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How to be a Better Listener

I could make this the shortest post in the history of blogging by simply writing “be quiet.” 

But I won’t.

I recall a time years ago when a friend of mine was flying from Minneapolis to Tampa. That’s a fairly long flight and almost as soon as he found his seat the person next to him began talking. His seat mate talked the entire flight with my friend just interjecting a word or a nod here and there.

When the flight landed his seat mate complimented him on his terrific conversational skills. They said it was the most enjoyable conversation they had ever had on a flight. 

My friends “secret” to a great conversation was his ears. He listened well. 

If you want to be a good listener then you’re going to have to listen. Really really listen. Linger on the words of the person speaking long enough to truly hear them and not just hear them but understand them. 

Great listeners understand this simple truth: if you’re talking then you’re not listening. When you’re talking you might be able to hear what the other person is saying but you’re not listening in a meaningful way.

You’ll learn more in an hour of listening then you can learn in a month of talking so if you want to learn more then listen more and listen better.

To be a better listener understand the value of saying nothing when you have nothing of value to say. Saying less doesn’t make you a poor communicator, in fact, it just might make you a better one. 

If you really want to be a better listener then stop talking, that at least will be a pretty good start. Listening well requires focus so put the smartphone down, turn the TV off, look the other person in the eye, be quiet and LISTEN, really really listen.

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How to Build People

Leadership is about people, and people only.

You manage things; budgets, inventories, and plans but you lead people. The ultimate goal of leading people should be building them and helping them succeed.

One of the biggest obstacles to building people is time. People development requires time, and most people in leadership positions are incredibly busy people. The speed of business is increasing by the day and with that speed comes a bushel of urgent tasks. The problem is, urgent things are very often not the most important thing you can be doing. They also are frequently not the most productive thing you could be doing.

In my perhaps not so humble opinion building people is one of the most productive actions a leader can take. But for too many leaders the urgent stuff gets in the way. It’s called the tyranny of the urgent. It prevents well intentioned leaders from doing the important things that offer a high return on their time investment.

If you’re a leader who sees developing your people as an expense of your time then you likely won’t take or find the time required to build them. However, if you see developing your people as an investment, an investment of your time, then you are likely to find or make the time required to build them.

So how exactly do you invest this time you’ve worked so hard to find?

Well, you invest it in getting to know you’re people, in understanding their motivations and how you can help them stay engaged. You invest time to show them how much you care. You invest time to demonstrate to your people how they make a difference. 

Some leaders say their people are their most important asset, successful leaders don’t waste time saying…. they use their time showing.

Showing your people that they are worth your time is the fastest and most effective way to build your people. Don’t be a “say” leader, be a “show” leader and start building your people today.

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Do the Right Thing

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received is this: when you don’t know what to do just do the next right thing. 

It might be a small thing, it might not get you far and it might seem like it doesn’t matter. But it does!

Doing the right thing, however small very often leads directly to doing the next right thing and a few “right things” in a row can add up to something very good, very very good.

Even when we can’t see the big picture, even when we don’t know exactly what to do, we can almost almost find some little “right thing” and that’s the thing to do. It’s called progress; sometimes we make progress in big steps and sometimes in small steps but this much is clear; successful people are almost always making some sort of progress.

If you truly don’t know what the next right thing is then ask. This is where having a mentor in your life can make a huge difference. Ask your mentor for their opinion on the next right thing. 

You need, yes NEED, a mentor who cares enough about you to be honest. Your mentor should have no ulterior motive for helping you. The best mentors help people because for them, it’s the next right thing to do.

If you don’t have a mentor then ask someone who you trust, someone you see as successful, someone who you see yourself becoming, to be your mentor today.

I know that doing the next right thing sounds very simplistic but all too often it is anything but easy. Doing the right thing can be very hard, especially when compared to doing the easy thing. 

The easy way seldom brings any real value into your life but the right thing almost always does. Doing the right thing is always better then doing nothing and it is way better than doing the wrong thing. 

