People, Your Most Appreciable Asset

First I should acknowledge that I struggle with calling people an asset. I tend to think of assets as things. Most people think like me. When we think of our people as things it is all too possible that we deal with them that way too. 

This may sound beyond basic for a leader but all leaders MUST keep in mind at ALL TIMES that their people are not things, they are HUMAN BEINGS. Leaders who forget that most basic fact even for a moment risk demotivating their people to the point of losing them. 

Every, yes every, person begins their employment with an organization or business as a very valuable part of the team. Very valuable. More than anything else what will determine if that value depreciates or appreciates is the quality of the leadership the person is exposed to. 

If the leadership of the organization understands that one of their primary responsibilities is to develop their people then they are likely to lead them. That gives them a chance to increase their value. If they don’t understand that then they are likely to try to manage their people as a asset, or thing. The supposed “leader” will be responsible for a decrease in the value of the employee to the organization. 

It’s is important to note the words I have chosen to use here… The supposed “leader” will be responsible for a decrease in the value of the employee. No leader, no matter how poor a leader they are, can ever diminish the value of a person. They can however make them less effective as a contributing member of the organization. They can also make them feel less valuable as a person.

Authentic Leaders work hard to make certain every member of their organization feels valuable, both as a person and as an employee. 

They know that every single human being who works in their organization has a basic human need to feel worthwhile. To feel as if they matter. Many of the people projected to leave their current jobs in the next 12 months as part of “The Great Resignation” say they will do so precisely because they do not feel they matter to their current organizations. 

Authentic Leaders accept the fact that if they have disengaged and non contributing people in their organizations it’s on them as leaders. They find a way to help their people stay engaged and contributing.

If you’re in a leadership position you should be regularly checking yourself to make certain that you are constantly talking with each member of your team to ensure they understand that they matter. That they understand why they matter. That they understand where their role “fits” in the overall organization. You must be showing every member of the organization you lead that they are making a difference. 

Or, you must be willing to lose them. Or worse, you must be willing to have them stay in your organization while disengaged and contributing less value with every passing day. 

Your people are your most appreciable asset…IF you make the decision to lead them that way. 

What will you decide?

Successful Communication

Good communicators know that just because something was said doesn’t mean it was heard. Great communicators know that even if it was heard it doesn’t mean it was understood. 

Lack of communication can be deadly for an organization, most people realize that. What some people, and unfortunately some leaders, don’t understand is that miscommunication can be just as deadly. Wars, including world wars, have literally been caused by miscommunication. 

One cause of miscommunication is an ill informed communicator. One thing I often tell people who want to be a better presenter is that if you know what you’re talking about there is no need to be nervous. I also tell them that if you don’t know what you’re talking about there is no need to be talking. 

Even well informed communicators can sometimes miscommunicate. But the very best communicators don’t. They consistently apply the following four principles for successful communication. 

First they simplify their message. They skip the lingo and use easy to understand words and phrases. They don’t use more words than required. They don’t use four syllable words when a two syllable word will do. Lessor communicators want to be impressive. Great communicators want to make an impression. 

The best communicators see the person or people they are talking with. Notice I said talk “with.” They do not talk to and they certainly don’t talk at people. They know their audience and try hard to speak in the interests of those people. 

Great communicators know that the communication doesn’t end when they leave the stage or meeting room. They know people will be watching them to determine if what they said was the truth. So they don’t only speak the truth, they show it as well. Their actions match their words. Those actions reinforce and bring their message to life. Their actions add integrity not only to the words just spoken but to their future words too. 

Top communicators know that a good dialogue is better than the best monologue. So they engage their listeners and seek a response that indicates what they said matches what was heard. They ask a question or two to determine if what was heard was also understand. 

They accept 100% responsibility for the success of the communication. They never assume because they said something that real communication has taken place. 

Communication is a skill and by definition a skill is something that can be developed. But that development depends on a desire to in fact become a more effective communicator. Effective communication is a vital skill for an Authentic Leader. Successful communication leads to successful outcomes. 

Decide today that you will develop your communication skills and the people who you lead will thank you tomorrow. 

Hiring Non Leaders

Only 11% of HR leaders are confident that they have the “bench strength” to fill leadership positions when they open up. That means, if my arithmetic is correct, that 89% of HR leaders are NOT confident that they have a strong group of up and coming leaders. 

