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Leading Doesn’t Make You a Better Person

When most people think of leading they tend to think of leading people “below” themselves in a business or organization. That is a very dangerous way to think because it’s hard to think of people “below” you without also thinking you’re somehow “above” the people you lead.

You also might begin to delude yourself into thinking you are somehow a “better” person than the people you lead. If you’re truly going to lead then you had best understand from your very first day as a leader that no title or position makes you a better person than anyone else. 

It’s not even your title or position that makes you a leader. Your thinking and your actions make you a leader. Even more than that, it’s your people that make you a leader because no matter what you think or do, if no one is following then you’re not leading. 

I am a strong believer in the concept of 360 degree leadership and I understand the reality of different “levels” within any organization. Unless you’re actually at the top of your organizational chart there will likely always be people above and below you on that chart. 

The secret to being an Authentic Servant Leader is to never think for a moment that because someone is below you on an organizational chart that they are somehow below you in life.

People are where they are in their lives for a lot of reasons. Some had more luck than others, some made more luck than others. Some maybe were born with more advantages, some perhaps married into additional advantages. Some people may have earned a higher station in life and then somehow lost it. Our lot in life changes, sometimes because of what we did, sometimes because of what we didn’t do and sometimes it changes for no apparent reason.

The point is we are really pretty much all the same and the moment you start thinking you’re hot stuff is the very moment you begin the lose the empathy and compassion required to actually be an Authentic Servant Leader.

If you’ve been blessed with a leadership title or position, or if you’ve truly been blessed and have been given the ability to lead others without needing a title or position, then accept that blessing with humility. 

No one is better than you and you’re no better than anyone else. It’s life’s perfect balance! 

When we start thinking we’re better, or worse than someone else, then that balance is thrown off. Pretty much every problem, issue and challenge we will ever have is in some way caused by that “off-balance” thinking. 

Every person is in some way special. When you understand that simple fact then and only then do you have the opportunity to be a truly special leader.

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Small Changes, Big Difference

You cannot improve one thing by 1000% but you can improve 1000 little things by 1%.” — Jan Carlzon

Jan Carlzon was the CEO of the SAS Group (Scandinavian Airlines) from 1981 – 1994 and turned around the airline from one of the industry’s worst performers to one of its best. In doing so he revolutionized the airline industry through an unrelenting focus on customer service quality.

The turn around was engineered through Carlzon’s development of The Rule of 1 Percent. Basically that “rule” says that even a series of very small changes can add up to a very, very big difference.

He studied his business and made the changes seem easy to make, he didn’t ask anyone to make a major change, he just asked a whole lot of people to make small, much easier changes.

What are the small changes you could implement in your organization? You may have looked at those changes in the past and thought that they didn’t amount to enough to bother with. Think again and consider the impact of all of your co-workers making similar small changes. 

Here’s the real beauty of The Rule of 1 Percent – The higher you’re already performing the more impact a 1 percent improvement will have. If you’re functioning at 50% then an improvement to 51%, while good might not be that significant. Now if you’re functioning at 90% then your 1% improvement gets you to to 91% and that’s huge! 

Never believe for a moment that your contribution towards improvement, no matter how small you think it might be, doesn’t matter. It matters because you matter. Most companies run leaner today than ever before, there are few if any people left in organizations who don’t need to be constantly seeking improvement.

The Rule of 1 Percent is applicable not only to business, it actually can apply to any area of your life where you want to improve. Too many people fail in their attempts to improve because they try to go from zero to one hundred without ever passing 50, or 10, or even 1.

I’ve never met anyone who couldn’t make a 1 percent improvement in many areas of their lives, they just have to realize how much of a difference 1 percent can make, especially when the 1 percent comes in many areas.

Don’t overburden yourself trying to change your world all at once. Just improve yourself a little bit and you’ll have improved your world as well. 

 
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The Truth of the Matter

One of the best pieces of dialogue from a movie is the famous part of “A Few Good Men” with Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson. It’s the line where Nicholson says “You want the Truth.” 

Except he never said that. 

He never said “YOU want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!”

The real truth is many people have been quoting “A Few Good Men” wrong for years. Jack Nicholson actually says “You want answers?” Then Tom Cruise says “I think I’m entitled to them!” Nicholson asks again “You want answers?” To which Cruise replies “I want the truth!”

It is only then that Nicholson serves up the famous line “You can’t handle the truth!”

We don’t even know the truth around perhaps the most famous movie line about truth ever.

Leaders struggle with the truth too. They don’t, at least most don’t, struggle with telling the truth, they struggle with being told the truth. Most leaders don’t know they struggle with this because they naively believe their people trust them enough to always be truthful. 

However, given the nature of power and authority, it is actually common for people to limit the information they provide to their leaders. They might think that they are protecting themselves or a colleague from the leaders wrath…or worse. They might even think they are in some way protecting their leader but in either case it is unlikely that the leader is always getting a clear picture of what’s going on in their organization.

Many leaders may not like this, they may not want to hear it or believe it but the truth of the matter is, very often the information they receive from their people is at least “filtered” to some degree. It may even be an outright lie.

