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Act Like a Leader

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If you hope to be a leader someday then start acting like a leader today. – Steve Keating

At one time of my life I sold soda pop. I loved it, I made a lot of friends in my accounts and overall, it was a pretty low stress job.

One day I received a message that the President of the company wanted to see me in his office at the end of the day. It was a Friday and I received the message around noon. I spent the better part of the afternoon wondering what I had done to be summoned on a Friday afternoon; whatever it was I was pretty sure it couldn’t be good.

When I entered his office he asked me to be seated and he got right to the point. He asked me if I was aware that there was a “problem” in the sales department. I had no idea what he was talking about but I didn’t want to look like an idiot so I said yes, I was aware.

He said he had been watching me and as my heart began to sink he added that he thought I could be a solution to the problem.

Suddenly things were looking up for me and I was thinking that perhaps I might be getting a promotion to District Manager. I was wrong about that too…

In keeping with his professional but direct manner he said that he would like me to consider accepting the role of General Sales Manager. I can only imagine the look on my face. He was asking me to skip the district AND regional manager levels and move directly to the top of the sales organization.

I took the weekend to consider, although I didn’t have enough information about the position to consider much, and on Monday morning I accepted the position.

I wonder to this day what the heck he was thinking when he offered me that job.

From the moment I accepted it my sales career with that organized began to go down hill. I made mistake after mistake, there were way too many mistakes to mention them all here. Some of the mistakes were trivial and some were rather gigantic but what they all had in common is that they were frequent.

I was completely, totally, massively unprepared for that position. I had never considered the possibility that in my late twenties I’d be put in charge of anything and my preparations to move into a leadership role reflected that fact.

I didn’t even understand how unprepared I was until I left that company to accept a sales position at Dale Carnegie Training, an organization unparalleled in preparing ordinary people to achieve extraordinary results as a leader.

I had fallen into the destination trap. The destination trap says that there is no need to develop your leadership skills until and unless you are in a leadership position.

I learned the hard way just how dumb that is.
The only way you can avoid the destination trap is to begin preparing yourself to lead before you find yourself in a leadership position. Step one is to act like a leader; lead yourself well, control your emotions, control your attitude and find yourself a mentor or coach.

Study great leaders and their leadership styles. Determine what will work for you “someday” and you’ll be surprised how quickly some day will come. Don’t wait for a leadership position to just come your way, learn to lead before you need to and ensure that you’re prepared to meet the many challenges of leadership when they arrive.

The Strength in Not Knowing

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The most successful people know they don’t know it all. They also know, and this may be even more important, they know what they don’t know. They know where their knowledge bank is weak and they aren’t afraid to admit it.

This is especially true for successful leaders.

I once worked with a guy who refused to hire a very qualified candidate for a job opening. Everyone knew he was qualified for the job but the guy who would be his boss didn’t want him. When I pressed him for a reason he finally said, “I don’t need a guy “pushing me” because he knows more than I do.”

That my friends is what a really, really weak leader sounds like.

Strong successful leaders actually staff for their weaknesses. They are not threatened by those who may know more than they do in particular areas. They know that their strengths lie in other, likely more critical areas. They don’t bog themselves down with trying to know it all; they have strength in not knowing it all.

They have the courage to admit what they don’t know, they have the courage to admit it when they don’t know what they do not know and most important of all, they have the confidence to ask someone they believe does know.

They confidently use their team’s knowledge to fill-in their own gaps. They are not embarrassed by their gaps, they are confident enough in what they do know to know it’s perfectly acceptable to not know it all. They do not pretend to know more than they do because they know that sooner or later their “fake knowledge” will be discovered.

If you’re a leader who doesn’t know then ask. Ask confidently and ask as often as necessary. It doesn’t damage your credibility with your people, it adds to it. It’s how Authentic Leaders do it.

My Personal Mission Statement

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Do you know who you are? Really? Do you know what you stand for? Really? Do you know what, with great specificity, your core values are? Really?

Those are not questions easily answered, nor should they be. They are serious questions and when you can really answer them, your life, and your life mission becomes much clearer.

Your adherence to the mission statement that you create makes your life decisions much easier and much more consistent.

You may not always like the decision you come up with but it will align with who you truly are. You’ll be less likely to be influenced by peer pressure and the latest fads. When you understand yourself, REALLY understand yourself, happiness, fulfillment, and a life you value are all easier to achieve.

