s important to let your followers know their voice is heard. 
  • Secondly, it’s important to explain the why. Let your followers know why you’re asking them to do something, not just how to do something. Once people know the “why” behind a task, they can use their creativity to find the best ways to accomplish the task. This can be rewarding and encourages followers to align with the initiatives. 

Know your team’s strengths and weaknesses and lean into the strengths of each person. Historically, leaders have focused on improving their team’s weaknesses, but by leaning into their strengths you empower them to be more committed members of the team.


Dr. Tinnish says leaders need to lead by example and walk the talk. When they are able to welcome and accept feedback, share the “why” behind tasks, and focus on developing the strengths of each team member, Star followers will be created.

The challenge many followers face is understanding how to deliver feedback to leaders in a constructive and respectful manner. Dr. Tinnish says it’s important that the feedback is direct and factual. Receiving feedback openly from team members can also be difficult for leaders, and yet it’s a key to developing great followers. For leaders who wish to become great leaders but are reluctant to welcome feedback from their followers, she offers these suggestions:

  • Find time for self-reflection and think about past mistakes or recurring issues that have come up when you manage.
  • Identify patterns of behavior and try to detect “blind spots.”
  • Surround yourself with peers who will talk with you about your blind spots and provide objective feedback and advice.
  • Don’t shoot the messenger when you get your feedback. Remember, you’ve asked for the input, and it would be unfair to blame the person presenting their perspective.

Dr. Tinnish says there are a number of assessments that can be taken to better understand emotional intelligence and that leaders and team members can both benefit. She says Myers-Briggs, Predictive Index, and DiSC are all tools that can help leaders understand the strengths of their team and each member. And with a deeper knowledge of personal strengths and weaknesses, great leaders will be better positioned to develop great followers. 

“There are so many people who have become more enlightened along the way and been able to modify their behavior as well, which is an awesome success story, right?

Read on:

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