Encouraging Mistakes

I’m not a big fan of mistakes. That might surprise the people who know me best since they also know I make a lot of them.

I make a lot of mistakes because I make a lot of decisions. Mine are mistakes of action and they can be fixed, usually with just a small adjustment. Often, people don’t even realize I made the mistake at all.

Some people believe they can avoid mistakes by not making decisions. They fact is, not making a decision is a decision, it’s a decision to do nothing and it’s almost always the wrong decision. Deciding to do nothing is a huge mistake, it’s a mistake of inaction and it’s often much harder to fix than a mistake of action.

The most successful leaders make a decision the moment that they have the facts required to make it. They make good decisions because they have made a lot of them and they learned as much from the bad ones as they did the good ones.

I get asked from time to time about the best way to help young leaders learn to make decisions. My answer is nearly always the same – let them make decisions!

No one can learn how to make good decisions just by watching someone else do it. If you’re a leader hoping to build future leaders then you need to let your people make decisions. Even some bad ones!

Get out of the way and let them decide. Let them be wrong and let them fix their mistakes. Let them learn from THEIR experience and allow them to build self-confidence by doing… and redoing if that’s what it takes. 

I’m not suggesting any leader stand by and let their people make decisions with potentially devastating consequences, but let them make small decisions and grow their way to bigger ones.

Lead by ensuring they find the lesson in every mistake they make and lead further by helping them develop a plan to make a better decision next time. 

The ability to recover from a mistake or a poor decision can be a great encouragement to your younger leaders. Authentic Servant Leaders don’t use mistakes to criticize their people, they use them to coach and encourage their people. 

It all comes down to this: as a leader, do you have a spirit of criticism or a spirt of encouragement? One forces compliance and one builds commitment. 

One works and one doesn’t. Which one are you? 

The Leadership Diet

Is your “leadership” so big that when you enter a room there is no space left for the other leaders in your organization? It’s a question that successful leaders should ask themselves frequently. 

If your leadership is “filling” the room then there is no room for other egos, thoughts, suggestions, ideas, or leadership. Your leadership could actually be stifling the growth of your organization by leaving little room for other leaders to grow. 

I’ve seen meeting rooms change when “THE leader” walks in. The atmosphere changes from one of healthy debate and discussion to one of quiet hesitation. Either everyone respects THE leader so much that they don’t want to offer a differing opinion or perhaps they just become filled with fear and doubt. If you’re a leader and no one in your meetings disagrees with you then you should know it’s one or the other. You should also know that neither one is good for your organization.

If your leadership objective is to grow an organization AND the next generation of leaders who will lead it, then you need to put your leadership on a diet to make room for those future leaders to grow.

Stop leading from the front so there’s room for someone else up there. I’d never suggest that a leader stop leading but try leading from the middle or even the rear. The rear is a great place to lead from because oftentimes it’s much easier to push people past their limits than it is to pull them.

If you’re talking your not listening and if you’re not listening you’re not learning.  

Authentic servant leadership listens far more than it talks. Let your people try out their voice – make it a point to ask for dissenting ideas and DON’T be defensive when you get them. 

Authentic Servant Leaders encourage constructive discontent. 

Lead your people to encourage the airing of differing opinions and then manage the process to keep it positive. As a leader you should know that if all your people are thinking just like you then a good many of your people just aren’t thinking. 

Authentic Servant Leaders have egos. 

They also know that everyone else has an ego too and that forgetting that fact leads to all sorts of trouble. If it’s your ego that is getting in the way of listening to other opinions then you may need to put your leadership ego on a diet and leave some ego food for the future leaders in your organization. 

You need more than just your own ideas to help your organization reach it’s full potential. Make room for lot’s of ideas and differing viewpoints and reward people for sharing them. 

If you’re a leader with the confidence to “shrink” your leadership when circumstances require it then you’re a leader who truly leads. 

Are you ready to diet?

The REAL Definition of Authentic Leadership

I write and speak often on the topic of “Authentic Leadership” and I have a clear understanding of what that means …. to me.

As it turns out however, not everyone has the same understanding. In fact, there are just about as many opinions on the definition of Authentic Leadership as there are people in the world.

I wrote a post titled “What Authentic Leadership Looks Like” a couple of week ago and gave examples of characteristics of authentic leaders. I decided to go with “looks like” for the very reason that defining “authentic” leadership is very hard to do.

In his 2003 book entitled Authentic Leadership, Bill George said that authentic leaders are self-aware and genuine, they are mission driven and focused on results and that they lead with their heart. 

I admire and respect Bill George, he is by any definition, at least my definition, an authentic leader. The characteristics he describes however have little more to do with being authentic than the characteristics I wrote about. They have to do with being a genuinely decent, successful person. Whether or not you’re a leader.

I have come to the conclusion that I have been misusing the term “Authentic Leader.”