Do the next right thing, do it for the right reasons and you’ll soon discover that you can never go wrong by doing right.

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Transformational Leadership

One of the eight major leadership theories is known as the Relationship Theory of Leadership, also known as Transformational Leadership. Transformational leaders motivate and inspire people by helping team members see the importance of their role within the organization. These leaders are focused on the performance of team members and also want to help each person fulfill his or her potential. Leaders with this style often have high ethical and moral standards.

I am a big fan of and believer in Transformational Leadership. 

I believe in Transformational Leadership because transformational leaders leave something of value behind after they are gone. They leave more leaders. 

Transactional Leaders have high but reasonable expectations for their people. They inspire them to put forth their best effort because it is simply the right thing to do. They help their people through coaching and mentoring to achieve extraordinary outcomes and to develop their own leadership skills. In short, they help ordinary people accomplish the extraordinary.

Transformational leaders help followers grow by responding to their followers’ needs and by empowering them to make decisions. These leaders help to align the objectives and goals of the individual followers with the goals and objectives of the team and even the larger organization.

Researchers have found that this style of leadership indeed has the desired positive effect on people. “Research evidence clearly shows that groups led by transformational leaders have higher levels of performance and satisfaction than groups led by other types of leaders,” explained psychologist and leadership expert Ronald E. Riggio in an article appearing on the Psychology Today website. 

Transformational Leadership reinforces the importance of truly caring for the people you lead. Transformational Leadership requires that the leader invest a part of themselves in their people and that they care as much (or more) about the success of their people as they do their own.

Transformational Leaders fully understand that ultimately their own success is completely dependent upon the success of their people. Virtually every action they take and every word they speak reflects that understanding. 

The effort required to be a Transformational Leader is substantial but so are the rewards. Anyone can build stuff but it takes a special kind of person to build people, especially people who themselves become leaders.

Transformational Leadership is a rewarding style of leadership and if the leaders you help build eventually build leaders of their own then the rewards can go on indefinitely. 

Now that’s what I call leadership! 

 
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Leadership is About Doing

Leadership is more about what you’re doing today than it is about what you did yesterday.

You may have done lots of great things yesterday that helped you earn your leadership position. Having a leadership position however does not make you a leader. Even being a great leader yesterday does not ensure you’re a great leader today.

You never “arrive” as a leader because the leadership journey never stops. Great leaders know that since their people are always evolving that they must evolve as well. They are constantly learning, always growing and perpetually looking for new ways to help their people succeed. 

No matter how effective you may have been yesterday if you’re not trying to be better today then your ability to lead will quickly fail you…and your people. 

We can talk forever about the characteristics of a leader but merely having some or even all of those characteristics does not make you a leader. It’s putting those characteristics to work, actually DOING something with them that makes you a leader. 

When you demonstrate that you care about your people, that’s doing.

When you model the behavior you want and need from your people, that’s doing.

When you cast the vision for your organization and people, that’s doing.

When you make the tough decisions that others are afraid to make, that’s doing.

When you’re willing to risk a confrontation to resolve issues and help people grow, that’s doing too!

What you did in the past may have earned you a leadership position but what you do today and tomorrow will determine if you’re really a leader. A leadership position is not someplace you go to rest on your laurels, it’s a place that you go to build upon them. 

If you were to go on trial this week, charged with being a leader, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

If you’re answer is anything other than an absolute yes then perhaps you’re a little short in the area of doing. The good news is, building a case for your leadership ability is completely within your control. 

The only question is, will you DO anything about it?

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5 Cents

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. – Mark Twain

Nobody can be right all the time but the best leaders are indeed right far more often than not. They are right more often than not because they best leaders have good judgment. The simple definition of judgment is: an opinion or decision that is based on careful thought or the act or process of forming an opinion or making a decision after careful thought.

Both of those definitions have the term “careful thought” in common. A decision based on careless thought is rarely a good decision and never as good of a decision as it could have been. 

