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Is “Passion” Just an Excuse?

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Would you describe yourself as a passionate person? Passionate about your business, your industry, your job, or your people?

If you are, that is a good thing…. maybe.

I say maybe because too often people in leadership positions use “passion” as an excuse for losing control of their emotions. If you’ve never used the excuse you have certainly heard it, you know, the “sorry about losing my temper, but I’m “passionate” about this. Or, “sorry I called you an idiot but my “passion” for the project got the best of me.”

I’m going to say this as cleary as I can; Authentic Servant Leaders do not use passion as an excuse for losing control of their emotions.

When you lose control of your emotions you lose. You lose credibility, you lose trust, you lose productivity, you lose time, you lose respect. You may not lose them all but you lose at least some. If you lose them often enough you will also lose the ability to lead.

Let’s look at a very high level definition of passion and emotion. On the surface you are passionate about something; you get emotional about someone. But there’s a more fundamental difference between the two. Passion involves the mind; emotion, by definition, excludes mental judgments, at least sound mental judgments.

Passion drives people to action. A passionate football fan will be driven to study statistics, learn rosters, follow players on social media. They will devote significance time to knowing and understanding the game. Someone who is emotional about football might throw their beer at the TV when the quarterback for “their” team is intercepted late in a game.

Later, when shopping for a replacement TV it will be obvious that throwing the beer was a bad idea. However, at the emotional moment that it happened, practicing good judgment wasn’t even a thought. The guy explains the “unfortunate moment” to his wife by saying he is just a passionate fan.

It’s perfectly okay to be emotional, in fact, we have to be emotional to lead a full life. You need to be aware however that emotions often block your critical thinking skills. When you’re in a highly emotional state you’re thinking differently than when you’re not so emotional. That does not make you a weak leader, it makes you a human being.

The most effective leaders have passion. They also work to maintain control of their emotions when people around them are losing control of theirs. They allow a bit of time to come between their emotions and their decisions.

Authentic Servant Leaders do not make rash emotional decisions. Yes, they will allow emotions to “inform” their decisions but that is far different than making a raw emotional decision.

When you understand the difference between mindful passion and mindless emotion you will be more likely to positively influence the people you lead.

So go ahead, be passionate, be emotional and especially be aware of the difference between the two!

What Your People Need to Know

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I’ve been pretty fortunate throughout my career; I’ve never been fired from a job and I’ve had to fire very few people. I don’t like firing people, it is not only a very unpleasant experience it is a failure of my leadership as well.

As bad as firing someone is, being fired is far worse, research says it is one of the most disruptive and stressful events that can happen during a person’s lifetime.

So firing somebody is a VERY big deal. It should only be done as a last resort; considered only after every attempt has been made to help the person become a valuable member of the organization.

If you’ve hired someone who you later are forced to fire there are really only two possibilities; you either hired the wrong person for the job or you failed to provide them with the tools they needed to perform.

I know there are leaders out there who are freaking out at that last paragraph and to you I say this: Step up and accept responsibility for your decisions. It’s okay to screw up, it happens, it shows you’re human. Not accepting your role in the failure of one of your people diminishes your credibility as a leader.

As bad as having to fire someone is here’s what’s worse: firing someone who had no idea it was coming.

That is about as huge a leadership failure as you can find and sadly, it is very common.

As terrible and as stressful as being fired is no one should be surprised when they hear the words, “you’re fired.”

Your people need to know, clearly know, what is expected of them. Research done across a variety of industries and professions indicted that fewer than 35% of employees say they do. If my math is correct that means that over 65% of employees do NOT have a clear understanding of what is expected of them.

Your people also need to know, with as much precision as possible, how their results will be measured. Leaders who leave “gray areas” when measuring results create stress and lower productivity in their workplace.

If you think you’re “covered” because you conduct annual reviews with your people you’re just kidding yourself. Or, you’re like me, and a lot of others, in that you just don’t like those “performance” conversations. Well tough, you accepted your leadership role so start leading.

