One of the biggest myths of leadership is what John Maxwell calls The Freedom Myth. Basically it says that once you’ve reached “the top” you’re pretty much set. You have it made! You’re free to do whatever you want, whenever you want to do it. Freedom!
It’s a complete myth. The higher you go in any organization the less true freedom you have. Authentic Leaders, especially Authentic Serving Leaders, willingly sacrifice some of their freedom in order to lead. But sacrifice they do!
Life is a series of trade-offs and clearly top leaders are rewarded for their sacrifices. Their positions normally come with higher compensation and often, increased prestige. It’s the level of income and the kind of prestige that lots of people want; the problem is, they often aren’t aware of the costs, or sacrifices, associated with having it.
I hope everyone knows that “the top” is achieved through hard work. Yes, there are exceptions; people promoted because their father-in-law was the founder of the company or something like that. But those are really few and far between. The vast majority of people in key leadership positions earned their way there. That doesn’t change just because you may not like them or may not agree with them.
Here is the part where many people have a rather large misconception… being on top is no piece of cake. The sacrificing doesn’t stop. The hard work doesn’t stop. In many ways the sacrificing is greater and in almost every way, the work is harder. The stress of performing in a key leadership position has eaten up many seemingly hearty individuals.
Now, I’m not asking anyone to shed any tears for highly paid executives, again if they are in a decent sized company they are likely well compensated. But… you should stop expecting perfection from them just because they have succeeded in their career.
Key leaders should indeed be held accountable but they should also be supported. It is NOT the job of any of us in the middle to point out the weaknesses of those above us. If your goal is, as mine is, to lead up in your organization then your job should be to discover and FILL any gaps your leader may have.
That might mean sacrificing the opportunity to show how much smarter you are than the person above you. Leaders sacrifice at every level, even in the middle. When you help the leaders above you become more effective you become more effective. You earn more influence in your organization. You advance in your own leadership journey. You do the right thing and that’s never wrong.
Now, one caveat before I close out this post. While I believe that leaders should be supported there are two exceptions. If your leader breaks the law or behaves in an unethical manner then all bets are off.
As Mr. Spock once so eloquently said, “The good of the one cannot outweigh the good of the many.”
Yes, support your leader but never when it involves illegal or unethical behavior that puts the organization at risk.
Let’s begin with my personal definition of success, or rather, what success is not.
Success is not only about money. If fact, money is a very poor measure of success. It measures monetary wealth, no more, no less. Many wealthy people are not successful people; they may have succeeded in one part of life but in other parts they are nearly complete failures.
Money doesn’t make you rich either, at least not in the way that I define “rich”. To be rich you must have true friends. Not work acquaintances, not guys from the bowling team, not people you see at church on Sunday, real friends. The kind you can count on no matter what. When have have two or three friends who will never let you down, who will always be there for you, well then you are truly rich.
My actual definition of success is pretty easy. Success is having a choice; the more choices you have the more successful you are. The choice of where you work, and who you work with. The choice of where you live, what kind of car you drive and who you spend your time with.
With that definition there are a whole lot of successful people walking around who have no idea just how successful they are. They may “want” to drive a BMW but can’t afford it, still they have the choice of dozens of car models to choose from. There are many people without that choice.
A lot of people would say they have no choice but to work where they do. The fact is they were looking for a job when they found the one they have. To work somewhere else they simply need to make the choice to look again, it may be a long search but the sooner it begins the sooner it ends.
Have I made it sound easy to succeed? Well it’s not! It’s hard work to manufacture the ability to choose. Successful people don’t just work harder than less successful people, they work much, much, much harder. They also have goals and a written plan on how they will achieve them.
Successful people have made the effort to earn themselves extra choices.
I say “extra” because everyone, yes everyone, begins with the same choices. We begin life with so many choices I couldn’t mention them all. As we grow and can actually begin to start making choices some people seem to forget they ever had a choice. But even today you still have choices. The choice to learn, the choice to try, or not, the choice to decide how much worry something is worth. The choice to forgive, the choice to see the good in other people and most importantly, the choice of a positive attitude.
No matter what is happening around you no one can steal from you the precious gift of a positive attitude ….. unless you let them. You have a choice to make each day, you can choose to be negative or you can choose to be positive. By and large, the most successful people choose positive.
You can too. When you make the choice each day to have a positive attitude you’ll suddenly find yourself with a whole lot of other choices you didn’t realize you had.
