The Motivational Leader

When I do Leadership presentations and workshops I’ll frequently make the statement that people are naturally motivated. Not some people, ALL people are naturally motivated. 

That gets as much pushback as almost anything I say. “Leaders” in the room will respond with silly comments like “you’ve never met some of my people.” Or “I’ve got people you couldn’t motivate with dynamite.” 

My response is always some variation of “sounds like a leadership problem to me.” I say it jokingly but I’m not joking. I ask who is responsible for motivating people in your organization? I generally get no response. That’s understandable because they just told me they have unmotivated people. To admit it’s their responsibility to motivate them would be admitting that they are not actually leading. 

But everyone in that room knows that one of the primary responsibilities of leadership is to motivate and encourage the people they lead. But, like almost everything else worth doing, that is easier said than done. 

Here’s the thing. No one wakes up in the morning hoping their day will suck. No one begins life with the desire to drag themselves through every day. Everyone wants to do something that matters. That’s how we all start off. But somewhere along the line many people lose that enthusiasm and motivation. It is most likely stolen from them by bosses who couldn’t lead or they caught the “unmotivated bug” from friends and family who have given up on their own dreams. But they want to be motivated, they just need a little push.

If you’re in a Leadership position and you want to help your people get and stay motivated the first step is to STOP complaining about unmotivated people on your team and start actually leading them towards greater motivation. 

Next, schedule consistent one-on-one time with them. Ask them how they would like to structure this time together. Remember, for this time to be productive it must benefit you AND your people. This is your time to set clear goals and expectations and to discuss how those expectations will be measured. People NEED to know what’s expected of them and how those expectations will be measured. 

This is their time to share ideas, suggestions, and issues. People value relationships with their leaders and these one-on-ones are all about building those relationships. 

Here’s a crazy idea for discovering how to motivate your people. During the one-on-one ask them directly what motivates them and how you can help them remain more motivated. Do you know the goals, aspirations, and interests of the people you lead? It becomes far easier to motivate someone when you know what motivates them. Here’s the caveat to this question…they may not know the answer. At least not off the top of their head. That’s fine, ask them to think about it. About where they want to be in five years. About what they want to accomplish. For some of your people they may have never considered those questions before. 

If you want your people to know you care for them as people then ask about them as people. Yes, “the job” is important but as a leader you cannot afford to forget that “the job” is done by people. Real live human beings. 

Once they know what motivates them, and you know what motivates them, you can work together towards that common motivating goal. Authentic Leadership is about making human connections and there isn’t anything more human then helping another person achieve their life goals. 

It is very possible the pursuit of those goals will require learning new skills. As a leader one of your other primary responsibilities is to help your people grow. Now you know where to help them grow. Their commitment to you and the organization strengthens as you help them grow. So does their motivation to improve. They are not only motivated to do a better job for themselves, they are motivated to do a better job for you. 

When your people have doubts about their ability to grow, SHOW your belief in them by giving them purposeful work. Show them how their work makes a difference for you, for the organization and especially for themselves. Trust them to do the work without micromanaging the motivation out of them. 

Your belief in them might be the exact nudge they need to remain motivated when obstacles appear. It’s even possible you’re the first person who has shown them that level of trust and belief. 

Above all, create a culture where motivation thrives. Where people are encouraged to excel. Where mistakes are accepted as part of the growth process. A culture where people feel they matter. 

When you do all that there is no question about your leadership because you’ll have demonstrated that you are in fact, an Authentic Leader. You’ll even be a Motivating Leader!

Everyone NEEDS to Feel Worthwhile

Authentically leading can be very challenging. That’s because leadership is about people. People will frequently surprise you. If you asked 10 people what they liked best about working for a particular company you could well receive 10 different answers. At least a few of those answers would be surprising. 

It’s hard to find a room full of people who will agree on anything, especially these days. But one thing that we do know about people, ALL people, is that the have a basic human need to feel worthwhile. They need to know that they matter. 