Effective leadership requires consistent, somewhat frequent “updates” that are two-way conversations where ideas are exchanged and expectations are discussed and managed.

Most people will either try to meet or exceed your expectations of them. If they are not meeting your expectations then you need to carefully consider whether you have clearly communicated those expectations to them… recently. When your people clearly know what you need from them and they see you as a leader they WILL find a way to deliver.

Your success depends on the success of your people, make sure you give them the chance at success that they deserve.

Motivational Leadership

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I’m often asked “how do I keep my people motivated?” Sometimes the question will pertain to a particular person such as “How do I motivate Bob?”

In either case my answer is almost always the same. Now I know it’s not a good practice to answer a question with a question but for these instances I make an exception. My answer is “I don’t know, what does “Bob” say when you ask him what motivates him?”

I’m usually answered with silence.

I just kind of let that silence hang there for a few seconds and then I expand on my answer. I tell them, honestly, that I can’t have any idea what truly motivates a particular person or team unless I’ve asked the team or person.

One of the key responsibilities of a leader is to help their people stay motivated. That being the case I am always surprised at how few leaders know what motivates their people. They either guess or they try to motivate them with the most common, strongest motivators: fear, anger, and spite.

Just because those are the strongest and most common motivators doesn’t mean those are the best motivators. They are not!

If you want to know what motivates your people or if you want to know how to motivate your people then ask them. They may not have an immediate answer so give them a day or two to consider the question. Encourage them to give it serious consideration because their answer could be the key to unlocking the door to their future success.

When talking with your people about their motivation consider these questions:

What are you passionate about?
What work would you do for free if you could afford it?
What could I do to show you how important you are to me and our organization?
What are your hobbies and interests?

I’ve talked to leaders about asking these questions and I usually get the same two “hesitations.” The first one is that the questions seem “weird.” It seems to the leader that it is too personal or invasive to discuss these matters. My answer to that is always the same… leadership is about people, people and nothing but people. If you think it’s “weird” to truly get to know your people then you will struggle as a leader of those people.

By the way, the questions are only “weird” to the person asking them for the first time, to the person being asked they generally feel good about someone caring enough to actually ask.

The second hesitation is one of time. They say they simply can’t afford to “spend” the time getting to know their people. Keep in mind, these are the same leaders who would proudly say that their people are their organization’s greatest asset. If they don’t have time to spend on their most important asset then what are they spending their time on?

I encourage leaders to NOT think in terms of “spending” time “on” their people but rather to “invest” time “with” their people. It’s a change of mindset that can make a huge difference in how a leader interacts with their people.

One last thing…. when you discover what motivates your people then use it to THEIR benefit and yours.

How to Hold a Productive Meeting

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If you attend a lot of meetings throughout the year you are not alone. You are most certainly not alone!

In the United States alone businesses hold 11 million formal meetings a DAY. That’s over 3 billion, yes billon, meetings a year. Many, maybe most, of those meetings produce no tangible result, with the possible exception of more meetings.

I’m not saying that all meetings are bad, managed well, great things can and do come out of meetings. It’s just that so few meetings are well managed. Holding a meeting should be a serious decision. I wonder how many times a hallway conversation has led to “let’s get the team together and talk about this” with no additional planning or thought as to the cost of the meeting. Way too many companies hold meetings because that is just what companies have always done. Poorly managed meetings cost businesses billions of dollars a year. Yes COST! Meetings are not free; there are real costs associated with every meeting.

If everyone involved in a meeting is “local” the expenses can be limited to “opportunity” losses and a simple loss of productively. If it’s a big meeting with people traveling to a central location the expense can be enormous.

Either way, big or small, productive meetings don’t just happen; they need to be planned. If a meeting isn’t worth planning then the meeting isn’t worth holding.

If you are the person calling a meeting then it is your responsibility to make certain there is an agenda for the meeting. BEFORE you begin developing the agenda you MUST determine the objective for the meeting. If you can’t think of an objective for the meeting then don’t think about having the meeting either.

