It seems to me that more than anything else, what differentiates a leader in title or position only from an authentic leader is this: Authentic leaders care!
Many leadership experts describe leadership as influence and I agree. We must be able to influence a person if we hope to lead them. Influence however has two sides, positive and negative. History has many examples of people who used their ability to influence others to achieve bad and even historically horrible goals.
Those people probably are not leaders as we like to think of our leaders today but by the purest definition of leadership they are indeed leaders. The have many of the characteristics we would say are necessary for a leader to have. They have brains, passion, plans and are committed to their cause.
However, they are missing one characteristic and in my opinion it’s the most vital one of all. They don’t care!
People may comply with a leader who doesn’t care about them but they will not commit to them. If you have people working for you that are not committed, that most likely means that they are not fully engaged either. There is not a greater expense in business today than that of a disengaged employee.
Committed employees are engaged. They do more, they work harder, they find solutions to problems and this one is huge, they take much better care of a business’s customers.
That’s why authentic leaders take no chances in demonstrating to their people how much they care. Notice I said demonstrating. They don’t only say that they care, they show it. They show it intentionally and the consistently. The best leaders will literally block time on their calendar to ensure that the “demonstrating” does not fall through the cracks.
Authentic leaders know that their success is completely dependent upon the success of their people and their actions reflect that. They know this one indisputable fact of leadership: You can care for someone without leading them but you cannot lead them without caring for them.
So, if you want to know how to lead, first learn how to care. See everyone you meet as the unique and special person that they are. Just because they are not like you doesn’t mean they are any less valuable than you. Their values may be different, they might not look like the people you hang out with but none of that matters, they ARE people. People want to know you care.
It’s nearly impossible to care for people we don’t value, so as you begin your leadership journey in 2013 seek first to learn enough about your followers to see them as people. Special people who matter, the kind of people who when given a chance can truly excel.
Then and only then will you have the opportunity to truly lead.