Yet they continue to hire people with no leadership potential. Or at best they hire people not knowing if they have leadership potential. 

I think, and it’s just my thinking because I’ve not seen or done any research on this, but I think it’s because HR teams focus on the task at hand today. That task is filling open positions somewhere in the organization. Most of those positions are not considered leadership positions. So there is little or no consideration given to the interviewees leadership potential. 

If someone is hired who turns out to have leadership abilities then that’s great. They will be “discovered” in the course of doing their jobs and perhaps earmarked for further development. If they turn out to actually be able to lead then the organization will have gotten lucky. 

I wonder how many CEOs think it’s a good idea to “luck into” their future leaders? I’m betting not a single one. Yet when an organization hires someone without understanding their leadership potential they are leaving their future to chance. 

Sometimes Hiring Managers intentionally hire people without leadership potential. I remember a conversation with a Director of Marketing some years ago who was looking for a Marketing Communications Manager. He told me he was looking for someone who didn’t know anything about marketing or communications. He wanted someone who would do what they were told. He was tired of people suggesting new ideas or questioning his “orders.” 

Ya might say that person wasn’t exactly forward thinking. You can definitely say he wasn’t a leader.

As I write this post there are a record number of job openings in the United States. The competition for qualified candidates has never been greater. That has caused many organizations to lower their “standards” more than a little. 

I understand the need to fill open positions but that’s a mighty slippery slope. Despite the difficulty finding qualified new employees my recommendation for HR professionals hasn’t changed. I recommend organizations hire ONLY promotable people with leadership potential. 

When you can boldly and honestly tell candidates that you only hire promotable people with leadership potential it becomes a great recruiting statement. Word will get out and the quality of your candidates will go up. 

I’d ask every candidate about their previous leadership experience. An answer indicating they have never had an opportunity to lead would be a red flag. Everyone has opportunities to lead. I would ask for an example of when they chose to lead. I’d ask for an example of when they were forced by circumstances to lead. I’d ask about the outcomes from their leadership. What they learned, what the people who were influenced by their leadership learned. 

I’d ask those types of questions to every single candidate regardless of the position they were applying for. 

If they have no answers but are qualified for the job they are being interviewed for than the HR Professional has a decision to make. Do I hire this person who can help us today or do I hold off until and can find someone I know can help us today AND perhaps even more tomorrow. 

I do not envy HR Professionals and Hiring Managers who have to make that decision. But I encourage them to think about how long their organization can survive if the leadership potential of every new hire is unknown.

Don’t hope to luck into your future. Hire people with leadership potential. Help them develop into the leaders that will move your organization forward for years to come. 

Mentoring Future Leaders

Here’s a little secret most consultants, especially those who “teach” leadership, don’t want you to know. 

Leadership cannot be taught, it must be experienced. 

You can teach people about the various characteristics of effective leaders. You can teach them about personality types and how that determines a person’s response to different leadership styles. You can teach them about those different leadership styles and when to apply them. 

You can and should teach them all of that. But you can’t actually teach them to use any of it. They must see that knowledge in action and they must experience what it feels like when they are led. 

That’s why one of the most important parts of any future leadership development program has to involve the current leadership. Every leader, every single leader in an organization must be involved in mentoring the organization’s future leaders. 

Every senior level leader should be mentoring a mid-level leader. Every mid-level leader should be mentoring an entry level leader. Yes, that means people being mentored are also mentoring others. That all assumes of course that the leadership mentors are indeed effective Authentic Leaders. Assigning a poor leader as a mentor might actually be worse than letting a new leader figure it out for themselves. 

If you think you can send a person to some leadership classes and then sit back and watch them lead then you need to seriously reconsider your thinking. You can learn about leadership in a classroom but you only learn to lead by seeing and experiencing leadership in action.

Most people lead the way they were led. A great leadership class or even a lengthy leadership program doesn’t do much to change that. That’s a shame but it’s also reality. If a person was led by poor leaders throughout their careers then it’s very likely they will be a poor leader themselves. That’s because their “model” of leadership was poor. 

People learn about driving in a classroom but they learn to drive by driving. You can’t learn to fly without a plane and you can’t learn to swim without water. Why anyone would think you can learn to lead without actually leading is beyond my ability to comprehend.

