The Art of Leadership

There is well documented science behind the management of things. You input a set of “ingredients,” follow a known and specific plan and presto, you almost always get the output you were looking for. 

 

It’s not that way with leadership. Managing is about things. Leadership is about people. When you manage a budget you input the numbers with a high degree of certainty that 2 plus 2 will equal 4. (Yes, I understand this may not be true if you work in government) When you lead people you can put 2 people in the same room, give them identical directions on preforming the identical task and get 2 drastically different results. 

 

A stoplight at an intersection demonstrates the difference between managing and leading. The red and green lights mean the same thing to everyone. You stop on red and go on green. 

 

The yellow lights however can mean very different, even opposite things. 

 

To some people yellow lights mean slow down. To other people the yellow light means go real fast. But that depends too. If you’re not in a hurry it may mean slow down but if you are in a hurry it might mean go real fast. 

 

The red and green lights are pretty straightforward, kind of like managing. The yellow lights have lots of variables and even those variables can change depending on the circumstances. That’s a lot like leading. 

 

Authentic Leaders know that while people can have similarities no two people are identical. They develop their people by using those diverse skills, varied knowledge and different experiences to mold a productive team. 

 

They rally those individuals to mutually agreed upon goals and objectives. Authentic Leaders encourage robust discussions to reach high-quality and correct decisions. While working as a team they establish both group and individual accountability. They learn from their successes and learn even more from their failures. Instead of assigning blame they look for solutions. 

 

Developing people is the true art in leadership. 

 

Authentic Leaders invest a significant part of each day practicing that art. They know that their success is completely dependent on the success of their people. They understand that while quarterly profits and short-term metrics are important the development of their people is the only way to truly sustainable success. 

 

They inspire their people to do great things, often things their people never thought possible. Authentic Leaders work tirelessly to help their people stay highly motivated. They motivate them with a combination of rewards and sincere recognition. 

 

People are the priority for Authentic Leaders. They understand that all the growth and success of any organization comes from the efforts of the people who make up the organization. Their words, actions, values, vision, and ethics all reflect that understanding. 


So….do you understand?


Abandoning Assumptions

If you’re a leader then you undoubtedly know the dangers inherent in assuming. Yet, if you’re like too many leaders you assume your assumptions are correct. It’s other people’s assumptions that you worry about. 

 

We need to look no further than the politics of the day to see how that works out. Assuming your “side” is correct just because it’s your “side” is a terrible mistake. No matter how “firm” your assumption may be thinking something doesn’t make it so. 

 

Assumptions, especially assuming you are right because you’re the leader, makes it hard to adjust to the changing environment around you. That kind of assuming makes it hard for new ideas to see the light of day. That kind of assuming will extinguish even the most creative minds in your organization. That kind of assuming kills innovation. 

 

When a leader hangs onto assumptions, whatever those assumptions are based on, they close off their minds to all kinds of possibilities. Their mantra becomes some version of “we have always done it that way” or “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” 

 

Their people “learn” not to question the leader’s assumptions. That’s when trust in the organization’s leadership goes out the door. Morale and productivity go down and turnover goes up. 

 

Leaders must abandon all assumptions, especially their own if they hope to grow their people and their organization. 

 

It’s likely if you’ve been in a leadership position and done reasonably well with it that you’re thinking you don’t make assumptions. But that in itself is an assumption because your day is likely full of assumptions. You think it’s not because if you’re like most people you never slow down long enough to realize how much stuff you ”know” is actually just an assumption.

 

You assume your people understand you and that you understand them. You often assume you know what motivates them. You assume they trust you. You may even assume they are actually following you. 

 

Stop assuming and find out.

 

Find out by asking questions. Find out by investing the time required to truly know and understand your people. Find out by watching and working with them. Get out from behind that fancy desk and interact daily with the people you lead. 

 

Don’t assume anything. EVER! Most of all don’t assume to know more than you do simply because you hold a spot higher on an organizational chart than somebody else. 


Assumptions kill. Don’t let them kill you or your success.


Five Years is Too Long

Five years is a long time. Think about all that has changed in your life over the last five years. It’s kind of amazing for most people. 

 

But here’s one thing that new research shows likely hasn’t changed for you over the last five years…you haven’t made any new friends. At least if you live in the United States. 

 

The research shows that the vast majority of Americans have not made even one new friend in the last five years. The study was also specific about what qualifies as actual friendship. For instance, you can spend hundreds and hundreds of hours with a co-worker and still not develop a friendship. The study called those “relationships in a closed system wherein members have little influence on who else is included in the group.” 

 

The study suggests that you must move that relationship out of the workplace in order for it to have a chance to become a true friendship. They said on average it takes about 50 hours of time with someone before we consider them a casual friend, 90 hours to become real friends and over 200 hours to become close friends. All of those hours are outside of the workplace environment. 

