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People Matter

If you lead people then you undoubtedly know that people matter. What you may not know is how much they need to know that you know they matter. We humans need to know we matter almost as much as we need air to breath. If we don’t see, without a doubt that we matter then doubt is what we will do. We’ll wonder if we really do matter…to anyone.

You can tell people everyday that they matter and still leave some doubt. If you really want them to know that you know they matter then don’t just tell them, show them.

Showing that someone matters doesn’t take one bit of extra effort, it merely requires a little thoughtfulness and effort that you should already be putting forth.

It’s unlikely that any true leader would intentionally tell their people that they don’t matter, but it happens unintentionally all too often.

For instance, nothing says “you don’t matter” more than picking up a call or texting while you’re talking with someone else.  You know how you feel when someone does that to you…well guess what, most everybody feels that way too. Ignore your cell phone or put it away completely. If you absolutely have to take a call, apologize, explain why and make it quick. 

Be present with whoever it is you’re talking with. Make them feel as if they are the most important person in your world, because in that very moment, they actually are.

Never forget the value of appreciation. Think about a time when you did something nice for someone and they never even acknowledged it with a simple thanks. There are many many times during an average day to recognize someone with a thank you. Many leaders actually think it’s a sign of weakness to thank a person who works for them. It is not, as a matter of fact, Authentic Servant Leaders seldom miss an opportunity to show their appreciation for a job well done. Don’t overlook the power of those two words and how they recognize a person.

Honor every commitment. Everybody knows undependable people. They say they will meet us and they never show. They are constantly canceling lunch plans at the last minute or not confirming their plans to attend until the very last second. The message they send is that their schedule is far more important than yours. If that by chance describes you then you need to change that habit. Show the other person they matter by honoring all commitments that you make in the time frame that you make them. Doing anything else is telling the person that they don’t truly matter.

You will never meet a person who doesn’t matter. It takes only a little forethought to let them know that you know, without a doubt, that they matter to you.

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I Can and You Can Too

Few things in life give me as much pleasure as doing something someone says I can’t do. Now, I’m not talking about breaking rules although I have been known to improve a few rules by doing something outside the guidelines. What I’m talking about is doing something that someone says I don’t have the ability, knowledge, or tenacity to do.

When someone says I can’t my first thought is I can if I decide I can. You can too!

The very first step in the journey to success is deciding that you will succeed…no matter what. Babe Ruth, the great American Baseball player said “It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.” You may not be the fastest to the finish line but perseverance, the ability to finish what you start is an absolute necessity when seeking success.

Do you know who won the 1968 Olympic Marathon in Mexico City? I don’t know either…but I do know who came in last. John Stephen Akhwari a Tanzanian runner cramped up during the race due to the high altitude of the city. At the 19 kilometer point during the 42 km race, there was jockeying for position between some runners and he was hit. He fell, badly injuring his knee and shoulder. But he continued running, finishing dead last among the 57 competitors who completed the race. The winner of the race finished in 2:20:26. John Stephen Akhwari finished in 3:25:27, when there were only a few thousand people left in the stadium, and the sun had already set. A television crew was sent out from the medal ceremony when word was received that there was one more runner about to finish.

As he finally crossed the finish line a cheer came from the small crowd. When interviewed later and asked why he continued running, he said, “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race; they sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.” In my book John Stephen Akhwari was a huge success that day. Anyone can start something but it takes a successful person to finish it.

When you think to yourself that “I can’t” you make it much less likely that you will. When you say “I can’t” out loud you make it virtually certain that you won’t. 

Some clever person once said “Success comes in cans…failure comes in “can’ts.” That’s almost too clever to write but the fact is, it’s true. Thinking you “can’t” is like giving yourself permission to fail, worse yet, it could even give you permission to not even try. 

Never let anyone tell you that you can’t succeed and never, never, tell that lie to yourself. 

Remember, winning doesn’t always mean coming in first and winning doesn’t always mean performing the best. Sometimes winning just means finishing what you started even when most everyone else believes you can’t. 