So, what’s your choice?
If you’re a very high level leader in a mid to large size organization you live a good part of your life in a bubble. The higher in your organization you are the bigger, and stronger, the bubble.
You may disagree with that but that’s because you live in a bubble, apparently the bubble can’t be seen from the inside but it is pretty obvious to anyone looking at it from the outside.
The bubble causes lots of issues for leaders. Generally speaking the bubble makes it more challenging to be an effective leader. That’s because not only can you not see the bubble, you can’t see the haze the bubble puts around everything you do see. The bubble also muffles the voices of a good many people you talk with.
Now, it’s not anything that a leader does that causes the bubble. A bit of the bubble is caused by people’s almost natural fear of being themselves around what I’ll call an “authority figure.” When you’re the boss you have a measure of control over a big part of your people’s lives and that tends to make a lot of them a bit skittish.
The biggest cause of the bubble however is what leaders don’t do. They don’t take concrete steps to escape the bubble or better yet, simply destroy the bubble entirely. They do not make themselves an approachable leader.
So, how does a leader get outside the bubble or eliminate it completely?
Communicate, communicate, communicate. Transparent, consistent, honest, open, frequent, wide-ranging, real, two-way communication. Communication is a great way to bring downs walls and burst bubbles. There are many ways to effectively communicate these days, even if your team is very large.
Nothing will ever replace face-to face conversations. No matter what anybody says, nothing will replace the personal touch. So as I suggest a couple of alternatives to live, personal interactions please understand that I’m not suggesting you use these instead of personal communication, I’m suggesting to use these along with your frequent human interactions.
Write a company or organization blog. Don’t have it written, write it yourself. Seriously, a blog post saying hey, here’s what happening lately should take less than 30 minutes to write. Once or twice a month is enough and a reply or two can be done on the fly.
Obviously you can’t share proprietary information or make anyone an inside trader but you can stay more visible. The reality today is that people read blogs, your people will most certainly read yours. You can share your weekend plans, tell a story about your family, discuss a topic in the news. You may wonder why your people would care but know this: they do. You had better hope they do because if they don’t care about you as a person they can’t care about you as a leader. Let them know you’re human, just like them.
Do a weekly Podcast. A two or three minute podcast with current information and a shot of motivation delivered straight to your team’s email each Monday morning. Again, it’s purely conversational, personal and connecting. A two or three minute podcast shouldn’t take much longer to record than, well than, two or three minutes.
Both of these ideas require time. The question is does interacting with your people seem like an expense of your time or an investment of your time? As a leader, remaining close to the people who make-up your organization is priceless. It costs so little yet means so much.
This is an investment that will pay returns almost immediately, and unlike most investments this one is almost a sure thing. Why wouldn’t a leader make this investment today?
We can thank Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella for this post. In the blunder of blunders he inadvertently shined a light on gender inequality during an event focused on women in tech. He suggested women shouldn’t ask for raises but rather trust that the system will take care of them.
“It’s not really about asking for the raise but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along,” Nadella said in the interview, which was at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Phoenix. “And that, I think, might be one of the additional superpowers that quite frankly women who don’t ask for raises have.”
“Because that’s good karma,” Nadella continued. “It’ll come back because somebody’s going to know that’s the kind of person that I want to trust. That’s the kind of person that I want to really give more responsibility to.”
Now isn’t that special. Women may not have money to pay their bills but they have that karma thing working for them …. which is good.
To be fair, Nadella almost immediately took to social media to declare that he had misspoken, that he was wrong, that he was completely wrong, that he wasn’t clear, and he was just about anything he needed to be to make the whole thing just go away.
That he was wrong is obvious; why he was wrong isn’t so clear. Did he just misspeak or did he forget he was talking out loud and let his true thoughts go public. Oh how I wish somebody would have followed up with a question about how men should ask for a raise. I just can’t escape the feeling that his answer would have been very different.
But is he actually right?
I have compiled a list of all the reasons, yes, ALL the reasons why women should NOT be paid equally to their male counterparts. Here it is:
So, what do you think. I’m absolutely certain that’s all of them. Every one that makes sense anyway. So, it’s plain to see why women should just sit there quietly and trust the “system” that has been undervaluing them since, well, since forever.
