Do You Believe the Destination Myth?

Have you arrived? Have you reached the pinnacle of success in your organization or chosen field?  Are you at “the top?” 

It’s been said that “the top” can be a lonely place. I suppose that’s true… for people who are leaders solely by position or title. But for an authentic leader it’s anything but lonely at the top. 

Individuals who are leaders by title or position only are often “lonely at the top” because their lack of true leadership skills makes it very difficult for them to connect with their people. They become victims of their own “ivory tower syndrome” and are isolated from their people and the real world of what’s going on in their company or organization. 

They wear their “loneliness” as a badge of honor and the price that must be paid to lead. There is really no good way to say this so I’ll just put it out here: they are poor leaders. They are so  bad that I almost hate to describe them as leaders at all, but technically, even if by title or position alone they are indeed leaders.

They have no idea what they are missing. They miss the opportunity to make a profound difference in the lives of their people. They miss the opportunity to build future leaders. They miss the opportunity to leave a legacy and extend their leadership past their physical presence in the organization. 

They miss all that and so much more. All because they buy into the Destination Myth. They believe that simply because they are now a leader they no longer have a requirement to learn or grow. They think that they no longer need to sharpen their communication skills or human relations skills.  

What they fail to realize is that the moment they stop pushing themselves, the moment they begin to believe they are “set” and have nothing left to learn they begin to fail. 

They may even have a strong desire to pass on what they know to others which is an outstanding leadership trait. Believing they know it all however makes it very difficult for their people to learn from them.

Authentic leaders on the other hand know that the most effective leaders and the most successful people in general learn something new everyday. They know that learning is a lifelong process and they also know that they will never know it all. They will never be “set”. 

Authentic leaders know that every person on the planet knows something that they don’t and therefore they are open to learning from anyone. Authentic leaders have the courage to expose their “gaps” to their followers and to ask for help from anyone.

Authentic leaders are never lonely at the top because they bring so many people there with them. They bring their supporters and those that they support. They bring those who can help them and those who need their help. They never separate the “top” from the “bottom” and they fully realize that their position or title alone does not elevate their character above that of anyone else in the organization. 

Above all, authentic leaders know that they require trust of their people to truly lead and that trust is built by being “with” the people they would lead.  Without that trust there can be no real following and this much is certain:  A leader without followers is indeed lonely at the top.    

The Scourge  of Triangular Communication

I wrote a few weeks ago about what I call “Whispered Thoughts,” those quiet little hallway conversations that are intended to be private but seldom are. They do great damage to an organization and the people involved, both the whisperer and the whispered to.

Triangular Communication is even worse. People often whisper their thoughts as a way of venting, they often mean no harm even though they can cause great harm. Triangular Communication is strategic, it is at best misguided and at worst intentionally destructive. 

Here’s one example of what Triangular Communication looks like in the workplace. Let’s say “the boss” tells me to do something and I think it’s wrong, stupid, or I just don’t want to do it. I want the boss to know but I don’t have the courage to say it directly. So I decide, yes, it’s a conscious choice, to triangularly communicate. 

I find “a pal,” who I can share my opinion with. I have to choose this person very carefully, they must have one outstanding quality, there can be no compromise on this particular quality. They must absolutely agree with me. 

The last thing I need is for this person to agree with is “the boss” and stop my negative momentum.  I need this person to reinforce my thoughts and opinions about whatever it is I think is stupid or wrong. 

I also need this person to tell someone else what I think. It would close the triangular communication sooner if they told the boss directly but it doesn’t really matter who they tell. Eventually they will tell someone who will tell the boss and my triangular communication will be complete. Maybe it’s someone who they told that will tell someone who will tell the boss but it’s all the same, the message got back to the boss and that’s what I needed. 

If that last sentence is hard to follow then good, because that’s how I intended it to be. Triangular Communication takes what should be a straight-forward conversation and turns it inside out and upside down. Look at the mess this just caused, I polluted at least one person’s attitude; they almost certainly polluted others and it just goes on and on. Triangular Communication just possibly might be the greatest productivity killer in any business or organization today.

Triangular Communication might start more rumors in organizations and businesses than any other thing we could say or do. That’s because as my “message” is passed from one person to another it changes. It goes from “the boss doesn’t think I sharpen my axe often enough” to “the boss is an axe murderer” in a few brief exchanges. 

No matter how many people became involved in my triangle only two people could resolve the issue, that would be me and “the boss.” 

Now it might not be the boss at the top of the triangle, it could be a co-worker, spouse, family member, almost anyone. All that is required is the “you” in the triangle to lack the courage to speak directly to the person at the top of it. It also helps if you just don’t give a rip about the collateral damage you cause while communicating in such a childish manner.

If you can’t muster the courage to speak up then find the courage to keep quiet. You and everyone around you will be better off for your effort, no matter which one you choose.

The Two Types of Truth

When what you do and what you say don’t match which one is the truth? Which one is the real you? How are people supposed to know? Do you even know? 