Authentic Leaders show the people they lead that they matter. They show them how they matter, they show them how what they do impacts the organization and the lives of the other people who work there. Authentic Leaders make showing people they matter a priority. They make a big deal out of it. 

And it is indeed a big deal. 

It’s a big deal first because people really do matter. Authentic Leaders know that they don’t really run a business, they lead the people who run the business. They know that their most “expensive” employee is not the person who is paid the most. They understand their most expensive employee is the least engaged employee. 

When people know they matter they get engaged with their job and they stay engaged with the job and organization. They know their efforts are appreciated and they know exactly how their efforts contribute to the organization and the other people who work there. 

When people know that they matter and that what they do makes a difference, they do it better. They are more committed. They care more about the “outcomes” they produce. 

So let me ask you this…and your answer is more for you than for me. Actually, your answer is for the people you lead. What, SPECIFICALLY, have you done in the last 7 days to SHOW one of the people you lead that they matter? How have you shown one (or more) of your people where and how their efforts impact the organization? What actions have you taken to make sure your people know they matter. 

Authentic Leaders don’t assume their people know any of that. They intentionally and consistently make the effort to show them. It is one of their top leadership priorities. 

Think about that. Put reminders in your calendar to remind yourself that showing your people that they matter is a big deal. It will pay substantial dividends for your organization and it will be huge for your people. 

Some of you know that I’ve been trying out something relatively new over on Twitter. It’s called SuperFollow. That means I post some tweets that are for subscribers only. The tweets I post for subscribers are video only. I post two each weekday, mostly on leadership but also sales and living a better life in general. I’m also way more available for questions from SuperFollowers than I can be for the million plus regular Twitter followers. The investment to see these “SuperTweets” is $4.99 a month, that’s about 17 cents a day. The videos continue to grow in popularity so clearly a lot of people think they are worthwhile. 

Not only can you invest in yourself with solid video coaching, you can also make a difference in the world too. All the income from my subscribers on Twitter go to help kids with Down Syndrome. 

Just click the purple “subscribe” button next to the regular follow button  on my Twitter profile page IN THE TWITTER APP or on a web browser. http://twitter.com/leadtoday Give it a try if you’re so inclined, and if you are, be sure to let me know how I’m doing and what topics you’d like to see me address.

A Master Class in How NOT To Lead

There are lots of ways NOT to lead. Most leaders discover them over a period of time. The best leaders actually learn from the mistakes of others and don’t make repeat them on their watch. 

But every now and then we see a “leader” make every possible leadership mistake all at once, or at least in a very short period of time. 

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Mr. Elon Musk. 

The mistakes are too numerous to mention on a short blog like this. It’s also very possible this post gets me kicked off Twitter, Mr. Musk’s new toy, permanently. 

Which brings me to mistake number one. Being so thin skinned that you do not allow a single word of dissent. Authentic Leaders seek out information that can help their people and the organization do better. They even seek out information they don’t want to hear. In fact, that may be the most useful information. They do not seek revenge or retribution against those who offer an opinion. No matter how much they may disagree with that opinion. 

Authentic Leaders consider the consequences of the consequences of the consequences. They know that every action will create a reaction and that those reactions often cause a series of reactions. They think through their decisions and ALL the implications. 

Authentic Leaders work off a plan. They know that no plan is perfect but the act of planning is. They thoughtfully consider goals and objectives. AND the most efficient path to those objectives. That planning provides many “fall back” scenarios when the plan gets off track, as they almost always do. When you see a major decision made and implemented at 11:00am, then rescinded at 1:00pm only to be reimplemented at 2:00pm you have to wonder exactly what the plan looks like. You may even begin to think there is no plan at all. 

Authentic Leaders know that first and foremost leadership is about people. They understand the implications their decisions can have on their people.  They work to minimize any negative impacts those decisions may create. They would never ask their people to swear allegiance to them. Or commit to working hours that make it impossible for them to have a life outside of work. 

Leaders must understand that a balanced employee is a productive employee. Authentic Leaders work to ensure their people have a decent work/life balance. They understand that creativity, dedication and commitment cannot be obtained without it. 