If you’re a leader who truly wants the truth from your people, consistently and bias free, then you will need to help them deliver it to you. Help them by actively seeking this kind of communication without punishing them, in any way, for the content.  

Always ask for differing opinions, encourage people to provide you the real story, ask them to trust you enough to share the truth. (Yes, one of the major reasons your people don’t tell you the whole truth and nothing but the truth is that they don’t trust you’ll handle it well)

When I say don’t “punish” them for the content I mean don’t punish them in any way. DO NOT get defensive. DO NOT raise your voice. DO NOT tell them they are wrong. In fact, DO NOT react in any way that would give anyone the impression that you are the least bit unhappy about what you just heard. DO NOT react in any way that would give anyone any reason to believe that they could be in “trouble” for telling you the truth or having an opinion that may differ from yours.

Just say “thank you for the courage to share that with me. Let me think on that for a bit and when I have my head around it we can talk again.” 

If you want the truth then you had better be prepared to handle it. Your facial expressions, your tone of voice, and your words really do matter. 

You know that you perform better when you have better, more truthful information. You also need to know that you won’t get it if your people think it’s too “dangerous” to give it to you. If you want the truth you’re going to have to work for it. That “work” likely includes changing some of your  behavior to help your people feel more comfortable when providing the information you need to truly lead.

And that’s the truth of the matter.

 
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Ethical Leadership

This is a short post and while it might be short it is most certainly NOT sweet. Sorry about that but this is not a topic any of us can afford to sugarcoat. 

In a perfect world “ethics” and “leadership” would be redundant. You would never need to see the words “leadership” and “ethical” together because when you saw one the other would just be assumed. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world.

In business, in politics, in nonprofit organizations, and even in some religious organizations, ethics is anything but a given.

No organization will have higher ethical standards than the organization’s leaders. Leaders are the model for the type of behavior that will be accepted in an organization. Leaders who merely pay lip service to the importance of ethics should expect limited attention to ethics from their people.

Leaders who want to develop high ethical standards within their organization should make certain that their people understand that ethics are more than a training program. Almost every strategy session and planning meeting should include a discussion of any potential ethical implications. Open communication and shared responsibility for an organization’s ethical behavior will create an environment of trust where people can feel safe when speaking about ethics. When ethics can be openly discussed then they become more than a class or a manual, ethics become a way of life for the organization and it’s people.

There can be no exceptions when ethics are involved. Ethical leaders don’t allow excuses; they know that when excuses come through the door ethics go out the window. Ethical standards are either absolute or there are no ethical standards. Everyone, absolutely everyone, in an organization must be held accountable. Senior leaders and high profile managers set the tone for an organization’s ethics, if the tone they set is one of allowable exceptions then exceptions may become so common that no one takes ethics seriously.

Ethical leaders understand that the influences their people experience are constantly changing and as a result they must remain on guard for any and all ethical traps that their people could fall into. When ethics become ingrained into everyday actions those “traps” are far less dangerous. 

Ethical organizations are a product of ethical leadership. If you’re concerned about the ethics of your organization then look in the mirror, the odds are you’ll find at least part of the problem looking right back at you. 

 
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Always be Learning

Successful people learn something new almost every single day. The most successful people use what they learn. 

Never in the history of humanity has it been easier to learn. Information is everywhere. 

New data suggests that 1.2 Zettabytes of information (1.3 trillion gigabytes) is now stored in cyberspace – which amounts to 339 miles of fully-loaded iPads stacked to the sky.

The information base is growing so quickly that researchers say a state of “persistent uncertainty” exists and that there are no exact numbers, only educated guesses. So I guess it could be 340 miles of iPads. 

Now, there is one tiny little caveat; not everything you find on the internet is true. I know that may come as a shock to some people but the fact that not everything on the internet is true is in fact actually true. But still, there is a ton of valuable information available, more worthwhile information than ever before, all you have to do is click.

Despite the unprecedented explosion of available information there remains one substantial barrier to learning. That barrier is called want. If you don’t want to learn you’ll find it very difficult to learn. You can be required to attend a class, you can even be forced to listen to the instructor but no one can make you learn, no one that is except you.

People decide to learn for a variety of reasons, some need a new skill or additional knowledge for their job. Others simply want to stay up to date on new technology or brush up on changes in their industry. Some people just have a need to grow intellectually and are constantly looking for ways to broaden their horizons. They seek to understand not just “what is” but “why it is.” 

Some people believe it’s their employer’s responsibility to provide them the skill and knowledge they need to succeed. It’s great when you work for a company that offers training and education but successful people understand that their success is up to them, not their employer.

This is somewhat of a generalization but by and large, leaders are learners. If education is provided they take it, if it’s not they make it. They seek out advice, coaches, mentors, and additional training and education. 

Leaders learn for a purpose, they understand how much and how fast they need to learn something. They, as Stephen Covey said, “begin with the end in mind” and envision how they will use their new knowledge or skill. Leaders know their objective for learning and they create for themselves a vivid picture of the benefits of obtaining that additional knowledge.