I created something several years ago that has made a significant difference in my life. It’s my personal mission statement. It is indeed deeply personal but I share it with the hope that it may inspire you to create one for yourself. It’s really not the mission statement that has made the difference, it’s the time I invested to answer the questions needed to create it that has allowed me to really know myself.

A couple of things about your mission statement: It’s yours and yours alone. Don’t make it what you think other people want you or it to be. Don’t change who you are because other people don’t like something about you. I will change myself for God, for my wife, for the very few people who TRULY care about me, and for me, that’s about it. As Popeye said, “I am what I am and that’s all that I am.”

I readily admit to certain “flaws” and I work to correct those that I choose, the rest I choose to live with and those who allow me into their lives must live with them too.

So, here is my Personal Mission Statement:

To find happiness, fulfillment, and value in living I will:

LEAD a God centered life around the principles of integrity, excellence, service to others, and trustworthiness.

REMEMBER what’s important in life is God, family, happiness, free time, peace of mind, security, and wealth, not only financial wealth but also in spirit and positive attitude.

REVERE admirable characteristics in others, such as being compassionate, committed, caring, principle-centered, moral, and balanced, and attempt to implement similar characteristics in my own life.

RECOGNIZE my strengths and develop talents as a person who is responsible, trustworthy, a communicator, entertaining, generous, a leader, and a speaker.

HUMBLE myself by acknowledging that I can be sarcastic, egotistical, wrong about most anything at most any time, and narrow-minded and by constantly striving to transform my weaknesses into strengths.

ENVISION myself becoming a person who:
     Bud thinks is witty, dependable, and enthusiastic.
     Josh and Sarah think is caring, loving, giving, and trustworthy.
     Brad thinks is committed, creative, and organized.
     Vicki thinks is faithful, loving, giving, and caring.

 

Now, for those of you who know me you may not agree with everything in my mission statement, that’s okay, it’s mine, not yours. You may recognize that I don’t always live up to my mission statement and that’s okay too; I recognize that as well but I also recognize that I am a work in progress.

Sharing my Personal Mission Statement with several hundred thousand people may be one of the most giving things I’ve ever done or it may be the dumbest thing I’ve ever done… with sharing comes accountability… I guess time will tell.

If you’re willing to invest the time to honestly answer the type of “self questions” required to create your own Personal Mission Statement you will make a difference in your life. The best thing about making a difference in your life is that it’s the first step to making a difference in the lives of those you care about.

A personal mission statement doesn’t automatically make you a better person. It does however, if you take the exercise of creating it seriously, give you a roadmap on how to improve yourself.

I hope you’ll seriously consider creating your own roadmap to how YOU want to live YOUR life.

The Trouble with Trust

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In my last post I started out writing about trust and it sort of morphed into something else. Let’s see if I can stay on track this time…

Trust! It’s vital to any positive relationship. While I suppose we can have some sort of relationship without trust it seems to me that it wouldn’t be a relationship that we would truly value.

The trouble with trust is that it is fragile. Very, very fragile.

If you’re actually going to lead people then trust is even more vital. I don’t know a leader, any type of leader, who would intentionally destroy the trust of their people and yet, destroy it they do!

Whether by accident, by mistake or by simple thoughtlessness, trust is damaged by leaders every day. Once the damage is done it can take years and tremendous effort to repair it.

So what are the “accidental” destroyers of trust? Well here are just a few “accidents” that leaders sometimes make without even thinking.

Broken Promises
Your leadership is only as good as your word. This one seems obvious but it depends on the definition someone applies to the word “promise.” What you as a leader might think is a kind of throw-away noncommittal answer your people may take as a promise. Make your communications clear, concise and definite to avoid this issue.

Changing the “Rules”
There are two challenges here, one is actually changing the rules in the middle of the game and the other one is applying the rules differently to different people. It has taken me a long time to understand how “gray” life really is, black and white rules, orderly processes and zero “exceptions” would be a easy way to live. It’s also an unrealistic way to lead. Your ability to apply “the rules” equally will determine your effectiveness as a leader. So if I were you, I’d be perusing your organization’s policy manual to get rid of unnecessary rules and regulations. The more unneeded “rules” you have the more likely you are to put yourself in a tough spot when it comes to applying then equally.

Shirking Your Responsibilities
Your people won’t do more than they see you doing. You can ask your people to move mountains and they will, IF they see you pushing with them. If they get to the mountain only to see you in your LazyBoy then don’t expect great things from them. While you’re relaxing your credibility is going down the drain and the trust of your people is going with it.