I know a couple of people who work for Twitter and what I hear from them is NOT good. Every, I know every is a very big word so I use it carefully but virtually EVERY leadership principle I know has been thrown aside by Mr. Musk. He’s a smart man, he can put them back in place but only if he’s serious about his $44 billion dollar investment. Or perhaps that’s where I’m wrong, it wasn’t an investment at all. 

Perhaps it’s just a plaything that destroys the livelihood of the thousands of people who built Twitter into what it was. And yes, I of all people know it was not perfect. I’ve been regularly censored there and had tweets mysteriously disappear. 

But this is about leadership. Leadership is about people. People matter. Poor business practices can be fixed without burning down the business with the people still inside. 

Years from now Business Schools will still be using Twitter in case studies. They will look at how bad an acquisition can turn out when the acquiring leadership team has no plan. No long range vision,  and no understanding that it’s the people who are the most important part of the acquisition. 

Twitter appears to be stuck in the quagmire of the quantity of their decisions. Hopefully they can pull themselves into a place where the quality of their decisions become more important than the quantity. 

Dig Where You Stand

We bought a second home in Arizona around 10 years ago. Our son seemed more excited than we were. He is a big fan of a TV show about gold prospecting. I didn’t know it when we purchased the house but apparently Arizona remains fertile ground for people still interested in getting in on the gold rush. 

So he spent a small fortune on gold prospecting gear and cajoled me into heading deep into the desert in search of his sure to be fortune. It turns out prospecting for gold can be hard work. We dug around in the middle of the desert for hours. We transported 100 gallons of water with us so we could use something called a sluice box. We had to be on a constant lookout for lions and rattlesnakes. We put in a long long day. 

We also found exactly the same amount of gold in the desert that you did. 

But our son was undaunted. The next time we went out we went with a guide that could show us not only how to look for gold but where to look. He was very good. We went a long long long way into the desert. This guide owned all the mineral rights around for miles and miles. We were at least 50 miles from the nearest road, and it was incredibly rough terrain. He showed us what  areas of desert sand looks like that at some point had water running over it. Those were areas where the water could have left gold behind. 

Instead of digging all day he used a battery powered shop vac to collect sand and rocks to run through the sluice box. We also learned the best techniques to pan for gold. And we had success. We found gold! Not tons but maybe a few hundred dollars worth.

Now our son was really hooked. So every time he came to visit us in Arizona we went gold prospecting for at least a day or two. Hauling gear way out into the desert high country. Hard hard work. But we always found (unfortunately) some gold so his motivation stayed high. It was always going to be higher than mine cause I didn’t keep any of the gold, it was all his. My reward was seeing him get so excited over a piece of gold that was often literally no bigger than a grain of sand.

Then one day a friend of mine who had lived near Phoenix his whole life told me that we were wasting our time prospecting in the middle of nowhere. He told me about a place where we could find gold without all the effort. It sounded to good to be true. But I was all in on the “without the effort” part so we decided to give his advice a try. 

We drove about 50 miles but it was all highway driving. We were never in the wilderness. In fact, when we got to the spot we were about 100 yards away from a Walmart. There was a small stream behind the store and that was “the spot.” I was even more skeptical now but there were already other people there panning so we decided to give it a try. We found a nice spot upstream from most of the other people and went to work. After a few hours we were hungry so we walked over to the McDonalds for lunch. We had a nice restful lunch and then went back to search for more gold. We were back home by 5:00 with what turned out to be about $2800 in gold. It was by far the best day we had prospecting and even though we have yet to repeat that level of success we have never come home empty handed. 

It was a great lesson and a confirmation of the words of wisdom from the Irish Author and Satirist, Jonathan Swift. He said “dig where you stand.” He added, “although men are accused of not knowing their own weakness, yet perhaps few know their own strength. It is in men as soils, where sometimes there is a vein of gold which the owner knows not of.

It is very easy to fall into a habit of criticizing ourselves and others. But what about the positive things in you and in others. If you look for things to criticize then that is surely what you will find. If you look for things to criticize about yourself that is what you’ll see in yourself and you’ll begin to notice it in others as well. 