A ball and a bat together cost $1.10. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? 

Research says that 79% of the people who just answered that question instinctively, without careful thought answered that question wrong. 

Great leaders think and they think carefully before making a decision. They consider the consequences of their decision and the consequences of those consequences. Like a chess master they think several steps ahead of most people.

Great leaders think bigger.

Most importantly they know what they don’t know. They don’t assume much if anything. They verify their facts, they have people who they can bounce ideas off of, they count on those people to tell them the truth, not just what they want to hear.

The best leaders know that they can find out about the things they don’t know. They also know that their real problems come from “knowing” things that just aren’t true.

I think most people actually have the potential to have good judgment, they appear to lack good judgment because their decisions are instinctive rather than informed. They sometimes seem to think that a quick decision is better than a delayed decision. Great leaders know that a delayed right decision will beat a quick wrong decision every single time. Every single time.

I know I’m likely to get hundreds of tweets and responses saying I should go back to school and study math because they believe the answer to my earlier question is indeed 10 cents. 

I thought about telling you why 10 cents is wrong but I’m not going to. Instead I’ll tell you this, if you’re willing to pay attention, really pay attention, then all the information you need to make good decisions and show good judgment is readily available to you. 

You only need to pay real attention, you must linger on the words on the person you’re speaking with until you truly understand what they mean. You must read every word in a sentence because words matter, if you don’t your brain will play tricks on you and make you think that $1.05 is really $1.00. 

Your judgment improves when you think bigger, listen intently and observe with both your eyes and your mind wide open. You have good judgement, the question is will you develop the skills you need to make use of it. 

When you do, you’ll know without a doubt that the ball costs a mere 5 cents.

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Results Aren’t all That Matters

If you’re a leader then you surely know that results matter. You’re in your position to get things done and as a leader you coach, motivate, and teach other people to help you get them done.

As a leader you must also know that results aren’t all that matters. Success is important but how you succeed is vital. Leaders who are willing to succeed “at all costs” almost always eventually learn that some costs are just too high, regardless of the level of success. (For the purpose of discussion here I should point out that the particular results I’m writing about are the “bottom line, profit driven” type of results)

If you’re a sales leader you must produce the numbers. If you’re a leader in finance you must make certain the numbers are accurate. If you’re an IT leader you must keep your network secure. Wherever you lead there is a desired result to be achieved. 

Authentic Servant Leaders are results driven, there should be no question about that. But they balance that drive with additional, equally important drives. It’s these additional “drivers” that help ensure their success as leaders goes beyond mere bottom line results.

First and foremost Authentic Servant leaders work to build trust in everything they do. 

They create a transparent organization where secrets are kept to an absolute minimum. They know that information isn’t powerful when it’s locked away in a safe. Information only becomes useful when it is shared with the people who can use it to accomplish something. 

Authentic Servant Leaders confront reality, always, and that helps them right the wrongs they comes across almost as fast as they come across them. It should be noted here that this is one of the biggest failings of leaders who are solely results driven. They allow “wrongs” to live and grow in the name of results. To them the ends absolutely justify the means. They don’t just bend the rules, they obliterate them. It’s that attitude that destroys trust and without trust they cannot truly lead.

Authentic Servant Leaders build trust through accountability and they know that accountability begins with them. They do not expect more of their people then they expect of themselves and those expectations are laid out for everyone in a clear and concise manner. They are measurable and durable, the expectations and how they are measured do not change for the sole purpose of achieving the desired bottom line result.

Authentic Servant Leaders never forget that ethics and morales must always outweigh the drive for results. They are more than willing to suffer a short-term setback for long-term success achieved with honor. They know that it’s not just what they achieve that matters, they know that how they achieved it matters even more.

If that all seems too pollyanna to you then perhaps you’re a bit too bottom line results driven to be a truly Authentic Servant Leader. You may want to consider balancing your need for results with the need to actually lead as well.