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Transactional Leadership

Transactional leadership is one of the eight main “theories” of leadership. This type of leadership focuses on the role of supervision, organization and group performance. This theory bases leadership on a series of rewards and punishments. 

You may not have known what this practice was called but I’ll bet you have often seen it used in business. When employees are successful, they are rewarded; when they fail, they are reprimanded or punished. Every interaction between the “leader” (I use that word very loosely here) and their people is a separate transaction. Think “what have you done for me lately” and you’ll get the idea behind transactional leadership.

Transactional leadership is an incredibly lazy way to lead. It requires very little on the part of the leader. They have no need to really know their people and they don’t have to care about them one bit. They are not responsible in the least for the success or well-being of their people. All they really need is the whip of intimidation and maybe a strong voice.

Oh, and they will need a constant supply of people to replace the never ending exodus of people who may have had the potential to be great successes but were never in an environment where they could actually succeed. They should also keep their own resumes up to date because sooner or later transactional leaders always follow their people out the door. 

Transactional leaders never seem to understand that their own success is dependent upon the success of their people. They can’t comprehend that most all of their “people problems” are the result of their own failed leadership. 

I feel for you if you’re working for a transactional leader. It will be virtually impossible to reach your full potential or to do work that really makes a difference if you find yourself stuck under these lazy leaders. 

The good news is you are not really stuck. If you don’t belong under a transactional leader then you will find or create a way out. If you’re not willing to work your way out from under this leader in name only then don’t complain about it either. 

Successful people don’t complain about the circumstances they allow to be part of their lives. If those circumstances are not conducive to their success they change them, not complain about them.

If you have nothing but problems with the people you lead then it’s entirely possible that you are a transactional leader. Now that you are aware of that possibility you can decide if you want to invest the time to become a more relational leader.

You will need to be willing to invest time and a bit of own emotions to help the people you lead succeed. You’ll also need to learn the real value of those people, you’ll need to see them not as mere resources but as human beings. Real people with goals and wants, problems and concerns very likely much like your own. 

You will need to understand that until you actually care about your people, really genuinely care, that your people won’t truly care about following you. 

Transactional leadership is a terrible way to lead. It’s really barely leadership at all. If you struggle with “people problems” then stop conducting transactions with them and start building actual relationships. I can promise you that your rewards will be well worth the effort.

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One Question, Three Answers

Over the weekend I had a reader of this blog ask me a question. It was one question that asked if I could share three qualities that make a leader successful. I did not respond immediately because I wanted to put some real thought into my answer. I answered his question later in the day but I didn’t stop thinking about my answer. 

Hence this blog post.

The three qualities cited in my answer were integrity, a caring nature, and good judgment. Some people will automatically assume that I believe those three qualities should be “ranked” in that order. The fact is that they don’t have to be ranked at all because they are intrinsically linked. 

Let me explain.

In many cases the lack of integrity comes directly as a result of poor judgment. Someone in a leadership position does something that they expect will turn out well but when it doesn’t they lie to hide their poor judgment. 

Lying destroys credibility. Not sometimes, not usually, lying ALWAYS destroys credibility. Even lying that comes about as a result of poor judgment destroys credibility. The bigger the lie the greater the destruction.

Liars don’t lead, they manipulate, they coerce, they maneuver, they twist and turn, and they disguise. They can even sometimes project the appearance of success but they do not lead, they never never lead. Some people in leadership positions who lack integrity believe that they can force people to follow them…that is the ultimate in poor judgment. 

They may trick people, they may force some level of compliance out of people for their personal gain and to some that may even look like progress but none of it is leading. Leading requires at least a minimal level of commitment on the part of at least a few followers. People cannot commit to people that they do not trust. 

Wondering which comes first, lack of integrity or poor judgment, is like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg. The reality is it doesn’t matter, both the lack of integrity and poor judgment are killers of leadership potential. 

Whether or not to maintain your integrity is of course the ultimate decision that someone in a leadership position must make. Their judgment when making that decision will determine whether or not they truly have an opportunity to be an authentic servant leader. All leaders should know this simply fact: no one can steal your integrity, you can only give it away.

People without integrity AND good judgment might have a leadership position, but that doesn’t mean they are leading.

Which brings us to a caring nature. Leadership is about people and only people. You manage stuff, budgets, plans, and processes but NOT people. People cannot and should not be managed, they must be led.

If you don’t care about people you simply will not make them the priority that they need to be in order to lead them. When you truly care about someone they can see it in your actions and hear it in your words. They will know you care.

When you don’t actually care they will figure that out too. When your people know that you don’t care they will quickly determine that your motives are all about you. They will feel used. This happens even faster when they sense a lack of integrity because when they don’t trust you, they doubt your motives from the very start.