So how do we overcome that tendency to be critical?

Well you can start by digging where you stand. Instead of focusing on your perceived weaknesses ask yourself: What is good about me? Where is my gold? Ask yourself where your strengths and talents are. And don’t stop looking just because they might not jump out at you. 

It’s perfectly okay to do a bit of self-reflection on areas of our life where we need a bit of improvement. But the most successful people ALSO reflect on their strengths and how they can use them to benefit themselves and others. 

It’s likely you don’t need to go 50 miles into the desert to find your strengths. There may be a powerful vein of strengths and success running through you. All you need to do is dig a little to discover it. No sluice box required!

Some of you know that I’ve been trying out something relatively new over on Twitter. It’s called SuperFollow. That means I post some tweets that are for subscribers only. The tweets I post for subscribers are video only. I post two each weekday, mostly on leadership but also sales and living a better life in general. I’m also way more available for questions from SuperFollowers than I can be for the million plus regular Twitter followers. The investment to see these “SuperTweets” is $4.99 a month, that’s about 17 cents a day. The videos continue to grow in popularity so clearly a lot of people think they are worthwhile. 

Not only can you invest in yourself with solid video coaching, you can also make a difference in the world too. All the income from my SuperFollowers on Twitter go to help kids with Down Syndrome. 

You can find more information by clicking the Super Follow button on my Twitter profile page IN THE TWITTER APP or on a web browser. http://twitter.com/leadtoday Give it a try if you’re so inclined, and if you are, be sure to let me know how I’m doing and what topics you’d like to see me address.

Where Authentic Leaders Invest Their Time

Authentic Leaders know that one of their primary responsibilities is developing future leaders. Leaving behind leaders who can step into their shoes is vital to the long term success of an organization. When you consider any of the “levels of leadership” models all of them require that a leader develop their successor, or a series of successors to achieve the level 5 status. 

Yet many leaders, even some very good leaders, miss that key responsibility. There are many reasons for that. One of the big ones is that they get caught up in the day to day managing of the organization and let their leadership responsibilities fall to the bottom on their priorities. Sometimes they can’t see the leadership candidates in their organizations. That is also a result of being too “busy” to actually lead. 

I remember a conversation several years ago with a Director of Sales for a division of a company. He was leaving his role as Director and moving into a new role within his company. Just before he left his current role he asked me to critique his performance. 

He was a good leader. His people liked him, and more importantly, respected him. He was results driven and he helped his people get better. You’re probably thinking that all sounds good, and it was. But there was one big gap in his leadership. 

So I shared much of the good things about his leadership. Then I shared the gap. As he left his current role there was not one person on his team of a dozen or so people prepared to step into his role. That was a huge failure of his leadership. I knew that most people who asked to be “critiqued” really want to hear that they are doing great. Most aren’t actually looking for constructive criticism, they are looking to hear they have no need for improvement. So he wasn’t exactly happy with my input. But it was 100% accurate. 

I finished up with the rest of what he was doing well as a leader and offered to help him develop leaders in his next role. As disappointed as he may have been with my feedback I’m happy to say he took me up on my offer. 

So where exactly does a leader find future leaders in their organization? In a word, everywhere. 

Many organizations have some sort of talent pool. This is a select group of employees targeted for development. I don’t know much about how that works because I’ve never been in a pool like that. But I do know this…once somebody is in that pool it seems nearly impossible to get them out. Conversely, it appears that once you’re passed over for the opportunity to swim in that pool you’re never getting in. 

And that’s where leaders, sometimes even very good leaders, make their biggest mistake. They assume that the people they need have a certain “look.” They are of a certain demographic. They talk a certain way and dress “the way” a leader dresses. 

Leaders who fall short in developing future leaders don’t realize their entire organization is a talent pool just waiting, hoping, and needing to be developed. When only a small group of “select” people are allowed into that developmental pool many potential leaders are overlooked. 