Successful learners know that they can learn as much or perhaps even more by failing then they can by always succeeding. Whenever you take on a new task or challenge you’ll possibly be tripped up and fall along the way. Don’t look at the fall as failure, look for the lesson in the fall on the way down. Use that lesson to push yourself back up. Ultimately it’s those falls and the ability to get back up that will make you a success. “Successful falls” also encourages more risk taking and more learning in the future. 

A truly successful day should include learning. Don’t let your day end without gaining at least a nugget of new information that you can use to grow your personal knowledge bank.

That stack of iPads is growing this very minute, you might as well get in on the action and learn!

 
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Responsible Leadership

Authentic Servant Leaders understand that leading people is a privilege that must be earned. They also understand that being a leader doesn’t, or shouldn’t, come with privileges that are not available to the people they lead.

I attended a military high school and I was quickly taught that “rank has its privileges.” As I advanced through the ranks I would occasionally take advantage of my rank by doing something that a kid with a lower rank couldn’t do. If they called me on it I’d reply in the way I had been taught: by saying, usually in a dismissive tone, “RHIP.” 

RHIP stood for Rank has it’s Privileges.

I believed that for a long time. I eventually learned how truly wrong that philosophy was, I discovered that every time I pulled that RHIP stuff I separated myself from the people I was supposed to be leading. The fact is that what rank really has is it’s responsibilities. A person with rank or as it is called in the civilian world, a person in a leadership position, has certain responsibilities to the people they lead.

Chief among those responsibilities is not separating themselves from the people they would lead. Few people in leadership positions intentionally build a wall between themselves and their people but intentional or not, many times walls do exist.

The walls are built by leaders when they apply a different set of rules to themselves than they apply to their people. As a leader the same rules must apply to everyone, including you. I know it is easy to feel that you “have earned the right” to have a little more flexibility but the truth is what you have earned the right to do is model successful behavior and habits for your people. 

Being an example of success in a daily responsibility for Authentic Servant Leaders.

Sometimes leaders provide themselves with “perks” which are not available to their people. I don’t so much have a problem with “perks” as I have with how they are “shown” to the people that don’t have access to them. The reality is that in all likelihood people in leadership positions have earned those positions by in some way outperforming the people they lead. They often worked harder and longer and they most certainly should be rewarded for it. “Perks” are a type of reward for their efforts. 

Where I personally have a problem with perks is when a person in a leadership position uses them to separate themselves from their people. They separate themselves by throwing their perks in the faces of the people who haven’t yet earned them. They brag, they show off, and in some cases they even taunt the people they rely on for their continued success. That is simply lazy and irresponsible leadership. 

If you believe that it is “lonely at the top” then you very well may have built some walls between you and your people. If you’ve hired good people then you’re missing out on a whole lot of meaningful interactions that could make your role as a leader much easier, and your organization much more successful. 

So tear down those walls. 

Here’s one idea how you might do that. Each day, every day, not when you find the time, not on “slow days,” not when you’re bored, but every single day get out of your office and conduct a brief “innerview” with at least one of your people. This isn’t an interview like you had when you hired them. This is an opportunity to get an “inner” view of them as people, as valued, informed team members. Ask them how they are doing, ask about their goals and objectives, ask how you can help them achieve their goals. Ask about how the business is doing, ask how the business is doing for them. Ask for an idea how the business could do better.

One of the biggest expenses a business can have these days is employees who are not engaged, who are giving less than a full effort. If you want engaged employees then build the kind of relationships with them that will keep them engaged.

Get to know your people, you have likely described them at least once as your organization’s greatest asset, don’t just say that, show it. Make an “innerview” a priority everyday and everyday your people will know just how important you really think they are. 

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Is all Change Good?

I’m a big fan of change. I’m particularly fond of change that doesn’t have any impact on me. I know so many things and people that need to change I couldn’t possibly list them all. But as for me and my little world, well, we’re just fine the way we are.

I really do think that way sometimes and virtually every time I do I slow my progress towards ultimate success. To me ultimate success is all about being better today than you were yesterday. No matter how good you are at something if you don’t continually try to get better eventually you’ll get worse. 

Winston Churchill is quoted often on the subject of change and he said about it, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”  He knew that improvement was impossible without change. I see people all the time who profess to want something “different” or “better” yet refuse to accept any change in their life. 

There really isn’t any way to get better or different without something or someone changing. 

Many of the people reading this committed to some type of change at the beginning of 2016. You likely called it a “resolution.” We’re around 40% of the way through 2016 and it’s not a bad time to stop for a moment to take stock of how your change is going.

So, how you doing? 

What have you started doing and perhaps even more importantly, what have you stopped doing.  If you’re a busy person it’s very likely that you think you’re too busy to start a new habit. You’re really not, after all, there is not a person alive who has more time than you. Rather than a shortage of time what you most likely have is a shortage of prioritization skills or maybe just a shortage of priorities.

You might not like hearing that but it is what it is. 

Change, at least change in the right direction, just as often means stopping something as it does starting something. Often the hardest part about starting something new is stopping something old so that you’ll have time for the new. It is simply a question of priorities… and prioritization. 

As you move into the second half of 2016 set your sights on what truly matters to you. Those priorities can still guide you to a successful year and even more successful years in the future.

All change can be good but it’s up to you to make it so.