Old Advice

Someone asked me a few day ago how I write this blog, they wondered if I had a bunch of posts “in progress” that were partially written that I selected from when I needed a post and had no fresh ideas.


Well, that’s is sometimes the case. I most often write early in the morning and once I start a post I usually finish it in one sitting. Sometimes I write when something makes me mad, those posts are often left unfinished and are seldom published. (I know there are lots of people who would like to see those posts but I don’t think so, perhaps I’ll save those for the book I might never write)


This particular post is one of those “mad” posts but I’m most certainly going to finish it and I’m definitely going to publish it… I owe it to the limited thinkers who made me mad in the first place. So here we go…


Ordinarily I’d say doing something a particular way just because it’s always been done that way is a terrible reason for doing it. Continually repeating a process “just because” indicates lazy thinking and can result in inferior results. I frequently tell people that just because something isn’t broke doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be. 


The most successful people are always on the lookout for a better way of doing most everything. 


But every once in a while there isn’t a better way. Doing something the same way over a long period of time turns out to be the best way to do it. If you’ve seriously considered alternatives to the way you’re doing something today and found those alternatives to be lacking then don’t be afraid to stick with the status quo. But don’t quit looking either.


As leery as I am when I hear someone say “we’ve always done it way” I’m just as troubled when I hear someone say “we’re changing because it just seems like it’s time for a change.”


We’re changing because it’s time for a change is a horrible reason to change. You might just as well buy lottery tickets because your chances for success are about the same. Change for the sake of change indicates the same lazy level of thinking as “we’ve always done it that way.” 


You have no idea if the change is in the right direction, you’ve likely invested very little time in considering why it is being done the way it is and even less time considering the consequences and expense associated with the change. If the change works out you just got lucky and if you’re counting on luck then don’t count on much success.


Which brings me to the reason for this post. In trying to help someone understand why something was done the way it was done it was hinted to me that my “old advice” was of no use anymore. 


The person seemed to indicate that experience was in fact a handicap and advice stemming from experience should be discounted or just outright ignored. 


Wisdom doesn’t always come with experience; sometimes experience just shows up alone…. but not very often. Failing to use another person’s experience is an unforced error. It’s costly, it slows down progress and it’s just not very smart. Smart people learn from their mistakes, the smartest people learn from the mistakes of others.

If you choose to ignore the experience of those who have gone before you then you do so at your own peril, and let there be no doubt, it is perilous indeed.

The Mistaken Leader

Lots, in fact most, people newly promoted to a position of leadership make the huge mistake of believing that their new position actually makes them a leader. 


They are mistaken. 


Being promoted to a leadership position and given a fancy title does not make you a leader. No matter what position you hold or title you have you must earn the right to truly lead. Leading others requires at least some level of commitment from them and you cannot force commitment, you can only earn it.


Perhaps the fastest and certainly the best way to earn the right to lead is to consistently demonstrate that you care for the people you would lead. The best leaders proactively and intentionally show they care, they show that they understand that they lead human beings with goals, challenges and life circumstances just like every other human being. 


They don’t “take” the time to know their people, they don’t “make” the time, and they don’t “find” time to interact with their people. They “invest” time with their people so that they truly know them and that “invest in people” mindset makes all the difference in the world. 


When a person in a leadership position sees their people as an investment it changes how they relate to them in every situation. If you as a leader feel forced to “spend” time on your people that too will affect how you relate to them and they will feel as if they are an expense and not an investment. That’s not a feeling that leads to commitment. 

Don’t be a mistaken leader. Regardless of your role, title or position work hard to earn the trust and respect of your people on a daily basis. There really is no other way to authentically lead.

The High Cost of Low Action

Few things grow as effortlessly as a problem ignored. Yet many times that’s just what less experienced leaders do, they ignore problems. Truth be told, very experienced leaders have been known to make this mistake as well.


It’s an easy trap to fall into.They tell themselves “It’s not so bad” and delude themselves with the hope that their circumstances will somehow just get better over time and things will “work themselves out.” They come up with poor excuses for why staying with the status quo is a good option; why playing it safe and not putting themselves at risk of failing or looking foolish is “plausible.”  


In reality, things that aren’t working out well now only tend to get worse over time, not better, and issues that remain unaddressed tend to grow larger, not smaller.


Some people won’t even admit the problem exists in the first place. Others “decide” the problem isn’t their fault or was caused by someone else thereby relieving themselves of any responsibility to deal with it. 


Doing nothing is easier, faster and cheaper….at least until the bill comes due. 


And it always comes due.