If the organization is lucky those potential leaders will leave the organization and go on to greatness somewhere else. If the organization is unlucky those potential leaders will allow their potential to be wasted by staying with the organization that doesn’t see their value. They become the disenchanted and disengaged employees who cost organizations limitless amounts of money. 

If you’re a leader and you’re wondering where to invest your time my answer is everywhere. At some point your future leaders will show themselves and you can invest extra time with them. But never stop working to grow ALL your people. Not everyone rises to the top with the same speed. Some people develop faster than others. 

People will surprise you. I’ve seen over and over some of the best swimmers left out of the talent pool because they didn’t “fit” someone’s preconceived notion of what a “winner” or a “leader” looks like. 

As a leader it is your responsibility to make sure that doesn’t happen in your organization. You can delegate the task of developing future leaders to your HR and Training Departments but you can’t delegate the responsibility. 

Remember that and your pool of potential future leaders will get a whole lot bigger. 

Are You a Nice Person or a Kind Person?

I’ve done a lot of presentations and workshops over the years. Some of them have had very memorable moments. But one stands out above all others. 

I was doing a Leadership Workshop several years ago for the leadership team of an organization that had some “opportunities” for improvement. I got to the point in the workshop where we discussed some of the key characteristics of Authentic Leadership. I made the point, which I strongly believe, that you can care for people without leading them but you cannot lead people without caring for them. 

The key leader in the organization was seated in the front row. He looked at me and said he wanted to make a comment. I had no idea what he was about to say but my workshops tend to be a “say whatever is on your mind” kinda workshop so I said go ahead. 

He turned toward the back and the room and motioned towards everyone else in the room, the vast majority of them worked for him. He then looked back at me and said, “look at these people, you expect me to care about them? Why would I do that? Just look at them.”

As a presenter there are several ways to handle that kind of comment. I could have let it slide. I could have confronted him about it directly or I could have let the group handle it for me. I knew going in that the group had no respect for this key leader who was clearly a leader in name only. So I decided to give them the opportunity to respond directly to him. 

I answered that yes, I fully expect you to care for the people you lead but my opinion wasn’t that important. What was really important was the opinion of the people you’re supposed to be leading, so let’s see what they have to say. 

I then asked if anyone from the group had anything to say. Now this “leader” was a bully. A tyrant in every sense of the word. So it would take some courage to speak up and one person had that courage almost immediately. 

It was what she said that has stuck with me to this day. It was a very short comment but one of the most impactful I’ve ever heard. She delivered the comment in a matter of fact fashion served up on a plate of humility. It wasn’t meant to be hurtful, and the truth was this “leader” had an EQ of zero so I don’t think anything anyone said to him could be hurtful anyway. 

She said, “I will be nice to you because I’m a nice person. But I won’t be kind to you because you are not a kind person.” 

There was no reaction from the key leader and the rest of them room was silent. I made a couple of comments about the importance of showing the people we lead that we care for them. A reality of leadership is that people won’t care to follow a leader who doesn’t care for them first. 

We moved on but the comment has stayed with me. Among other things it got me to thinking about the difference between being nice and being kind. We often use the words interchangeably but it turns out they are far from the same. 

Being nice to others is easy. It doesn’t cost us a thing. We only need to use the good manners our parents taught us. Being nice involves saying things like “thank you” whenever the opportunity presents itself. It means saying please and you’re welcome whenever that opportunity presents itself too. A smile and saying Good Morning is an example of being nice. 

So about now you’re thinking you’re a pretty nice person. I’m sure you say please and thank you, you may even toss in a “you’re welcome” now and then. But do you use those words and phrases at EVERY opportunity? I’m sure you did when your waiter or waitress set that glass of water or basket of bread down on your table.

Wait, what? You say that’s their job. So what, you can say thank you to someone because they are doing their job? You’ll have a hard time leading people with an attitude like that. 

Being nice costs you nothing. You only have to make the conscious choice to be nice at every opportunity. And realize there are LOTS of opportunities that we miss.