 
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The Value of Core Values

Do you know your core values? It may seem like a simple question but it’s shocking how many people say yes and then can’t site even one true core value. They kind of float through life letting other people and random circumstances dictate their decisions. 

If that describes you then you should know that’s a high price to pay for never taking the time to truly reflect on what matters, to think back on the times when you followed a principle rather than a popular opinion. Without a solid understanding of your core values you can sometimes feel as if your life has lost its direction and purpose. You know something is just “off” and that something needs to change, you’re just not sure what.

When you define your core values you also discover what’s truly important to you. Core values, those ideas, beliefs, and principles that you hold closest are your guide to every decision and choice you make. 

Identifying and understanding your values is a challenging exercise but one that all truly successful people undertake from time to time. Their core values very rarely change but they review them periodically to keep them top of mind. It is a serious investment of time but one that is well worth the effort. When you understand and can readily identify your core values you’ll find it easier to make even the toughest decisions. Every choice either aligns with your values or they don’t; decisions don’t become smaller or less important but they do become easier, much easier.

Here’s how to discover your own core values:

Write down your values, that’s all the “stuff” that matters to you, don’t judge, write them all down, big ones, small ones, serious ones and silly ones. Write them ALL down. Take as long as you need, there is no deadline here…it could be weeks, maybe even months.  

Once you believe your list is complete then start prioritizing. If you had to eliminate one value which one would go away? Eliminate that value from your list, it doesn’t mean it’s not an important value, it’s just not a “core” value.

Review and prioritize your values list everyday until you have just 6 or 7 on your list…those are likely your core values.

Once you have your core values defined put some depth and specificity to them. Don’t leave yourself any wriggle room or wiggle you will. Share your values with those close to you. Share them with your mentor or accountability partner. 

You will find your core values and principles are easier to discover than they are to live so don’t be timid when asking for help to live them.

 
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The Caring Leader

Many leadership gurus and experts say that in order to truly lead people you must care about them. While I would never claim the mantle of leadership expert or guru I would certainly agree that caring for people is an essential quality of leadership. 

You either care about people or you don’t. There is no in between. You don’t have to like someone personally to care about them, it certainly is easier but for an Authentic Servant Leader “liking” someone is not required to care about them.

You can’t really teach someone to care but you can help them see value in other people and seeing value in someone is where caring begins. I’m not talking about “value” in terms of what they can do for you, the value I’m taking about is the value that a human being brings to the table just by being themselves. 

A great measure of authenticity in a leader is how they treat people who can absolutely nothing for them. If they are still willing to help, support and guide that individual when they know there will be no personal return on that time investment then it’s highly likely they actually care about other people. 

An early step on the road to becoming an Authentic Servant Leader is to understand that every person has value, even the ones who are different than you and even the ones who hide their value deep inside. If your prerequisite for caring about someone is that they think and act just like you then you may be a boss but you are most certainly not an Authentic Servant Leader. 

Authentic Servant Leaders understand the value of diverse opinions and thoughts and they work to learn from people different than themselves. If you’re surrounding yourself with like-minded people then you will struggle to grow as a leader. It is by allowing other people to be who they are that you become a better person and a better leader.

Your leadership is about the people you lead, it is not about you. People will not truly follow you until they know that you truly care about them and if they don’t follow then you cannot lead. It’s a pretty simple equation. 

The challenge for Authentic Servant Leaders is not just caring for people that they don’t like, the ultimate challenge is caring for people they actually dislike. President Abraham Lincoln once said, “I don’t like that man, I must get to know him better.” 

Do you have the courage of Lincoln to invest time with those you truly dislike in order to discover the unique value they bring into the world? If you do then you will create the opportunity for yourself to really care about them. 

It’s truly a challenge to care for someone you would rather avoid when you see them coming down the hall. It’s a challenge that Authentic Servant Leaders are willing to accept.

Are you willing to accept it? 