Here’s the deal; everybody, everybody, who does the same job with the same results and with similar experience should be payed the same. The exact same! The job and how well it’s done is all that should matter. It’s time to fix this once and forever.
It can’t be that hard. If companies can’t afford to pay more than maybe men don’t get a raise until women catch up. Maybe the stockholders or owners take a hit until women are paid equally. Maybe it’s something else, but SOMETHING must change.
Here’s one thing that must change: I was talking with a friend of mine, a former CEO and CFO of a couple of fairly large companies. I asked about this topic and he said women are paid less “because their income is incremental” to the “main bread winner.” Any guesses as to the gender of the “main” bread winner?
Now my friend is a great guy and at 80 years old it’s been a while since he has influenced a business but while he’s retired his thinking in too many businesses persists. THAT MUST CHANGE!
Here’s another thing that must change: get rid of job descriptions. Replace them with Position Results Descriptions. Job descriptions are task oriented and allow a myriad of biases to enter a performance review. Position Results Descriptions are a truly performance based evaluation tool that considers only the key results areas required for the job and objectively measures, with predetermined measurements, whether or not the “result” was achieved successfully. It doesn’t allow race, age, or gender to enter into the picture. Not even subconsciously.
Fair is fair. I don’t know if there was ever a legitimate reason for women to be paid less then men but I can guarantee you there is no legitimate reason today. Karma doesn’t pay bills, equal pay for equal work does!
Public Speaking! The mere words back-to-back send shivers the down spine of most people. On the list of a human being’s biggest fears public speaking is nearly always in first or second place and the fear of death is no higher than sixth. So when people say they would rather die than speak in front of a group they aren’t kidding, at least statistically speaking.
I’m in front of groups often but I’ve never made a speech. I do talks. One of the keys to successfully speaking in front of large groups of people is to realize that you’re not talking at them, you’re talking with them. It’s a bit of a one-sided conversation but still, it’s just a conversation. Making it more than that only makes it harder on you, the presenter.
Your fear of speaking in front of a group will subside in direct proportion to the amount of preparation you put into your talk. That said, you should also know that’s is possible to over prepare. I’m often asked how long it takes me to prepare for an hour or two talk. The truth is I spend very little time preparing for an individual presentation but on the other hand, I’ve spent decades preparing to speak on the subject.
While preparing to speak in front of a group here is one absolute no-no. Never, and I mean never, memorize your presentation. If you absolutely must read it then read it but never attempt to memorize it. So many things can go wrong with a memorized presentation that I couldn’t begin to list them all here.
Here’s a public speaking truth for you: if you know what you’re talking about you have no reason to be nervous, if you don’t know what you’re talking about you have no reason to be speaking. You cannot be effective in front of a group talking about something you know very little about. If you don’t know your subject inside and out no amount of preparation will hide that fact from your audience.
The best way to be effective in front of a group is to just be real, be yourself. Don’t think you need to be perfect to be effective. It’s okay to stumble here or there, to misuse a word and have to correct yourself. It’s okay to be less than perfect because it gives you one more thing in common with your audience. Nobody is perfect.
Never use three words when you can say it effectively in two. A great speaker doesn’t count their words, they weigh them. Big, seldom heard words are not the secret to success in speaking, they are the reason for lost audiences. Just talk the way you would to a friend, big words don’t make you an effective speaker, connecting and truly communicating with your audience does that. If you have to look up a word to know what it means, don’t use it in a talk because your audience might not have a dictionary handy.
Most importantly have fun. I try to never lose sight of what an honor it is to be trusted to speak in front of a group. If someone else has that amount of trust in you then you can surely have it in yourself. No audience goes to hear a speaker hoping that the speaker will fail, your audience wants you to succeed almost as much as you do. They are on your side. Have fun with your presentation, if you’re having a good time presenting your information it’s much more likely that your audience will enjoy hearing it.
Lastly, remember people seldom actually die from speaking in front of groups. Oh wait, I guess it’s that “seldom” part that’s the problem.😏
Leadership is not for the faint of heart. If I were hiring for a leadership position one of the most important questions I could ask would be this: “Can you give me a recent example where the action you took required real courage?”
There are lots of characteristics required for Authentic Servant Leadership. One of the most important is courage.
The courage to make the tough choices, the courage to say no when no needs to be said. The courage to take a calculated risk and the courage to stand alone, with only the support of your principles.