Is there a professional you and a personal you? A public you and a private you? Why are there two of you? 

I think we become two when we forget our Core Values, or worse, when we don’t know what they are to begin with. Just to be clear, Core Values are those values we hold which from the foundation of who we truly are. These are the values that are so primary and so important that even in a constantly changing world we still abide by them. These values determine how we work, how we interact with people and even which people we allow into our lives. They are the principles we use, or more likely, should be using everyday to determine how we live our lives. 

They also determine who we truly are. Truly!

It is far easier to talk about our Core Values than it is to put them on display. That’s why too often we appear to present two sides of truth: what we say are our values and what our values appear to be to others. 

Most people who see the two sides of your “truth” will just wonder which one is real. That “wonder” can cause doubt and doubt for a leader can be deadly. When your people don’t know which is real, what you say or what you do, they lose faith in your integrity and you lose the opportunity to lead. 

Authentic leaders live what they say. They know there is no stronger credibility than Core Values in action. Like my mom always said, “seeing is believing.” Once again this is where a mentor comes in handy, they care enough about you to call you on your two sides of truth. They won’t judge which one is right but they will cause you to choose between them.

Living our values is not easy, even our Core Values. No one is perfect and at times we will all slip. Core values, may not be at the top of our mind at all times but under pressure and duress they must be there.

As you decide to lead today, ask yourself which side of truth you will present today, the one you believe or the one you say you believe. The closer they are to one and the same, the closer you are to being an authentic leader. 

The Courage of Leadership

Authentic leaders are very unique people. Perhaps that’s why we see so few of them in everyday life. They set themselves apart not only by what they say but by what they do. They simply do things differently than people who merely hold a leadership position or have an impressive sounding title. 

There are a few minimum requirements or qualities that a person must possess to qualify as an authentic leader. The actual qualities of authentic leaders can be debated forever but there are some that are absolute. Integrity and caring are two of the big ones. Judgment, or as I prefer to call it, Judgcernment, is another. Judgcernment is the ability to make a correct decision using both good judgment and discernment. 

That ability is key to effective authentic leadership. Yet many leaders have that ability and still fail in their leadership responsibilities. I believe that’s because they lack one other essential quality of leadership: Courage.

They just don’t have the nerve to pull the trigger on big decisions. They have all the facts, they know what’s right, they have correctly judged and weighed all the possibilities and still they can’t bring themselves to say yes or no.

Courage in a leader inspires their followers to commit rather than merely comply. Followers see the inner battle their leader fights to do what’s right and they commit to do what’s right as well, growing themselves, their leader and their organization.

Leaders with courage don’t just work to smooth things over, they commit to making them right. This is perhaps the hardest part of big decision making; if the decision causes change for anyone it will make someone unhappy. It might even be unfair, but courageous leaders know that the right thing to do isn’t always the fair thing to do and they do it anyway. If you believe that everyone must love you in order for them to respect you then you may be a wonderful friend but you’re likely not an authentic leader.

Courageous leaders are willing to risk being wrong sometimes in order to be right most of the time. They know that decisions move the organization forward. They know that a lack of a decision is in fact a decision; it’s a decision to do nothing and that’s a decision that is almost always wrong and at times catastrophic. 

Courageous leaders make a positive difference in whatever organization they serve. They can come from any level of an organization and they need no tittle or position to effectively influence those around them. They inspire people and organizations to greatness and their leadership far outlasts them.

If you’re wondering if you have the courage to be an authentic leader then remember this: courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is facing your fear and moving forward anyway. Dale Carnegie always said that the only place fear really existed was in our mind. Remove fear from your thoughts today and you’ll find the courage you already possess tomorrow.  

How to Sell More of Anything

Next week in Baltimore I’ll present a “How to Sell” class to a group of professionals. Not sales professionals, in fact, these professionals may very well have a certain disdain at even the thought of selling. 

As I prepared for the presentation I knew instinctively that a traditional sales training session was out of the question. No sales process or technique would be of interest or value to this group. While “selling” is important to their profession it is not something they are comfortable with and not something they do on a daily basis.

That got me to thinking about the essence of selling and what it really takes to sell effectively. The answer that popped into my head was trust and relationships.

People buy from people they like and trust. People don’t buy from companies or machines. Yes, we sometimes buy stuff online and through vending machines but usually even then someone, a person, has previously convinced us that it would be a good purchase.

The presentation morphed into a “Building Trusting Relationships” session and it quickly occurred to me that this isn’t just a great topic for non-traditional salespeople, it’s a valuable topic for all sales professionals. 

Salespeople, at least less successful salespeople, tend to focus all their energies on “telling” their prospect about the product. They spend far too little time on building the type of relationship that will help the prospect trust them as a person and as a result the prospect remains suspect about most everything the salesperson says.