Public Criticism
I get the fact that sometimes your emotions “win” and you just let loose with a barrage of criticism in front of the team. That causes lots of problems but here is the big one: not only did you destroy the trust of the person you criticized, you destroyed the trust of the rest of the team too. They are just waiting for their “turn” to be flogged in front of their colleagues. The likely result is that they don’t trust you enough to be honest with you. Their efforts begin to center around protecting themselves… from you.

Avoided Conflict
This is a hard one because it is kind of counterintuitive. On the surface, conflict would seem to erode trust but the opposite is actually true. If you’re an Authentic Servant Leader then you care enough to confront with compassion. That builds trust because your people always know where they stand and they know what is expected of them. If you are a conflict avoider then you are NOT helping anyone. You’re simply allowing the conflict to fester and grow. Whether you realize it or not unresolved conflict negatively affects your relationships with the people around you. No one knows what you really think, they don’t know where they stand with you and as a result, their trust level goes down.

Running from or ignoring conflict is no way to lead. Do yourself a favor and stop considering conflict to be about fighting and start considering it to be about resolution, relationship and trust building. If you can’t build trust you’ll find it very difficult to lead, some might even say impossible to lead.

I could go on and on about situations that harm trust. It is just so darn easy to damage and so darn hard to repair. So I’ll leave you with a bit of advice from Dale Carnegie: when you’re wrong admit it quickly and empathically.

If you’re leading people you’re going to make mistakes. Some of those mistakes will make it harder for your people to trust you. Failing to acknowledge your mistake harms your credibility even more. 

You’re people actually DO want to trust you, make it as easy for them as you possibly can.

Authentic or Effective Leadership?

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Trust! It is a vital element of leadership, at least Authentic Servant Leadership. I suppose an effective leader can get away with a lack of trust, but the leadership of someone who is merely effective is limited.

If you’re wondering about the difference between an effective leader and an Authentic Servant Leader here is my take on it: an effective leader can influence people to take action, they can chart a course for their people and the can make a difference in the lives of those they lead… it may not be a positive difference but it will be a difference.

An effective leader can even build other leaders but it’s very unlikely that an effective leader will ever develop an Authentic Servant Leader.

On the other hand an Authentic Servant Leader can do everything an effective leader can do and so much more. They are far more likely to develop other, future leaders. The leaders they develop will be much more likely to be Authentic Servant Leaders one day. Authentic Servant Leaders create a culture where people care, a culture where everyone matters and a culture where people values are every bit as important as performance values.

Now, this post was supposed to be all about trust but since I’ve gotten off on this tangent I’m going to keep going. I guess “trust” will be my next post.

If you’re questioning whether your leader is merely effective or an Authentic Servant leader then maybe this next batch of words will help clarify that for you.

Somehow people have it in their heads that “authentic” means perfect. Nope, that’s not at all what it means. It means “conforming to fact and therefore worthy of belief” or “not counterfeit or copied.”

Authentic Leaders are genuine, the real deal. They lead, they make good things happen. The real difference comes when we add the word “servant.” A servant is described as a “person working in the service of another.”

If the individual leading you has your best interests in mind then it is very likely that they are a servant leader. If they can combine that with great judgcernment, (the vital combination of judgment and discernment) a willingness to make decisions, even when risk is attached, a vivid, forward looking vision and the ability to apply their emotions in a positive fashion then they may well be an Authentic Servant Leader.

Here’s something else you need to know about Authentic Servant Leaders: you may not always agree with them. They may have one idea about what’s in your best interests while you have something different in mind. They may ask you to do things you may not want to do, this happens because they will most often keep in mind that the good of the many outweighs the good of the one… that just means they put the good of the organization above the good of any one individual, even if they are that one individual.

Authentic Servant Leaders make mistakes, they do things at times that they regret later. Why, on their worst days they can even appear to be merely human… just like the rest of us.

“Authentic” doesn’t mean perfect and “servant” doesn’t mean doormat. Authentic Servant Leaders will makes mistakes and they won’t always do what we want them to do. Overall, working for, or even alongside a truly Authentic Servant Leader is a life-building experience, if you’ll simply let it be.

Do yourself a favor and let it be.

A Second Chance

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There has been a lot of talk in the news lately, at least in the U.S. of second chances. Specifically the conversation has centered around when and IF people deserve a second chance.

I suppose the politically correct and sensitive answer is: yes, people always deserve a second chance.

