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Uncommon Leadership

I’ve had the opportunity to spend several days recently with a person recently promoted to a leadership position. He was very good at what he did and earned his promotion. His promotion came with a new title and higher income, unfortunately what it didn’t come with was any hint of how to actually lead. So he doesn’t lead, he just tries to get by managing his new team.

I’ve seen the same scenario play out literally hundreds of times through the years. A person is good at what they do so they are promoted into a leadership role even through they have little, or more commonly, no leadership experience or skills at all.

I call them common leaders. I don’t mean to be disparaging here but it is what it is… common leadership really isn’t leadership at all. At its best it’s just managing and and at it’s worst it’s something much worse. That something involves fear, coercion and sometimes even outright abuse. 

Absent any real leadership skills people in leadership positions too often tend to use intimidation, coercion, threats and punishment to force the compliance of their people. 99.9% of the people in leadership positions who use those tactics are not bad people, it’s just that in many cases that’s how they were taught to “lead.” Sadly, they were likely taught to lead by people who themselves had few if any leadership skills. So the cycle of common leadership simply repeats itself. 

Individuals who do manage to break the cycle of common leadership and become uncommon leaders don’t do so on their own. They most often have a mentor or are led by someone who has broken through the common cycle themselves. 

Here’s one of the most interesting aspects of leadership: it can’t actually be taught but it can be learned. It is learned not so much by listening to a true leader but by watching them. 

Authentic leaders lead by example. They show the way to true uncommon leadership. I can tell people what to look for in a leader, I can share with them the characteristics that make a good leader, and I can even help them judge whether or not someone in a leadership position truly processes those characteristics but a person must teach themselves to lead. 

Let me give you one example. 

Caring for people, truly caring and investing yourself in another person’s success and well-being is an absolute characteristic of an uncommon, authentic leader. I can tell someone that, I can point out a person who has that characteristic but I know of no way to teach someone how to care. They must develop that caring nature on their own. The quickest way to do that is to see someone else display their own caring nature and decide if the results they see are something they want in their own life.

If you were taught to lead by someone who did not develop those uncommon leadership skills then my very best advice to you would be to find a mentor who has. Find a coach or hire a coach who will help you break that cycle of common leadership and become a leader who can actually make a positive difference in the lives of those they would lead. 

Never assume that a leadership position makes you a leader. A leadership position doesn’t come with the right to lead, that must be earned by demonstrating consistent leadership skills. 

Develop those skills and people will naturally follow you. 

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Money Hours

“Time Management” is a bit of a misnomer since time most certainly cannot be managed. We all have exactly the same amount of time in a day. We get 1440 minutes in a day whether we use them or not. Nobody gets more, nobody gets less. 

Successful people don’t actually manage that time better but they do manage the events that use that time better, often much better. They prioritize the events doing the most important ones first. They set aside time during a day to work uninterrupted on an important event or events to make certain that the event is completed within a given 1440 minute period, what most of us call a day.

It’s important to understand that when I say “event” what I actually mean is all the “stuff” that you do during a normal day. A phone call is an event, making a decision is an event, answering email is an event, lunch is an event, driving to and from work is an event. Whatever activities or tasks you do in a day should be considered an event and prioritized according to what’s actually important to you. 

Most people, and yes that is a generalization but the research is overwhelming, most people do their best work and make their best decisions early in the first half of those 1440 minutes. If an event is important to you or particularly challenging then consider doing it early in the day. Truth be told, many of the hardest things I do and my biggest decisions of the day are completed before most people’s alarm clock goes off.

Without getting real deep into using your time more effectively let me share a concept that I think will help you immensely. It’s the concept I call “money hours.” 

The concept comes from my years as a full-time salesperson when using my time effectively could be the difference between a successful year and a year far less than successful. (By the way, that’s true whether you’re in sales or not.) 

A salesperson’s 1440 minute period is loaded with various tasks that must be completed on a timely basis in order to be successful. The problem is most salespeople like some of those tasks a lot more than others. So they do the things they like more often than they do the things they don’t. I think that’s called “being human.”

The most important thing a salesperson can do is be face-to-face with a customer. There are a limited number of minutes within their 1440 minutes when that’s possible. If your customer is only in their office from 7:00am to 3:00pm then those eight hours are your “money hours.” If you’re doing anything other the being face-to-face with a customer during those hours than you’re not being as productive as you could be. 

I know there are other important things as well, getting those quotes out, responding to phone calls, answering emails, and of course those exciting call reports are all important. The question that successful people are constantly asking themselves however is “what’s most important?” 

Even if you’re not is sales the odds are overwhelming that you have some sort of “money hours” within your own 1440 minute period. You almost certainly have things to do that are more important than others, things that the require the help of other people that can only be done at certain times of the day, those are your money hours. 

If you don’t have any of these limitations then it’s important to know which of those 1440 minutes you are performing at your peak. That portion of your 1440 minutes make up your money hours and it’s in those minutes that you should be making your biggest decisions and undertaking your most challenging tasks. 