As the “caller” of the meeting you are not required to personally develop the agenda; you are required to ensure that an agenda is developed and disseminated. If there is no time to develop at least a limited agenda then there is certainly no time for a meeting either. If the meeting requires any preparation and thinking on the part of the attendees then the agenda should be provided at least 24 hours in advance. The more preparation and thinking that are required the earlier the agenda should be provided. By the way, if no preparation and thinking are required on the part of the attendees then no meeting is required either.

The agenda must include start and end times. Every meeting should start and end on time and if it will take 25 minutes for the objective to be achieved then don’t schedule a 30 minute meeting just because it’s easier in Outlook. Staying on time, staying on topic and focusing on the objective of the meeting demonstrates to all attendees that meetings matter and so does their time. Your meetings may not be as “fun” but they will be a heck of a lot more productive.

Carefully consider who will be invited to the meeting. If a person won’t or can’t help with the objective of the meeting then that person doesn’t need to be at the meeting. They can be more productive doing almost anything else.

The meeting must end with a clear, specific statement as to the next steps. If the only “next step” is another meeting then the meeting you just finished either wasn’t long enough or more likely, didn’t need to be held at all.

Holding meetings is easy, holding productive meetings isn’t. Productive meetings require preparation and disciple but that preparation can make a huge difference in the productivity of your entire organization.

Here’s another thought on meetings… ban them! Not altogether, maybe just one day a month, no meetings, none, nada, zip, zero meetings one day a month. No meetings anywhere in your organization, every conference room completely empty! Call it your “Super Productivity Day,” the day when every member of your organization only works on the absolutely most productive thing possible. Maybe it’s something unpleasant they have been putting off, maybe it’s something that really means a lot to them. Great things will happen on that day and it will send a message that you know meetings matter and you know that having less meetings matters too.

Good meetings won’t guarantee success, but enough bad meetings will almost certainly guarantee something less than success.

Get your team together and talk about it! Oh, geez, here we go again…..

The Frustration of Being Better

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Leading without a formal title or “official” leadership position can be a challenge. It can even be frustrating at times. A big source of that frustration comes from thinking we are somehow “better” than the person we report to. You know who I mean…. “The Boss!”

Being “better” can mean several things, more skilled or more experienced are two examples that come to mind but in most cases being better simply means we think we’re smarter than the person above us.

I used to work for a guy that I knew for certain I was smarter than. His name was Cecil. He didn’t even graduate from High School and I had a brand spanking new degree. He was dumb and I pretty much knew it all…..or so I thought.

I made it my mission to prove how much smarter I was. Every chance I got I pointed out his shortcomings, his weaknesses, to anyone who would listen. Actually, even if they wouldn’t listen, I told them anyway.

It took a long time for me to figure out that I may have learned more than him in school but I certainly wasn’t smarter than he was. I needed a whole lot more “seasoning” to learn the important lessons in life. They were the kind of lessons that you didn’t learn in school, the kind of lessons that made Cecil a success.

Over time I learned that if I wanted to lead from where I was in an organization, without a title or position, I needed to stop pointing out “gaps” in the people above me and start filling them. That’s called “leading up.”

Following a leader with gaps can only cause you frustration if you allow it to. That’s what most people do but you don’t need to be that type of person. If you truly want to lead in your organization, without waiting for a promotion or important sounding title, then following a leader who has gaps should give you a purpose.

As a leader from the middle of your organization you should be working to identify other leader’s gaps and working to fill them. Make it your purpose to help them focus on their strengths by using your strengths to assist them with an area where they may be weaker.

You need to know that you may not always get the recognition you deserve for filling in the gaps. Other people, even the boss, may attempt to take credit for your work. Don’t let any of that matter, just know this: Authentic leaders do what’s right for the simple reason that it is the right thing to do.

Authentic leaders work to strengthen their organization any way they can and they know that pointing out the weaknesses of other leaders in their organization does not strengthen it. If you’ve identified an area where your leader may need some help then by all means, by any means and by every means possible, HELP.