 

The average adult American has 16 friends. Three friends for life, five people they like enough to hang out with one-on-one and eight people they like but don’t spend time with one-on-one or seek out. 

 

So what about you? When did you last make a new friend? Not somebody at work, not the barista at the coffee shop you stop at each morning. When was the last time you made a new real friend? I’ve asked this question of 20 people in the two hours before I wrote this post and not one, not even one, could remember making a new friend in the last 5 years. 

 

Neither can I.

 

The study provided several reasons why people have so much trouble making friends but it seems to me it’s harder the older you get. You’re not exposed to as many new acquaintances unless you make that happen. Most people don’t really make that happen.

 

We tend to stay close to the 16 friends we have and seldom reach out to new groups or try new activities where we might meet new people. We prefer the company of people who think like us and act like us. People like me would call that “cocooning in your comfort zone.” 

 

The thing is you don’t grow much when you are in your comfort zone. If you aren’t growing and learning and experiencing new things then nothing ever changes in your life. You become kind of stuck.

 

If that sounds like you then make a commitment right now to make a new friend by the end of this year. Not a new acquaintance. Not a new lunch buddy at work. A true new friend. 

 

Don’t expect someone to be your friend on their own. You be the one who gets the ball rolling. You be the one that risks that kind of weird and uncomfortable conversation. You be the one who makes a friend by being a friend. 

 

Five years is too long to go without a new friend. Whether you have more or less than the average of 16 friends adding one more could open you up to a whole new world. 


I’m sure it’s going to seem awkward to me at first but I’m going to do my best to start conversations with a few people who I could know better. Who knows, they just might be a friend in waiting.


Defining Ethics

The concept of ethics is easy to understand but it is difficult to define in a precise way. Ethical behavior refers to treating others fairly but “fair” isn’t exactly precise either. 

 

When I think of fair I think of things like being honest, maintaining trust and credibility. Fair to me means following the rules and behaving in a proper manner. It means doing your share of the work and accepting responsibility when you don’t do something you should have…or did something you shouldn’t have.

 

An ethical dilemma is a situation where you have multiple choices and each choice has some undesirable elements with negative ethical consequences. I hear about supposed ethical dilemmas from time to time but most often they don’t meet the true definition of a dilemma. They don’t meet the definition because while most of the choices might have the potential for negative ethical consequences there is at least one choice that doesn’t. 

 

The actual dilemma in those cases is that we want to make one of the choices with the negative ethical consequences. We see what’s right but what’s right is not necessarily what we want. So we claim an ethical dilemma and do whatever the heck we want. 

 

I’m tempted to say we have all, at one time or another, sacrificed our ethics for something we really wanted. But I can’t say all; surely there are people in the world who have such high ethical standards that they would never trade them for anything. 

 

I’d love to say I’m one of those people but I can’t say that either. Well, I could say it but lying about your ethics seems to me to be an especially egregious ethical violation. 

 

What I can say is that I’m a work in progress. I understand the three levels of ethics and I’m much closer today to level three than I’ve ever been. The struggle is that when I think I’ve got level three locked in I slip back to level two. That’s not bad but at level two your motivation can be called into question. 

 

Level one is what experts call the Pre conventional level. At this level an individual acts in their own best interest and only follows rules to avoid punishment or receive awards. They break moral and legal laws if they think they can do so without being caught. Sometimes they don’t even care about being caught.

 

Level two is known as the Conventional level of ethics. This level is where individuals conform to the expectations of others. They uphold moral and legal laws because they believe it’s right and they want to fit in. 

 

At level three, known as the Principled level of ethics a person lives by an internal set of morals, values, and ethics. These are upheld regardless of punishments or majority opinions. These individuals are ethical all the time, in every circumstance, even if it means they are completely alone. 

 

Remaining ethical in the face of endless temptations to sacrifice your ethics is a huge challenge. It’s another area of life where a coach or mentor is an immense help. They can point out to you why your ethical “dilemma” really isn’t a dilemma at all. They can’t make you do the right thing but they can sure point you in that direction. 

 

What ethical level are you at? What will you do to get to the next level? Who is going to help you?


Answer those questions and then get a move on. Real ethical dilemmas don’t wait and neither should you

Who is Responsible?

I’ve been trying to help people be more successful for a long time. In all that time I’ve seen people fall into two major categories; those who accept responsibility for their own personal development and those who affix the responsibility for their development to someone else.

 

That someone else may be a teacher, their employer, their boss or someone close to them. The “someone else is responsible for me” group all have one thing in common. When I say all I really mean ALL, as in every single one of them. What they have in common is that they are less successful than they could be, usually much less successful.

 

Successful people accept full responsibility for their own personal development. They look for, and find, ways to improve their skills and abilities on a continual basis. 