But there’s another area of leadership that requires true courage that is often overlooked. It’s the courage to say something when something needs to be said. It’s the courage to have uncomfortable conversations with those you lead. It’s the courage to tell the truth when the truth is highly inconvenient.
I’ve been fortunate to be led by leaders who had the courage to tell me the truth about my performance. I’ve also been led by leaders who didn’t. Guess which ones had the most positive impact on my career. There was stuff I certainly didn’t want to hear but hearing it helped me grow. I’d bet the guys leading me would have preferred not to have the conversation either but they stepped up and led.
Conversations require two-way communication, often up close and personal. That’s just too scary for a weak leader or a leader by title only. Even otherwise strong leaders can be challenged with difficult conversations.
It is important for a leader to initiate difficult conversations but it is absolutely vital that a leader engage in difficult conversations when they are initiated by one of their followers. Leaders who think they can solve a problem by avoiding it or who believe their followers will just forget about it are dead wrong.
I know it’s not easy, I don’t like difficult conversations anymore than anyone else. I’ve also attempted to avoid my share of tough talks. But I’ve learned that solves nothing and it’s not an effective way to lead. Failing to face up to these difficult conversations is failing to lead.
Here are a couple of thoughts that may make your next difficult conversation just a little easier.
Write out what you want to say. Sometimes it’s just easier to write it out, take your time with it, put it away for a day and see if it’s still what you want to say after some time has passed. Write it just the way you would say it. I wouldn’t recommend that you read it to the person you want to converse with but the preparation involved in writing it out is likely to make the actual conversation much easier.
Practice it, and not just in your head. Say it out loud, it will sound different. You need to check your tone of voice, you need to take out the little “I know it all” and “you don’t know nothing” peaks and valleys in your voice. Almost everything we say is clearer the second time we say it so find a quiet place and have the first conversation with yourself.
Remember, if you’re doing all the talking it’s a speech not a conversation. Let the other person talk, in fact, take the pressure off yourself. Let the other person do a great deal of talking while you demonstrate that other important characteristic of a good leader, listening skills.
I’m putting the finishing touches on a new program I’m going to present for the first time next week. I’m pretty sure I’ll title it “Building a Trusted Relationship.” It has been fascinating to research the subject of trust.
I’ve learned a lot.
Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned is that trust rarely just happens; it must be earned. More than that, it must be intentionally and repeatedly earned. Pretty much everything you say and do, everyday, either adds to or subtracts from, the level of trust that somebody has in you.
Once earned it must be protected like it’s your prized possession. Actually if trust isn’t one of your prized possessions then your likely not doing enough to earn it intentionally and repeatedly.
Trust is amazingly fragile; while it is usually a long slow process to build and maintain trust, it can be destroyed in an instant. It doesn’t have to be something big that destroys it either, it can be something that seems almost trivial…. except to the person whose trust has been lost.
Lots of honest people aren’t trusted. It’s not because they have done something to lose the trust of those around them, it’s because they have done nothing to earn it. You see, there seems to be two distinct types of people in the world. Those who trust you until you do something to destroy that trust and those who won’t trust you until you do something to earn it.
Sadly, it appears the later group is growing.
The class I’m preparing is 3 hours long so the “how to” build trust part of this post could go on a very long time. It won’t, but let me sum it up for you like this:
If you want to earn the trust of the people you interact with then just be you. Whatever you are, you’re better off as you then you are trying to be somebody you’re not. When you try to “fake it” there is so much to remember; who you told what and when you told them. How you should dress when you’re with this person or that one. How you speak and which words do you use.
When you mess around like that you WILL be found out. You just can’t fool anyone forever. Life is so much easier, earning the trust of others is so much easier, when you’re just you. Research shows that the average person lies 7 times a day. My own little very unscientific research says the vast majority of those lies are people trying to project an image that isn’t really them. And yes, those little white lies are still lies, no matter how much you want to believe them.
I don’t suppose this has always been true for me but at this point in my life it certainly is – I’d rather be thought of as an honest idiot than a dishonest genius.
It really makes no difference whether you’re trying to build trust as a leader, as a sales professional or just a person living life; if you can’t maintain trust in a relationship then you can’t maintain the relationship.
Do not take the trust of others for granted. Building trust isn’t something that happens, it is something you do. You may be the most trustworthy person on the planet but if you’re not proactively building trust then trust most certainly will not be built.
Build yourself a bit of trust today….. and everyday!