Here is the dictionary definition of “authentic:” 


of undisputed origin; genuine.
“the letter is now accepted as an authentic document”
synonyms: genuine, real, bona fide, true, veritable; legitimate, lawful, legal, valid; informal the real McCoy, the real thing, kosher

“an authentic document”

Authentic basically means real. If we define leadership in the simplest of terms we would say that leadership is influence. Put the two together and we have something very different than most people mean when they say “Authentic Leader.” 

There have been people of great influence who were real creeps. Some truly bad people who were true to their own warped sense of values who also had great impact on their followers and even the world. They were, by the most accurate definition, authentic leaders.

When people like me, who speak and write about leadership use the term Authentic Leadership we imply all sorts of stuff that may or may not be true. We have sort of hijacked the word authentic and redefined it as “good” or “honorable” or “caring.” 

After a discussion this week with a few leaders I admire I have decided to add a second adjective to the phrase “Authentic Leader,” it may be Authentic Servant Leader, or Authentic Effective Leader, or maybe Authentic Caring Leader, but this much seems certain, simply using “authentic” isn’t enough to describe what I have in mind when I say Authentic Leadership. 

It appears that the real definition of Authentic Leadership exists only in the minds of the people who use or accept the term. If your definition is different than mine then we have a communication gap, I think using one extra word will build a strong bridge across that gap.

What do you think, can one extra word make a difference that matters?   

Continue reading “The REAL Definition of Authentic Leadership”

The Importance of Really Knowing

It ain’t what you know that gets you in trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. –                                            Mark Twain

As with many of the quotes from Mark Twain the one above is spot on! Poor listening is the biggest cause of poor communication and assuming is the biggest cause of poor listening. 

We assume we know the answers to questions before we even ask them so there is little need to actually listen to the answer. Oftentimes we don’t even bother with the question, we just assume we know stuff that just ain’t so. Leaders assume the “mood” of their organizations. Salespeople assume the needs of their prospects and customers. Husbands and wives assume the wants and needs of their spouses. 

There is a whole lot of assuming going on all around you. Odds are, you’re doing a lot of the assuming yourself. The odds are even greater that many of the assumptions are just plain wrong. 

Yet we act on them as if they were fact.

Businesses fail, sales deals are lost and marriages ended all based on assumptions. Everyone knows the dangers of assuming yet everyone, or most everyone, continues to endlessly assume. 

Here is the biggest challenge for people from all walks of life: the longer you’ve been doing something the more assumptions you make about it. You begin to rely too much on your experience; you assume that what once was will always be. You assume that the future is just an extension of the past. You assume you “know” simply because you’ve always “known.” 

Leaders won’t verify their assumptions for fear of looking out of touch or downright stupid. Salespeople fail to ask enough questions because they assume their prospect wouldn’t give them the information they seek. 

Many people just prefer decisions based their assumptions rather than dealing with the facts. When they hold on to their assumptions long enough the assumptions in fact actually replace the truth – this is known as denial. A wise person will never ever underestimate the incredible power of denial. 

All the information you need to learn, grow, succeed, and to stop assuming is available for the taking. You only have to stop assuming long enough to reach for it. You need to ask questions and really LISTEN to the answers. You need to open your mind and take nothing for granted. The only assumption that is safe to make is the assumption that all other assumptions are wrong. 

Successful people learn something new everyday, the most successful people re-learn something old every week. They understand that just because something was true once doesn’t mean that it’s still true today. They invest the time to really know. 

Challenge your assumptions, every assumption, and prepare yourself to succeed in everything you do.

Authentic Leadership is Not Perfect

I have resisted the temptation to write about the recent leadership changes at Target. I’ve resisted because frankly I don’t know enough about the reasons for the changes to credibly comment on them. So I won’t…. well, I might a little.

What I will comment on is the perceived “failure” of the outgoing Chairman, President, and CEO of Target, Gregg Steinhafel. I do not know Mr. Steinhafel personally but three people that I do know and trust have told me in the last couple of weeks that he was an authentic leader. 

If he was indeed an authentic leader then what happened at Target. Could he if fact be an authentic leader and still fail? 

What exactly “went wrong” at Target is highly debatable. Whether or not an authentic leader can fail is not. An authentic leader can indeed fail.

They can fail because authentic leadership is not perfect. No leadership is perfect because leaders are people. The last perfect leader to walk the earth was here 2000 years ago and I doubt there are any leaders around today willing to make the sacrifices He made to demonstrate their perfect leadership. 

Authentic leadership should also not be confused with Effective Leadership. They are two very different things. Authentic leadership is represented by “who” you are, effective leadership is represented by “what” you do. Effective Authentic Leadership is represented by “how” you do it. The best leaders blend it all together seamlessly to leave a leadership legacy that will last well beyond their time as a leader. 

 Effective Leadership is fairly common, Authentic Leadership is less common and Effective Authentic Leadership is less common still. 

None of that however is the real point of this post. The real point is about something that happened at Target this week. 