While we all get 1440 minutes everyday it’s vital to understand that those 1440 minutes are not equal. Some are far more important than others. When you use your money hours more effectively you’ll see a big difference in your productivity, even if you’re not so effective at using the rest of your day.

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Are You Responsible?

I saw an advertisement for a law firm on television the other day. The ad said that if you had lost money in the stock market or other investments that you “shouldn’t blame yourself,” you should sue your investment advisor. It said “you’re not responsible.” 

That pretty much sums up where many of today’s problems come from. No one blames themselves for anything. Nothing is anyone’s fault. Responsibility, for way too many people, is a thing of the past. 

When kids mess up it’s not their fault, it is the parents. When parents mess up it’s the “systems” responsibility. When the system is screwed up it’s the politicians inability to get anything done that’s the problem. When the politicians don’t get anything done one party blames the other….and on and on it goes. 

Where there is no responsibility there is no success. Responsibility removes productivity blocking excuses. Responsibility leads to learning and the elimination of mistakes. Responsibility is a direct road to success. 

Fewer and fewer people are willing to stand up and accept responsibility for anything that goes wrong. If you’re not a fan of long lines then step right into the line of responsibility because there will be almost no one in line with you. Meanwhile the no responsibility line goes on forever these days.

Sometimes, rarely, not accepting responsibility can be a sign of humility, especially when it is responsibility for something that went right. It was interesting watching the New England Patriots celebrate their amazing comeback victory in this year’s Super Bowl. It appeared most of the team, even their biggest stars, were playing a game of “hot potato” with the credit for their success. Every player interviewed claimed someone else was more responsible for the comeback than them. 

But here’s where their true success comes from. If they had lost I’d bet you nearly every player on that team would have accepted responsibility themselves. Authentic Leaders and successful people accept more than their share of  the responsibility for a failure and giveaway virtually all the credit for any success. 

If you truly want to be a leader then admit your mistakes, accept responsibility for your actions, and never never blame someone else for something you did wrong.

Accepting responsibility for your decision making, choices, actions and their outcome indeed adds pressure to your life but that’s not a bad thing. A bit of pressure helps you excel. Accept the pressure of responsibility and the odds are you will be more successful as a result. 

 
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Who is Influencing You?

My last post concerned your level of influence with the people you lead. This post is about who is influencing you.

You are shaped and influenced by the experiences of your life and the people you share them with.

If you have ever responded to someone by saying, “I had never thought of it like that,” then you have been influenced by that person. If you’ve ever changed your thinking to match someone else’s then you have been seriously influenced by them.

I don’t think I’m going to like how this sounds but here’s the thing….if you want to be more successful then don’t hang around with less successful people. It’s a sad reality that you just can’t afford some of the people who may be in your life.

You, your life and your level of success are very likely the average of the five people you spend the majority of your time with. Many things and many people can bring you down but they need a whole lot of help from you to keep you down. Don’t help other people keep you down, stay away from those who do not have your best interests in mind. 

Now, there is an argument to be made that you help less successful people by hanging out with them. That may be true…IF your influence on them is greater than their influence on you. In every relationship you are involved in you had best be very honest with yourself about who is the greater influence. The other person’s negative influence may be more powerful than your positive influence, especially if your own success and self-confidence is a bit immature.

The key to determining who is influencing you is to realize that most everyone you interact with is influencing you to some extent. There are virtually no neutral human interactions. Every interaction causes you to feel better about yourself and your circumstances or it causes you to feel worse. 

You are a product of your environment, there is just no escaping that fact. If you want to be more positive and successful then place yourself in a successful and positive environment. You may need to leave some people behind but it’s not likely that they were true friends anyway.

It’s a hard but true fact.

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Leading with Influence

If you had no title of consequence, if you had zero power to punish and reward people – would they still follow you? Would you still get positive results from them? 

The answer to that question is yes if, IF, you are actually a true leader. 

At it’s core leadership is about influence. If you have the ability to influence others then you have the ability to lead. It is not your title or lofty position within an organization that makes you a leader, it’s your level of influence. 

If you’re truly leading people they will commit to you. People don’t commit to companies, they don’t commit to positions and they certainly don’t commit to titles. People commit to other people, period.

If your people are not committed to you then they are not truly following you. They may comply with your requests because you have the power to punish and reward but that simply makes you a boss not a leader. (Just to be clear here I do not use “boss” in a negative sense, I use it just to distinguish the difference between leading and not leading. I have worked for bosses with no leadership ability at all and for bosses who were outstanding leaders.)

The foundations that support influence are perception and visibility. Influence doesn’t happen unless you have improved others’ perception of you and increased your visibility. Once you’ve established the appropriate level of perception, you will have gained a solid reputation and foundation of respect. After you’ve increased your visibility, you’ll become known and valued in your organization. Influence now becomes possible.

So, how do you improve other people’s perception of you while increasing your visibility? Here are four ideas…

Intentionally plan your day. Most people sadly just let their day happen to them. People of influence happen to their day. They focus on the outcome they need from their day and not all the small events that may happen to them during it. They leverage the events that get them closer to their desired outcome while minimizing the impact of the events that don’t. 