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The Best Kind of Mistake

Everybody makes mistakes. The most successful people admit to them quickly.

The best kind of mistake you can make is one that you learn from. The worst mistakes are the ones you won’t admit. Those are the worst mistakes because you are very unlikely to learn anything from a mistake that you don’t have the courage to admit. 

Yes, I said courage because most of us have been taught that mistakes are bad, mistakes are shameful and mistakes lead to failure. If you’ve been taught that your entire life then it indeed takes courage to stand up and say that you messed up.

If you “secretly” know that you’ve made a mistake it’s a pretty safe bet that other people know it too, or they will soon enough. If you’ve made a mistake the first step in learning from it is to admit it, admit it to yourself and anyone else that needs to know. You don’t need to announce it to the world but don’t try to hide it from people close to you either.

Mistakes are inevitable and if you spend time with people who expect you to be perfect then you may want to find some other people to spend time with.

To learn from a mistake you must also understand the difference between a reason and an excuse. If you are very good at finding excuses for your mistakes then you won’t be very good at learning from them. If you understand the reasons for your mistakes then you have a chance to learn. 

One way to find the reason for a mistake is to understand the difference between an actual mistake and a bad decision. First of all, if you’ve made the same “mistake” several times it likely isn’t a mistake at all, it’s a poor decision. Mistakes repeated again and again are actually choices and to avoid these “mistakes” you must simply make better choices. 

For instance, in most cases being late for work isn’t a mistake. It resulted from a bad decision, either to stay up too late, to sleep in too long at just not leave home soon enough. If you don’t want to be late then make a decision to leave home earlier.

It’s also important to understand that not all mistakes are the result of something you’ve done. Many mistakes come from doing nothing, nothing at all. Some people fear mistakes so much that they won’t make decisions for fear of making a bad one. They fail to understand that not making a decision IS a decision and it is the wrong decision in almost every circumstance. You can learn from both types of mistakes but mistakes born out of inaction often seem to be far more expensive to fix.

Learn to view your mistakes as opportunities for growth. Don’t go out of your way to make mistakes but don’t hide from trying new things to avoid them either. 

If you’re only making little mistakes then you’re probably not pushing the edges of your comfort zone enough. Growth doesn’t come from repeatedly doing what we are good at, it comes from trying new things. Allow yourself a mistake now and then and when mistakes happen embrace them as an opportunity to discover a better way of doing something. 

You may think that never trying new things protects you from mistakes but if your goal is to grow then not attempting something new is the biggest mistake you can make. 

Never make that mistake! 

 
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Are You a Born Leader?

The question of whether leaders are made or born is about as old as leadership itself. I am firmly on the “made” side. 

While some people do seem to be born with certain traits of leadership; extraversion, self-confidence, and courage are but a few that come to mind, there are many people who have those traits and yet never lead. So traits alone do not make a leader.

There are also readily identifiable qualities and characteristics of leadership but merely possessing those characteristics does not make a person a leader. For instance, I believe that to lead people you must care about them, truly truly care. So caring is a prime leadership characteristic for me. But I know many many caring people who do not seek leadership opportunities. 

It is ultimately the actions of an individual that makes them a leader. It’s what they do with the qualities and characteristics that they possess they will determine their ability to lead. 

So, if a leader is made then who makes them. Well, certainly not me! Certainly not any of the other gazillion trainers, speakers, coaches and mentors who claim to develop leaders. 

I firmly believe that leaders are made and I even more firmly believe that leaders are self-made. I might be able to help someone develop themselves as a leader but they do the hard work, not me.

Let me explain. I can share with people what leadership qualities and characteristics are important for a leader. I can say caring is important but I can’t “teach” someone to care. I can point out caring people and use them as an example of the behavior to model but a “would be” leader must decide for themselves to actually care. 

Courage is also a key characteristic of effective leadership and it is another characteristic of a leader that can be learned but it can’t be taught. It must be experienced, it must be witnessed, it must be modeled, and then it can be adopted by the would be leader. No one can “teach” another person to be courageous.