A person described as a “mid-level” manager at Target used a website known as Gawker to complain about the culture of Target and it’s overall lack of innovation. The post went on to say that without significant changes Target was destined to become the next Kmart or Sears. 

Apparently Gawker is a website for people who lack the courage to attach their names to their opinions. I have no problem with that; sometimes people may feel they need to remain in the shadows to say what really needs to be said.

Remarkably, a Target executive posted a reply on LinkedIn basically saying that much of the original post was accurate and that the truth hurts. To be sure it was a very candid response.

Now here’s my point: if you’re a leader in an organization and your people are complaining about your organization on anonymous websites then you have a problem. If your people need courage to tell you the truth then you have a bigger problem. If you choose to respond to what you admit is the truth on yet another public website then you have the biggest problem of all. 

I’m in no position to judge the leadership of a company I only know from standing in front of their cash registers. That said, I can say that trust is a vital commodity of leadership. Authentic leaders must have the trust of their people to earn their commitment. Effective leaders must have the trust of their people to earn their bias for action. Effective Authentic leaders know they must have both to ensure long-term success.

There seems to be at least a bit of a trust issue at Target. I can’t help but wonder if the fact that Target has been so successful for so long is the very reason that trust has been eroded. Perhaps the leadership just started taking the trust of their people for granted.

You can never stop working to earn the trust of your people. Never stop showing you care, never stop showing your people how much they, and their opinion matters. Trust isn’t earned in a day and once it is earned it must continuously be re-earned. Every single day. 

As a leader, what did you do to earn the trust of your people today? 

Think about that!

The Danger of Rewarding Mediocrity

If you’re a leader who rewards mediocrity then don’t be surprised when your people produce mediocre results.

When you reward mediocrity, or even just tolerate it, you not only stymie the growth of the mediocre individual, you hinder the growth of others in your organization who are aware of it. 

Mediocrity is a threat to success; it may be driven by political correctness, some misguided HR policy or just a lack of awareness but whatever the reason, it undercuts your top performers’ efforts. 

Fear of confrontation is one of the major reasons for tolerating mediocrity. 

If you’re a leader without the courage to confront under-performers you should know that ignoring mediocrity is killing the morale and excellence of your top performers. It kills morale because what you call ignoring your top performers call rewarding. The hard truth is that you’re not helping anything or anyone by avoiding the reality of mediocrity.

You may think that you don’t “reward” mediocre people but for the truly unmotivated, mediocre person no tangible reward is required; simply being allowed to remain mediocre is reward enough. Unchallenged, they can remain mediocre for their entire career. I’ve never seen an organization reach it’s true potential when staffed with even a few mediocre people.

You’re hurting your organization, your team, your staff or whoever it is you’re leading when you allow mediocrity to linger within their ranks. You unconsciously demotivate the motivated and lead them towards mediocrity as well.

Don’t suck the wind from the sails of success by allowing any member of your team to consistently under-perform. If you’re a leader who allows mediocrity to dawdle within your organization then it’s possible that you just might be mediocre yourself.   

The Challenge of Change

There is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right direction” Winston Churchill

The above quote from the great Winston Churchill is truth in it’s purest form. The question for leaders in every type of organization is this: How do you know if you’re changing in the right direction. That’s a big question but even that is not the challenge of change, the real challenge of change is this: people resist change even if it is in the right direction. 

There are two types of people in the world: those who say they love change and honest people.

I exaggerate a bit with that comment but only a bit. Most people are challenged by change for one simple reason: all change comes with some sort of loss. Every time something changes in your life you lose something, even if you initiate the change. You accept a new job and you “lose” many of the relationships that existed with the old one. You buy a new house and you miss some of your old neighbors. You may not even be aware of the “loss” but it affects you anyway.

I’m actually okay with change so long as it doesn’t effect me personally. I know of many things and many more people who need to change. Thankfully, I’m not one of them. I know there are people who think I do need to change but it’s actually their thinking that needs to change, not me. 😏

I suspect most people are like me, I have no real interest in changing or dealing with change and if the world would just sit still for a minute I’d be just fine with that.

But the world won’t sit still.

That’s why it’s so important that like change or not, we learn how to manage it and even use it to our benefit. 

One key to successfully managing change is to acknowledge the loss. We need to realize that it’s okay to feel a little distress with the loss, it’s normal and it doesn’t make you any less effective as a person or a leader.

Once you acknowledge the loss you can replace it. There is something in the “change” which will replace the loss, something new, something that might take getting used to, but the void of the loss will be filled.

Once the loss is acknowledged and replaced it becomes much easier to move forward. Change experts (which I am certainly not) would even say to celebrate the passing of old into new as a way of getting closure out the loss and embracing the new.

Here’s a fact that all successful people know: you don’t have to like change to make it work for you. You do need to understand it, you do need to accept it, you do need to realize that it’s going to happen whether you want it to or not.

The real question is whether it will happen to you or for you. That’s a choice and it’s a choice only you can make.