Authentic Leaders and successful people in general deal with problems as quickly as possible. Yes, sometimes they will live with it a bit but that’s only because they need to know a problem in order to solve it. 


If you want a greater level of success in your life and a lower amount of stress then deal with the problem the moment you have identified it. By “identify” I mean really identify, the number one reason most people fail at problem solving is that they deal with symptoms of the problem and never actually the root cause. 


One of my favorite stories is the one about the CEO of a dog food company who while speaking to his entire sales organization began his presentation by asking, “Who is the best dog food company in the world?” “WE ARE” shouted his charged up sales team. The CEO then asked, “Who makes the best dog food in the world?” “WE DO” his team answered in unison. Next he asked, “What dog food company has the best, most committed sales force in the industry?” With their loudest answer of all his team shouted, “IT’S US!”


Finally the CEO asks, “Well, then, why aren’t we selling more dog food?” Upon asking that question a silence fell over the room, it lasted for what seemed like an eternity until one brave salesperson responded with a hushed reply. He simply said, “The dogs don’t like it.”


Now, how many companies do you think would have doubled their marketing efforts, maybe replaced their sales force or perhaps even lowered their price, all in the attempt to deal with the “problem” of low sales? 


That’s an example of dealing with symptoms of a problem rather than the actual problem. I would however give those companies some credit, they at least tried to deal with the problem. 


Problems seldom if ever go away by ignoring them. It almost always costs more in the long run to dismiss problems than it does to deal with them quickly. Low action problem solving is the shortest path to high cost problems.

Authentic Leaders don’t dodge problems, they deal with them….are you ready to Lead Today?

The No Recognition Zone

If you’re in a leadership position then you must know this absolute fact: people need and respond to recognition. If you’re actually going to lead however you must do more than know it, you must actively practice the skill of recognizing those you lead. 


People have needed recognition since…well since Adam complimented Eve on her choice of apples….okay, so that didn’t work out so well but you get my point.


It’s amazing to me that even though they know this fact so many people in leadership positions fail to recognize their people for their efforts. I guess they just get busy or they think their people already know that they are important to the organization. (I’ve used those two poor excuses myself)


But the most effective leaders are never too busy…or lazy, to recognize their people. They are incredibly intentional and consistent with recognition and compliments for their team. They make it a point to look for reasons to compliment; they make it a habit to recognize someone on an almost daily basis. 


Authentic Servant Leaders create a culture of recognition within their organizations. They understand that recognition helps keep their people engaged and motivated. 


As a leader you simply cannot afford to fail in this area. You must set aside time in your day just for this purpose. I often ask leaders of organizations what their greatest asset is within their organization. They almost always say it’s their people. 


Then, in very nearly the next breath, they tell me that they don’t have the time to consistently recognize their people. When I point out that spending time on less important things while pretty much ignoring their greatest asset is not a great recipe for success they realize the mistake they have been making.


Don’t make that all too common mistake, plan some recognition time into your day. Encourage others on your team to recognize their fellow team members, make your organization one where even the little successes are celebrated. If the recognition is done with sincerity it never gets old. 


If your organization is known as a no recognition zone, well that kind of environment gets old pretty darn quick. 


So right now, reach out to someone in person, through a phone call or even an email and let them know they matter, let them know you recognize and appreciate them and their efforts. 

It truly takes so little time when compared to the value it will add to their day. So go ahead …do it now!

The Coaching Cookie

I frequently start leadership presentations by asking the audience to share in one word a key responsibility of leadership.


It doesn’t take long for someone to come up with the word “coach” and they are exactly right. Leaders should always be coaching their people towards their next accomplishment and greater success.


Too often however leaders believe the time for coaching is only when corrective action is required. They coach to “fix” someone or something. Now that’s certainly appropriate but it shouldn’t be the only time you coach. 


Another great time to coach is when someone has done something well. That’s when you coach for positive reinforcement. The key difference between the two of course is that coaching for corrective action is best done privately while coaching for positive reinforcement can be done publicly. 


Early in my career I was taught the concept of “The Coaching Cookie.” This is a practice we use when coaching for corrective action. It begins with a compliment, then you state the area needing improvement and finish up your coaching conversation with another compliment. 


In the hands of an Authentic Servant Leader that concept can work well. It works for them because their compliments are sincere and they provide in-depth information as to exactly what needs to improve, precisely what “improvement” will look like and how it will be measured. Their “cookie” isn’t filled with fluff, it’s filled with nourishing insights. 


The problem I have with this particular coaching concept is that too many people in leadership positions simply use it as a conflict avoidance tool. They focus on the compliments while understating the corrective action required. These “leaders” are more concerned with avoiding conflict than building people.