Being kind on the other hand takes some effort. It likely has some cost to it, even if that cost is only in terms of time. Giving someone a ride is showing kindness. Taking someone shopping or picking up a coffee for someone on the way to work is showing kindness. 

If you’re doing someone for someone that requires extra time or effort that is being kind. If everything you do benefits only yourself then others may not see you as kind. They may be right. Ask yourself, when was the last time you went out of your way to help someone…without expecting anything in return? 

So now that you understand the difference let me ask again. Are you a nice person or a kind person? The only “correct” answer is of course both. But if you pay attention to your thoughts and actions you may realize that you have some work to do in both areas. 

I can guarantee you that I do. 

A Position of Leadership

I frequently hear from people who want to move up in their organization. Most of them are looking for a leadership position. Many of them are most interested in the “perks” of leadership. More money, more flexibility, more control, over themselves and the people they work with. Some say they want the authority and power that they think come with a leadership position. 

Some say they want to “leave a mark” on their organization and be remembered after they are gone. A few, very few, say they want to help people develop and grow. 

And that perhaps is why we see fewer and fewer Authentic Leaders in the world today. 

Too many people today are interested in a leadership position and too few are interested in actually leading. People assume, and I think this is the biggest fallacy of leadership, they assume that once they are promoted to a leadership position they are a leader.

Nothing could be further from the truth. All that position does is give someone the illusion of leadership. It fools many of them into thinking that they have somehow gotten smarter overnight. It bewilders them into believing that because they hold a position of leadership that other people will see them as someone they want to follow. 

You can’t blame them for buying into those myths. It’s likely the people who promoted them have bought into them for years. It is a self-perpetuating cycle. It’s one of the most common reasons that businesses fail. 

Here are the myth busting facts. Holding a leadership position does not make you a leader. You do not even need to be in a so called position of leadership to actually lead. Leadership is not a position, it is a disposition. It is a mindset. It is a personal culture that says I care enough to make a difference in the lives of other people, even if that comes with a personal expense to me. 

Being promoted to a leadership position puts you at the appropriately named “position” level of leadership. At this level of leadership you likely have few true leadership skills. You very likely have no formal leadership training. Because of this you’re probably going to lead the same way you’ve been led. Which is to say you won’t be doing much leading. 

You’ll attempt to force the compliance of the people you’re supposed to be leading. About the only way you know how to do that is to provide a set of consequences if your people don’t do what they are told. If the consequences are severe enough, and the people need the job, they will comply. You’ll fool yourself again into thinking you’re doing a swell job. 

But almost every single personnel issue a company has is caused by leaders occupying this level of leadership. People will not follow a position level leader past their stated job description. If you’ve ever heard from one of your people that “you can’t make me do that, it’s not in my job description” then you know for a fact that they see you as a position level leader. Even if they don’t know it’s called that. Even if you didn’t know it was called that. 

At this level of leadership continuous attitude issues arise. This level of leadership is the primary driver of disengaged people, those people that lately have been described as “quiet quitters.” Your people will not openly disobey you, they will slow walk everything you ask them to do. Position level leaders have no way of motivating their people and often don’t even know that’s one of their prime responsibilities as a leader. 

Everyone starts at the position level of leadership but the longer you stay there the more likely you are to be stuck there forever. At this level you have a lot to learn but if you’re willing to learn it the rewards are significant. 

Once you move past this level your personnel issues begin to melt away. The same people who had attitude issues become much better team members. Your people look for ways to solve problems rather then  pointing out everything that’s wrong. You’ll wonder what caused them to change but the truth will be they didn’t change, YOU did. You learned to lead people instead of trying to manage them. 

Once you’re past the position level of leadership you won’t need the compliance of your people because you’ll have their commitment. They will be committed to you because you have the courage to show you care more for them as people than you care about them as employees.

Being an Authentic Leader means investing a part of yourself in the people you lead. It’s hard work but perhaps the most rewarding work you’ll ever do. Make the effort to move past the position level of leadership and see the difference it makes in your life and the lives of everyone you lead. I guarantee you’ll be glad you did.