Caring for others is a choice. It’s a choice you must make before you choose to lead. Lying to someone for your own benefit shows not only a lack of integrity, it shows a tremendous lack of caring. 

As a leader your success is completely dependent on the success of your people. Not caring for or about those people shows terribly poor judgment. 

So what’s more important, integrity, caring or judgment? I’d say it’s irrelevant because having two without the third still makes it very challenging to lead.

 
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What Did You Learn Today?

I was in Boston earlier this year to give a Leadership Presentation. At some point during the talk I said that “every person on earth knows something that you don’t.” My point was that if we keep an open mind we can learn something from everyone we meet.

The next day I hopped in a cab for the short ride from Back Bay to Logan Airport. We were just a couple of blocks from my hotel when a car cut in front of us and my cab driver was forced to hit the brakes a little hard. 

He laughed a bit as he apologized and said that in his city there were many important people who were always in a hurry. He didn’t seem the least bit angry or frustrated by an occurrence that must happen frequently. 

I couldn’t place his accent but I could tell for sure that he wasn’t a native Bostonian; he probably wasn’t born in the U.S. either. But he had a wonderful sense about him; you could just tell he loved driving a cab and he loved the City of Boston.  

I asked him how long he had been driving a cab and he said “a very long time.” He had “completed” school and held several jobs before this one but he really loved this one because he learned more driving a cab than “in all his years of school.” 

He said his cab was like a classroom where he could study people. Over the years he had seen wealthy people who were never happy, happy people who would never be wealthy and poor people who were just happy to be alive.

He said “when you put them all in a pot together you learn that real happiness ain’t nothing more than a choice.” He says a prayer each day before he gets in his cab; he asks for wisdom to remember “his lessons” and for patience when the people around him don’t remember theirs.

He was an absolutely fascinating person to talk with. I had no idea when I got into that cab that a life lesson was waiting for me. It really is true, when you keep an open mind you can learn something from virtually anyone.

That also means you can learn something new almost every single day. With that in mind, what have you learned today? 

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Why Nobody Cares

Wondering why your people don’t care? Well, your people don’t care because you don’t care for your people. 

This will be a short post, which is probably good because there are likely to be a whole bunch of people who won’t like it.

Perhaps cause the truth hurts? 

You call yourself a leader? Then you must care first. 

As a leader you cannot expect your people to do anything first, especially care. When your people know, with very little doubt, that you truly care about them then they will feel it is safe to care about you. 

If your people can’t trust you, if they don’t see you as honest and credible, then they CAN’T trust you. It’s virtually humanly impossible to truly care about someone you believe does not have your interests in mind. 

If you’re trying to get your people to care, about their job, the company and especially your customers then you had better be prepared to demonstrate that you care first. Until they can care about you it will be pretty difficult for them to care about much of anything. 

You can tell them to care, you can even try ordering them to care but you should know that people buy into the leader before they buy into their leadership. If they can’t buy into you why would they buy into anything you want them to do.

Stop waiting for your people to care, start SHOWING that you understand that they are people, people with the same needs, challenges and emotions that you have. When you SHOW that you care you will no longer have to wonder why your people don’t.

It’s called follow the leader for a reason, YOU go first! 

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Good Decisions

The right decision made at the wrong time is a bad decision. The right time to make a decision is when you have as many facts as you can get to make it. Sometimes it will be all the facts, sometimes it will be enough facts and sometimes you’ll have to make a decision with less facts than you would want. 

But if you intend to lead then you have to make decisions period!

Once you have all the facts available, whether you believe it’s enough facts or not, you must make a decision. Deciding not to make a decision or deciding to delay a decision IS A DECISION and it is frequently the wrong decision. In fact, it’s worse than a wrong decision because a wrong decision can be fixed, a “non-decision” often cannot.

I see people all the time who have the facts required to make a decision and yet just can’t bring themselves to make it. They think and think, rethink and rethink, sleep on it and still don’t come to a decision. 

When they finally decide something it’s often too late to have the positive impact that a more timely decision would have had.

I believe one of the major causes of poor decision making is a lack of awareness of values, vision, and mission. 

When faced with a decision ask yourself how each possible decision will align with your values. Does the decision get you closer to your vision or not?  Does the choice you would make “fit” with your mission? 

Here’s the real challenge: when asked, most people can’t clearly state their values, either their personal values or the values of their organization. Most every organization has some sort of vision and or mission statement but they are no better than a slogan unless people know what they are and actually align themselves to them. A vision and mission statement should be used to guide every decision made in the organization. 