If you keep your focus on helping others be better you’ll never become frustrated because you think you’re better than them. You’ll just be happy you had the ability to help.

Managing and Leading are Different AND Essential

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Managers create a map to the water and leaders inspire people to be thirsty. – Steve Keating

I’ve written about this before but recently saw yet another post that claims management and leadership are one in the same. They are not!

The skill sets required to manage are vastly different than those required to lead. The mindset of managing is even more different than the mindset of leading. In a perfect world one person can possess both skill sets and mindsets but great managers can be poor leaders and great leaders can be poor managers. They are simply two completely different things.

An organization thrives when it has both good management and good leadership. Whether it requires two people to provide those or whether the organization is blessed with an individual or individuals who can provide both doesn’t really matter. The key is that BOTH leadership and management must coexist within the organization. Management and leadership do not compete in successful organizations, they complete.

As has been written countless times, people will not be managed, they must be led. We manage stuff, processes, workflows, buildings, contracts, inventories, etc. We should not and cannot manage people.

We need, yes need, management practices and policies in place that guide what people can do, that is a part of management. Good management can save us from ourselves by applying “rules” to the workplace that take into account a bigger picture than most of us can see by ourselves.

However, people who are surrounded by ONLY management feel restricted, constrained and in many cases, untrusted. Their productivity and potential are incredibly limited.

Rules and policies are limiting. If they are in place to control “things” that is fine. But both managers and leaders need to know this simply truth: You cannot really control productive people; you can only control unproductive people. When “management” attempts to exert too much control over people they turn productive people into unproductive people.

Leaders balance out management by influencing people to work within the management guidelines in a positive way. They “lead” people to see and reach their potential while working within a system that benefits everyone.

People need someone or something to follow. They need to feel as if they are part of something bigger, they need to know that they matter. They need to know that their efforts, their work, makes a difference. When they know that what they do is important then their potential is truly limitless. None of that can come as a result of being managed, no matter how good the management may be. It can only come from leadership.

Organizations that mistake leadership for management do not grow, they wither. Managers hold a ship steady, leaders set the course and the people get it to it’s destination.

If you’re unsure if what you’re doing is managing or leading think of it like this: if you’re doing it for the business it’s likely managing. If you’re doing for people it’s almost certainly leadership. There’s the real difference between managing and leading.

So… do you know why you do what you do?

Words do Matter

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I loved being a salesperson. To me it was great fun, often rewarding and almost always very profitable. When I was offered my first sales manager position I just assumed that would be even more fun.

I didn’t receive much coaching (okay, I received no coaching) on what being a manager entailed so I just kept doing pretty much what I was doing before. I also kept talking pretty much as I did before.

I was completely unaware that being in a leadership position meant my choice of words was now somehow more important. They carried more weight. It mattered more not only what I said but how I said it. It really really mattered who I said it to.

If I have struggled with one thing throughout my entire career it is understanding that fact.

The fact that words matter. The fact that when you’re in a leadership role or higher profile position, your words matter even more.

If you’ve earned the opportunity to influence others by leading then you need to understand that also means you have an obligation to do so in a responsible manner. I know full well what a challenge that can be, after all, you’re still just you. Why should your words matter more? Your role in the organization may have changed but you haven’t.

You need to get over yourself and accept the fact that choosing your words carefully is one of the sacrifices (if it’s even a sacrifice) true leaders willingly make. You can’t just say you’re a leader and you can’t just act like a leader, you need to BE a leader.

I don’t think I need to go into great detail here about why your words matter. Pretty much everyone knows that words matter; they know they can be hurt by words and they know that they can be lifted up by words too. The trouble starts when you apply those truths to other people’s words but not yours own.

If you are a leader then here is a leadership fact that you must always keep in mind: not only do your words matter, they matter more than most people’s because you’re a leader.

If you want to improve your leadership then improve your choice of words!

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