Anytime you’re going to coach your people, for whatever reason, you should be very thoughtful about it. Invest some time in getting this right. If you’re going to use the Coaching Cookie then make sure your filling is meaningful. Be clear, be specific and add a dash of accountability by including a date to review whether the improvement was achieved. 


Avoiding conflict by failing to coach your people isn’t helping you and it most certainly isn’t helping them. 

One characteristic of a truly Authentic Servant Leader is that they care enough to coach even in difficult circumstances. Do your people see that characteristic in you? If not you have the power to change that; you only have to decide that you will.

Leading from the Front

Most commonly leaders lead from the front. There is nothing wrong with that, usually. But, if you’re only leading from the front you run the danger of getting too far out in front of your people and when you turn around there’s actually no one there anymore. 


Authentic Servant Leaders never outrun their people in their rush to succeed. 


Hopefully you’ve found yourself in a leadership position because in some way, or perhaps many ways, you have outrun your competition for the position. If that’s the case then one of the first things you need to do upon becoming a leader is slow your roll. Stop trying to outrun everyone else, the race is over. 


If you consistently outrun the people you’re supposed to be leading it won’t be long before you’re leading no one. You may have incredibly high expectations for yourself but it is a mistake to transfer the expectations you have for yourself to everyone else in your organization. 


They may not be as committed as you are, they may not have the same skill level as you, they may value “life balance” more than you and there are a hundred other things that could cause them to not keep up with your pace.


As a leader it’s your job to help them exceed their expectations for themselves and overcome any artificial limitations they may have. But…. and this is big, setting unrealistic and unreasonable expectations for your people will cause them to fail as surely as having no expectations at all. 


Authentic Servant Leaders lead from the front and pull their people to success, they occasionally lead from the rear and push their people further than they thought they could go. Most often however, Authentic Servant Leaders lead from the middle. It’s leading from the middle that allows a leader to come along side of their people and coach them to success. 


When a leader coaches their people to success they ensure that their leadership legacy outlasts their leadership. When a leader leads from the front or rear they tend to make more and frankly, better followers. But Authentic Servant Leaders know that true leadership success means making more than just followers, it means making more leaders.


That requires being close to your people. It requires that you never get so far out in front of them that they lose sight of you. It would be simple to say that if your people can’t see you then they can’t follow you. But the fact is if they can’t see you, hear you, and even feel you then they can’t learn from you. 


You can’t grow your organization without growing your people. You can’t grow your people by separating yourself from them. One of the fastest ways to separate yourself from your people is to outrun them.

Stay close to your people, never think of them as slowing you down. Think of yourself as the leader who helps them move forward as fast, but never faster, than they possible can. 

Do You Know The People You Lead?

One of the more critical responsibilities of leadership is making sure you have the right people in the right positions. Leaders who don’t understand this fail, and they take their people right into the pit of failure with them. 


You can have one of the most talented people in the world on your team but if you don’t put them in a position to succeed then their chance at success goes way way down. 


Albert Einstein said that “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by it’s ability to climb a tree, it will spend it’s whole life believing that it is stupid.” So it is with people too! 


You may not see all of your people as geniuses but each of them indeed has their own set of strengths and as a leader it is incumbent upon you to make certain that those strengths are put to good use. Doing so is good for both your organization AND your people.


One of the challenges many leaders face is that they simply do not truly know their people. They don’t know their motivations, they don’t know their goals (or if they even have any) and they don’t know what challenges their people are facing in their own lives. Too many leaders are almost completely unaware of the totality of their people’s strengths and that results in people locked into jobs that are often far below their abilities. 


No one wins when that happens. Underutilized people become unmotivated people in the blink of an eye. If you don’t know what you have in your people you’ll likely never get it out of them.


If you’re a leader and you’re not conducting regular “strength inventories” with your people then you run the risk of demotivating the very people you need to be as engaged as possible. Conducting these types of inventories requires you to interact with your people. It makes you get out from behind that Great Wall known as a desk and meet your people on their terms. Indeed, the huge side benefit of conducting “strength inventories” is you’re also taking the pulse of your organization. 


Do not believe your organization is so big that you as the leader can’t do this. You may leave some of the inventories to your HR group or other leaders but every leader in your organization should be doing at least some inventories of their own people. 

Not providing your people the opportunity to fully utilize their skills is one of the fastest ways to lose them. If you’re lucky once you lose them they will move on to greener pastures, if you’re not lucky then you’ll lose them and they will stay in your organization.