If something doesn’t get you closer to your vision then why on earth would you do it. If something is contrary to your values or the values of your organization then your choice is clear…and much easier.

When you know AND live your values every decision is easier. When you understand your mission, either in business or in life, then every decision becomes clear. 

It requires some serious reflection to truly understand your values. You will also find your values much easier to know than to live. But that’s okay, values can not only help to keep you on track, they can help you get back on track when you fall off the rails.

When you know, really know, what your true values are, when you understand your mission and have a vision for your life and business then you will find yourself not only making faster decisions, you’ll find yourself making much better decisions too.

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An Epic Failure of Leadership

We have been presented with two options to choose from. Either the executive team at Wells Fargo is as corrupt as an executive team can be or they are the dumbest group of people ever to run any organization. 

5300 Wells Fargo employees were terminated last week for creating millions of fraudulent accounts to meet what has been described as nearly unbearable pressure and demands to add new customer accounts. Progress at some branches was reviewed as many as 4 times a day. The pressure was relentless. 

Nothing, not morales, not ethics, not even those little things called laws could slow down the relentless push to meet the Wells Fargo corporate initiative known as “Gr-eight Initiative.” Wells Fargo has a goal that every customer should have eight separate accounts with the bank.

Apparently goals are more important than anything at Wells Fargo. In order to meet the goals of the initiative employees opened new accounts for current customers without the customer’s approval or knowledge. This required forging signatures, creating fake email accounts, and moving customer’s money between these accounts without their knowledge, sometimes causing a customer’s real account to go into the red.

Here’s the most amazing part of all this to me; not one senior level manager or executive had a clue any of this was happening for the last 5 years. Of the 5300 employees terminated ALL were front line employees. Not a single manager had even a microcosm of responsibility for any of this. 

That couldn’t be harder to believe if Hillary Clinton said it.

There is clearly a culture at Wells Fargo that says anything goes. The culture doesn’t even pretend to care about ethics. Apparently the culture not only condones the breaking of laws, it encourages it. 

No matter what else may or may not be true about the goings on at Wells Fargo this much is certain: an organization’s culture comes from the top. 

What happened over the last five years at Wells Fargo is bad, what’s happening today is even worse. If nothing changes with the management at that bank then nothing changes at that bank. 

Is there even one responsible person in a position of authority at that organization? Is there even one person in a leadership position at Wells Fargo with enough courage to say “it’s on me”?

Wells Fargo paid a fine “for the actions of their employees.” What about the actions, or at the very least, the inaction of their leaders? There has been an epic failure of leadership at that bank. 5300 employees didn’t undertake that level of deceit all on their own, it’s time for the people who drove that behavior to step up.

Our lesson here is twofold: when integrity goes out the window everything else is welcome in and absent integrity from those in top leadership positions there is no motivation for anyone else to lead either.

 

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What Does it Matter?

I have been blessed for a long long time with mentors who truly cared about me. Through they years they have offered me a ton of very valuable advice. I always heard the advice they gave me but sometimes, almost always to my detriment, I didn’t listen to it. 

One of the very best pieces of advice I’ve ever received is also one that I too often forget. 

I had a mentor back in my college years who told me that nothing, absolutely nothing, matters unless I allow it to. He said other people’s opinion of me didn’t matter unless I let it matter. He said comments people made about me didn’t matter unless I decided to make them matter. He said again and again, something only mattered if I decided to allow it to matter in my life.

What matters in life is what we allow to matter. What someone else thinks of you should matter far less than what you think of yourself. Someone else’s opinion of what you should be doing with your life can only impact your life decisions if you allow it to.

The challenge we face is knowing what’s truly important to us. If you don’t know what matters to you, what’s truly important, then you have a gap in your decision making abilities that other people are all too willing to fill for you. They fill it with opinions and ideas that matter to them. When you don’t know what’s truly important to you then you will likely give more weight to their opinions than you ought to be giving them.

I’ve never forgotten the great advice that nothing matters unless I allow it to matter. What I have forgotten from time to time is that I need to decide if I’m going to allow something to matter. When I forget I have that choice then everything thing seems to matter. Every opinion, every snide comment, every critical statement takes on significance that it absolutely shouldn’t. 

What I sometimes forget is that just because something is important to someone else doesn’t mean that I need to make it important to me. When I forget that I find myself reacting to what was said instead of thinking about what was said. A good rule of thumb is that if it isn’t going to matter in the future it probably doesn’t matter a whole lot today either.

Don’t allow other people, especially people who you aren’t certain have your best interests in mind, to tell you what matters in your life. You have a choice about what matters to you, it’s one of your life’s most important choices, never give up that choice.