 

They do not expect their employer to pay them for learning. They don’t expect time to be provided to them during the work day to take a class or attend a workshop. They will certainly accept those benefits if offered but they throughly understand the difference between accept and expect. 

 

Successful people are willing to invest both their own time and money to close whatever skill gaps they have identified. They realize that their development is their responsibility and no one else’s. 

 

Less successful people wait. They wait to be offered, for free, the training they need to succeed. They wait for the training to happen on company time. They maintain the attitude that if they are going to improve themselves then somebody else is going to have to take the lead in their development. 

 

Even if all those conditions are met they still don’t do as well because the motivation to succeed just isn’t there. They are improving to keep a job, not advance their own abilities. 

 

If you want to be more successful then invest in yourself. An investment in yourself is the surest investment that you can make. Invest in yourself for yourself. Invest in yourself because you’re worth it. 

 

If you believe you have what it takes to be successful and that all you need is for someone to believe in you then YOU should be that someone. Never wait, not even for a second, for someone else to take the lead in your self-improvement. 


Keep telling yourself, if it’s to be it’s up to me. Then stop talking to yourself and start doing for yourself. 

What Motivates Your People?

I will often ask that question of people in leadership positions. Authentic Leaders have an answer. Other leaders have a response. 

 

The main difference between an answer and a response is the answer is based on what someone knows and a response is based on what they think.

 

Authentic Leaders know what motivates their people because they have asked them. Other leaders assume they know or they figure what motivates them will also motivate everyone else. 

 

Assuming they know what motivates another person is an all too common mistake of ineffective leaders. Every person is unique. They have different life experiences that shape their beliefs, their likes, their dislikes and their motivations. To assume otherwise is a fool’s errand. 

 

Authentic Leaders invest the required time to understand the unique motivators for each of their people. Sometimes that means helping their people discover what motivates them because oftentimes people don’t stop to consider this important question on their own. 

 

Authentic Leaders know that everyone is naturally motivated. Some people lose their motivation along life’s way and need to be reminded and refreshed. Some people just need help maintaining their motivation. 

 

Whatever circumstances your people find themselves in, one of your key responsibilities as a leader is to help them maintain or restore their motivation. 

 

There are leadership development programs that discuss “clues” to finding what motivates your people. There are leadership developments programs that offer tools like the DISC Test to help determine a person’s motivations. 

 

I’m not a big fan of any of that. I’m a fan of a leader talking with their people on a regular basis to truly get to know them. I believe Authentic Leadership requires that level of personal leading take place…frequently. 

 

If you want to know what motivates your people and how you can help them stay motivated to reach their goals and excel in their job and in life then ASK. The question will surprise people who have never been led by an Authentic Leader. Ask anyway!

 

Ask and then demonstrate another leadership characteristic they may not be used to…LISTEN to their answer. 

 

Disengaged employees can suck the life out of any organization. Unmotivated employees quickly become disengaged. When you lead your people to what keeps them motivated you give them and your organization a chance at lasting success.


Do YOU know what motivates YOUR people?

What Are You Worried About?

It seems as if no matter where you live in the world there are plenty of things to worry about. I suppose many of those things are worth worrying about. Many of the things we worry about however are not worth the worry and stress we put into them. 

 

One of the things that many people worry about that they shouldn’t is other people’s opinion of them. Don’t get me wrong, there are people who’s opinion matters to me… a lot. There’s just not very many of them. Not very many at all. 

 

Popeye said “I am what I am and that’s all that I am.” I’m like Popeye, (except for the spinach part) I am what I am. I’m pretty comfortable with that. I’m also comfortable with the fact that there are  people who won’t like that. That’s their concern not mine. 

 

If you’re like me there are lots of areas of your life you could improve. You could be a better spouse, a better parent, a better friend, a better leader. Those are areas where change is required in order for improvement to take place. But I won’t change my beliefs or sacrifice my principles to try and be something or someone that more people might like. I’d gladly accept the respect of a handful of people over the “likes” of a roomful. 

 

You can’t control other people’s opinions of you without giving up at least part of what makes you the person you are. So don’t waste time trying. Simply be the very best version of you that you can be. 

 

I do not believe it’s possible to experience true success when you’re trying to be what other people want you to be. Get used to the fact that there will be people who do not like the genuine version of you. It is far far far more important that YOU like the genuine version of you. If you’re okay with you then the people who are supposed to matter in your life will be okay with you too. 

 

Stress and worry will creep into your life, there is just too much happening today to block worry completely out of your life. But do not fuel your worry fire by adding the opinions of people who don’t know you, don’t really care about you and don’t respect you to the gas can. 


I’ve always liked the Bobby McFerrin song “Don’t Worry be Happy” but if you really want to be happy just be you!