That’s an easy answer in theory but in practice it’s not so simple.

No one will ever accuse me of being overly politically correct but in this instance, maybe only in this instance, I believe the politically correct answer is actually the right answer. People really do deserve a second chance. Maybe a more specially correct answer would be other people deserve a second chance.

We seldom need to be reminded that we deserve a second chance, I mean, we’re only human, we make mistakes. We deserve a chance to “do better next time.”

So does every other person.

But again, giving second chances is often easier said than done. When the other person’s “mistake” has directly impacted us it is harder to give them a do over. It’s harder but not impossible. Some mistakes however are so big it’s hard to even call it a mistake, it might just be a lie, or even a crime. Still, it’s not impossible, only harder.

Just remember “second” means 2, it means another. It doesn’t mean 3 or 4 or 5. It doesn’t mean another and another. If someone continually does you wrong then YOU deserve to walk away from them.

Here’s a question to ask yourself when determining if someone else deserves a second chance: if you had done the identical thing, would YOU want and deserve a second chance? Answer HONESTLY….

There’s your answer. If you deserve a second chance then why doesn’t the next person?

If you answered no to that question you need to ask it again. Ask it again while keeping in mind that you are special, you are valuable, you matter. You deserve to be allowed to try again. Never forget that amazing FACT!

Truth, Honesty and Brian Williams

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If you like your insurance, you can keep it, period.

Seems like a pretty straightforward and simple sentence, but as it turned out… not so much. President Obama made that statement countless times through the past several years as he campaigned for the Affordable Care Act. I have no way to know whether it was an honest statement, but it clearly was not the truth.

Obviously, The President did not tell the truth when he made that statement, but it doesn’t mean he isn’t an honest person. He simply could have gotten it wrong. He and virtually no one else involved in the crafting of the law truly understood what it was. Everybody is still learning it’s impact even today.

Just an aside, that isn’t necessarily bad leadership, The President may have just decided to get passed what he could get passed and figured he could and would fix it later. Sometimes when we wait for perfect we end up with nothing. You can argue all you want that in this case nothing would be better than what we got but those kinds of differences of opinion are what got horse racing it’s start.

Which brings us to one Mr. Brian Williams, the anchor for a major network’s nightly news broadcast. For the last few years he has been telling the story of his time in Iraq early during the U.S. invasion. As he tells it, or told it, the helicopter he was riding in came under enemy fire and was hit by an Iraqi Rocket Propelled Grenade. He said their “bird,” as the military pilots call it made a swift and hard hard landing.

He told the story with emotion and intensity and who wouldn’t – that has to be a life experience that would never be forgotten. Or confused.

It seems the other people on the helicopter, and the other helicopters in the formation remembered those events differently. Quite a bit differently.

When confronted with the “inconsistencies” in his version of events his response was something along the lines of “oh yeah, that’s right it was the helicopter in front of us that was hit. He said he wasn’t lying it was just a simple mistake, one caused by time and the fog of battle.

I’ve never been in battle but I was robbed at gunpoint a couple of times when working in my Grandfather’s grocery store. I can still see the rifling in the barrel of the gun as it was up against the bridge of my nose. There is no way I would confuse that, there is no way the kid next to me would ever think the gun was actually against his head. No way!

There is a difference between truth and honesty. We can be honest and still not tell the truth. Being mistaken doesn’t make us a liar, it might make us incompetent but incompetence doesn’t make someone a liar either.

Brian Williams is a very competent news professional. We can’t really know if he was purposely lying. He really may have been confused, he may have actually thought he was shot down, maybe he thought he was the first man on the moon too. Or maybe he was just lying through his teeth.

There is no way to know what he was thinking but I do know which option is easiest to believe.

Which brings us to you… and all leaders.

Credibility is a fragile necessity of leadership. Credibility is required to lead and while it’s obvious that being caught in a lie can destroy it we forget that a “mistake” can destroy it too.

We don’t know what was in Brian Williams’ heart as he told his story of Iraq but as leaders we know that even if it was an honest mistake his credibility is gone. It’s way too hard for way too many people to believe it was a simple mistake. He is a person who works in the credibility business and his credibility is shot even if his helicopter wasn’t.

As a leader you are in the credibility business too, your business may not be as public as Brian Williams’ but to the people you lead your credibility is every bit as important.

Never forget, you can be an honest person and still not be telling the truth. If you’re not sure about something then say you’re not sure. When you are careless with the truth your people will soon care less about following you.

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