The most successful salespeople don’t focus on themselves or their product, they focus on their customer and their customer’s wants and needs. They start that process by learning about their customer’s goals and objectives and it is from those conversations that a real relationship blooms.  

The most successful salespeople treat people with courtesy, politeness, and kindness. They listen to what others have to say before expressing their own thoughts. Successful salespeople do not insult, disparage or knock another person’s ideas. Even if that other person is a competitive salesperson. Especially if that other person is a competitive salesperson! 

The most successful salespeople have long ago thrown out the Golden Rule and replaced it with the Platinum Rule: Treat others as they wish to be treated.

The most successful salespeople don’t play the blame game. They accept responsibility for their actions and they honor their commitments. They share credit for their success knowing full well that no salesperson can succeed long-term without a lot of support from others in their organization.

The most successful salespeople avoid wasting time and are consistent planners. They are genuinely interested in other people and believe they can learn from anyone. They smile often and always, always, always maintain control of their attitude. Simply put, they are the type of person we all enjoy being around. 

Now, for those of you who have never sold a thing or are in a position that requires a non-traditional sales approach, just remove the word “sales” from every sentence above. What you’ll discover is that the way to sell more of anything is to be a successful person. 

Once you have developed the skill of building trusting relationships, sincere relationships, well then you can sell most anything to most anyone. 

You see, great salespeople are also great people.

The Coercion of Whispered Thoughts

Most people talk to themselves. Just little stuff like “I wonder what the temperature is” and “what should I have for lunch?” Everybody thinks to themselves. Thinking is good, mostly. Positive thoughts are better than negative thoughts, certainly for us but even at times for those around us. 

Negative thoughts can be very damaging to our morale and motivation. But kept to ourselves they mostly just affect us. 

But what happens when when we don’t just keep them to ourselves? What happens when we begin to share?

Negative thoughts are seldom widely broadcast, they are most commonly whispered. They are whispered in those quiet “hallway conversations” between you and a colleague. They are whispered behind someone’s back, not meant for them to ever hear even though they often eventually do.

Whispered thoughts are rarely positive or constructive which is why conversations containing whispered thoughts stop suddenly when a boss or talked about co-worker appears. That’s one of the most coercive things about whispered thoughts, we rarely share them with someone who can help us with them. We share them with the people we believe will agree with them. We share them with people who will buy into them and make them their own.

Our negative thoughts can slow us down and limit our potential but make no mistake, saying them out loud brings them to life, no matter how quietly they are spoken. Once they are spoken it’s impossible to unsay them. They are now more than thoughts, they are productivity and morale killers and they don’t just kill your morale, they can kill the morale of whoever you shared them with AND whoever they share them with. 

Whispered thoughts said even once can destroy in an instant a reputation that took years to build. They can cause a person to doubt themselves or their circumstances. Whispered thoughts can last a lifetime no matter how hard we try to shout them down.

It’s odd but the words we whisper in confidence carry so much more weight than the words we share in public. People tend to believe a whisper more than words said out loud for everyone to hear.

Your thoughts become your actions. Your actions determine the course of your life. The course of your life determines your legacy. That’s big stuff and it gets even bigger when you whisper your negative thoughts to others and begin affecting their thoughts and actions. 

Make certain your whispered thoughts add value. Make certain they build and don’t destroy. Make certain your whispered thoughts cause a smile and not a look of concern. Your whispered thoughts are contagious, be sure what you’re infecting people with is good for them, and good for you.

Remember, if it’s not fit for everyone to hear then maybe, just maybe it’s not fit to be said at all.

The Importance of Perseverance

Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, said, “Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.” 

Successful people try, the most successful people try harder. Nearly all of the most successful people you’ll ever meet have this trait in common: they did just a little more after they first felt they couldn’t do anymore.

I’m certain that the primary difference between success and huge success is the little “extra” that turns ordinary into extraordinary. The ability to do more than you think you can is not limited to hugely successful people, everyone has that ability, it’s just that the most successful people put it to use.

I’m also pretty sure that persevering people have fewer regrets than those who quit too early. They never have to wonder “what if” I had kept going, and tried just a little more. They know in their hearts they gave a 100% effort and knowing that makes any outcome easier to accept. 

The most successful people also know that persevering doesn’t mean never quitting. It means quitting with a purpose and that purpose is almost always to begin again, only better the next time. They know when “to hold them and when to fold them” and don’t hesitate to change direction, back-up, turn-around or do whatever is required to eventually move closer to their goal. 

Simply put, the most successful people know that sometimes the fastest way forward is to initially take a step or two backwards. Momentum might be slowed but perseverance  is not stopped. 

Now at this point in my blog posts I’ll often ask “do you have what it takes to do whatever I’m blogging about?” I have no need to ask that in this instance however because I know you do. More important, somewhere inside of you , YOU know YOU do. 

So push on, keep going, decide this very moment that you will not be stopped. Once you’ve made that awesome decision anything and anyone that you come across will find it far more difficult to keep you from your dreams!