It is said, and agreed upon by most, that great leaders build more leaders, not more followers. But great leaders don’t teach leadership, they merely model it for their followers every single day. In other words, great leaders show their followers what they need to learn.

If you are a would be leader yourself then here is a tip: don’t expect someone to teach you how to lead. Follow a great leader, and pay attention to how they lead. Listen intensely, watch closely, adopt their characteristics and then adapt them to who you are. 

Other people can help you become a leader but they can only help. Whether or not you truly lead will depend largely on the decisions you make for yourself. 

So…will you decide to Lead Today?

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Think About This

When was the last time you stopped to think? I mean think, really really think. When was the last time you turned off, completely off, all your gadgets, screens, and computer to just sit quietly in thought?

If you’re like most people it’s probably been a long time, a very long time. Thinking, really thinking, about yourself, your life, and your legacy has never been harder. That little helper you carry around everywhere you go (some people call it a Smartphone) robs you of truly quiet time. 

These days “thinking” is too often equated with day dreaming and it’s frowned upon. If you have time to think then apparently you aren’t productive enough. If you have time to think then you have extra “bandwidth” and you should be doing something real with it, not wasting it thinking.” That’s what bad bosses and poor leaders believe anyway.

The fact is thinking, truly thinking, can be one of the most productive activities you will ever do. I’m not talking about becoming “lost in thought,” just the opposite, I’m talking about being “found in thought.”

I suppose some people might call it critical thinking but I’m not smart enough to write about that. What I’m talking about is just slowing down enough and eliminating the distractions that are now so common we don’t even realize they are distractions, and just considering your life. 

Your phone is a distraction, the little noise your computer makes every time an email arrives is a distraction. The sound machine you use to block out distractions is a distraction. Great thinking requires silence and solitude, as in the absence of noise and distractions.

If fact, maybe reflection is a more accurate term then just thinking. Whatever you want to call it, maybe I’ll call it reflective thinking, just stopping everything else to think from time to time has real benefits. 

It helps you learn from your mistakes. I wouldn’t encourage anyone to dwell on their mistakes but investing at least a little time to reflect on how they happen helps ensure we don’t endlessly repeat them. Mistakes can be a great learning tool, if we stop long enough to consider how they happen and what to do differently next time. 

Thinking is where great ideas originate. Taking stock of where you are in life, in your relationships, in your career, and just in general provides you with a guide for planning your future. It’s really difficult to know how to get someplace if you don’t know where you are to begin with. You might get lucky and things will work out but I for one don’t really want to count on luck for my success.

Thinking gives you fresh perspectives. Everybody, well most everybody, likes a good pity party now and then. True reflection brings that to a halt pretty quickly. I’d hazard a guess that on your worst day you’re better off than most people. Life is made up of good and bad and if you invest your time thinking about the good you’ll see just how much good there really is to enjoy.

If you really want to invest some time in reflective thinking then you’ll need to develop some discipline to do. If you were to look at my calendar you would see 30 minutes, everyday, every single day, set aside for planning. That’s my time, it’s from 5:00-5:30am each morning. I’m the only one in the house awake at that time, there are no distractions and most of that time I’m just thinking. A good many of these blog posts are thought up during that time. I take just a few minutes looking back at yesterday to see what I need to be better at today. I make a plan to get closer to one of my goals that very day. The 30 minutes fly by.

I do it at the same time everyday, no matter what else is going on. It’s safe to say those 30 minutes are the most valuable minutes of my day and I rarely give them up for anything. 

What do you think about the idea of stopping everything just to think? If you have ever thought about doing it then set aside some time, some distraction free time, and give it a try today. Please don’t tell me that you don’t have time, I won’t accept that as an excuse. It’s a question of priorities, not time.

Oh, just one other little caveat…thinking is vital to success but all the thinking in the world does little good if it isn’t followed up by doing.