Choose to help. My better days are the days I help others be better. My best days are the days when almost no one knows I did it. If you have to tell people that you’re helping others you’re still missing the influence mark; help enough people and you won’t have to tell anyone because lots of people will notice the difference that you make.

Accept responsibility for the outcome. Don’t blame others for your mistakes. You will never learn from a mistake that you won’t admit and when you don’t accept responsibility for your mistakes you at least inadvertently shift the blame to someone else; that does not improve other people’s perception of you. Mistakes happen, they are a part, an important part, of growing. I wouldn’t recommend highlighting your mistakes but don’t try to hide them either.

Recognize others….for their success and yours. People crave recognition! Even people who say that don’t need any recognition literally crave it. It’s a basic human need. So fill that need for others, praise them early and often. Be intentional about looking for good things other people do and be lavish in your recognition. Also remember that it’s very likely that others contributed to your success, don’t forget to share your success with them through public recognition. No one, I mean no one, succeeds completely on their own. So don’t behave as though you did.

Influence is built, little by little, day after day. If you want to earn the commitment of your people then commit to build your influence every single day.

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The Difference Between Urgent and Important

In my last post I discussed the fact that leaders understand the difference between need to do and nice to do activities.

Effective leaders also understand the huge difference between what’s merely urgent and what’s truly important. Those urgent things are frequently less productive, and often matter far less, than the important things. 

President Eisenhower said, “The urgent is seldom important and the important is seldom urgent.” That statement led Charles Hummel to publish a small booklet in the 1960’s entitled, The Tyranny of the Urgent

In it, he described the tension that exists between the urgent and important things in life and the fact that far too often, the urgent wins. Sometimes the urgent things are also important but very often they are not.

So what about you? Are you running around doing urgent things all day or are the things you do truly important? If you’re like most people, yes sadly most people get caught in the trap of urgency, you’re in such a rush to “get it done” that you don’t really stop to separate, or prioritize the urgent things from the important things. 

What’s more important, a conversation about school, life or their choice of friends with your kids or an empty email inbox? The emails may be urgent but the kids are important, for most of us, our kids are by far the most important aspect of our lives. Yet we stay at the office that extra hour to try and “get through a few more emails” while our kids, those incredibly, unbelievably, positively, absolutely important kids are waiting at home. 

If that happens to you then you are a victim of the tyranny of the urgent. 

If that happens to you then I’ll also bet you just use that always popular time excuse. You think that saying “I just don’t have the time” let’s you off the hook. You’re not responsible, it’s not your fault, it’s just “stuff” getting in the way of you doing what’s really important. 

Wrong! 

You’re not going to like hearing this but the fact is, you don’t suffer from a lack of time, you suffer from a lack of prioritization skills. Or, you just never slow down enough to truly prioritize. The challenge for many of us is that we just don’t often invest the time to consider what really matters to us, we just rush through life doing what’s put in front of us without considering what’s left behind.

I understand that you likely can’t get everything done that you would like to; that’s just a fact of life in the world in which most of us live. But that’s not an excuse for not prioritizing, it’s the very reason you should. 

At some point you’re just going to have to stop the madness, shut down the distractions and make yourself ignore the “urgent” stuff long enough to truly consider what’s important in your life. Just stop once in a while to determine if you’re running your life or if your life is running you. 

You may not be able to get it all done but you sure as heck can get the truly important stuff done, you just have to be aware of what’s really important in your life. 

 
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What Not To Do

Strategic thinking has as much to do with deciding what not to do as it does with deciding what to do. I’ve sat in literally hundreds of planning meetings where the discussion centered on what we should do to increase our success. I’ve seldom, if ever, heard a discussion on things we should not do. 

The reality is that what you don’t do can contribute as much to your success as what you choose to do. When we do not strategize about the “don’t do” activities we end of doing them without any consideration of the cost. 

Many of the costs are “opportunity costs;” when we are doing things we shouldn’t be doing we’re not doing things that we should. It’s at that point we use the always popular “time” excuse as in “we just don’t the time to do everything we planned to do.” 

Well, you might if you stopped doing the things you didn’t plan to do. 

Authentic leaders understand the difference between the “need to do” things and the “nice to do” things and they work hard at NOT doing the nice to do until the need to do things are complete. 

The real challenge is, and this is a big one for me, the “nice to do” things are usually easier and more fun to do than the “need to do.” Because the “nice” things are indeed nice we can fool ourselves into thinking we’ve accomplished something when in fact we’ve skipped over something we had planned to do.  

While doing the “nice” thing might even be productive in some way truly effective leaders know it probably wasn’t the most productive thing they could have done. 

If you want to improve your productivity, and your level of success then stop yourself every now and then and ask, “is this the most productive thing I could be doing at this very moment?” If you’re like me you will likely be shocked at how often your answer is NO! 

The answer to that question may not always tell you what to do but it will certainly help you understand what not to do.