If you want to develop future leaders then allow them the opportunity to lead while being mentored by a proven Authentic Leader. Any other type of leadership “training” will miss the mark. 

Customer Deflections

Companies spend tons of money to attract customers. They invest a small fortune to train their salespeople to professionally represent their products. (At least the good ones do) They hire people to provide service to those customers after the salespeople earn their business. 

The best salespeople “sell” that customer service as a benefit of doing business with their company. 

Those things have always been pretty much standard business practice. Finding new customers and earning their repeat business has always been considered a good investment for a company.

But today some companies are developing something like a split personality. While they continue to invest in attracting new customers they are beginning to see retaining those customers as an expense. 

As we all know well run companies look for new ways to reduce expenses at every opportunity. That’s not the problem…the problem is seeing customer service as one of those expenses to be cut.

Some companies are investing in research to determine an acceptable level of customer intolerance. That means they are trying to figure out just how crummy their customer service can be without losing their customers. Providing a higher level of customer service than the company absolutely has to is considered waste. 

Those same companies send their people to training but not to learn how to better serve their customers. The training is on how to “deflect” customers away from the customer service department. “Progressive” customer service departments “deflect” customers to ChatBots or websites. Sometimes even into an endless loop of holds and transfers. 

This might be upsetting to the customer but just so long as the customer’s intolerance level isn’t exceeded all is well. The customer might not agree. They likely believe they deserve better. 

Some service organizations are actually showing reports with the number of customers they “successfully” deflect each month. I pity the poor salesperson who works their tail off only to have their customers “deflected” to some ChatBot. 

Can you tell I’m a little irritated with this new way of thinking? One thing I can say with a very high degree of confidence is that this will never become an old way of thinking. That’s because companies who adopt it won’t be around for long. 

The consultant who “sold” these companies on the word “deflect” should be embarrassed. 

The word should be banned in any conversation that involves a customer.

Words matter. When a customer care manager tells their team they are trying to deflect customers the signal it sends is completely wrong. It negatively affects even the calls that are accepted. The calls tend to be shorter, more abrupt and less helpful. The goal becomes to get the customer off the phone as soon as possible.

Here’s a couple of questions for companies who have adopted this “deflection” strategy. Do you think your customers would like knowing they are being deflected? Are you willing to show your customers the charts and graphs about how many of them you “successfully” deflected?

Remember if you have to hide information from your customers then you may have an ethics problem. 

Companies that invest in technology to help them deflect customers see it as improving their bottom line. I look at it as decreasing their integrity. That’s because their salespeople are still trying to sell excellent customer service as a benefit. Except excellent customer service has become a mirage.

I’ve never seen a stupid customer in my life and if you’re honest neither have you. They may have been misinformed or misunderstood something but that doesn’t make them stupid. They will eventually figure the goal is to “deflect” them and they will respond exactly the way we all would. 

There are still plenty of companies that have no plans to deflect their customers away from their human customer care teams. The customers who experience being “deflected” will find one of them. Then companies that deflect won’t have to worry about the “expense” of having those customers anymore.

Staggering Leadership Statistics

I can’t find any statistics on this but I’d be willing to bet a few paychecks that the most used word in businesses across the world is leadership. Every organization talks about their leadership. The need for more leadership. The need for better leadership. Their investment in leadership training. And on and on it goes. 

But for 95% of organizations in the US it appears to be merely lip service. 83% of companies say it’s important to develop leaders at all levels of their organization. But only 5% of companies have implemented leadership training across all levels. 

69% of Millennials are concerned that their companies do not help them develop their leadership skills. 59% of those Millennials say they are looking for opportunities at companies that will. 

Only 11% of HR leaders feel their organization has a strong “bench” that can take over leadership roles as they open up. 

60% of people currently in leadership positions say they feel beat up and worn out at the end of the day. 44% of those say they plan to explore opportunities at other companies to advance their careers. 26% of those say they will leave their current companies in the next 6-12 months. For many of the people in these leadership positions that beat-up feeling comes from a lack of formal leadership training. They don’t realize that they are managing people people instead of leading them.

55% of CEOs say that developing the next generation of leaders for their organization is a top priority. That’s what the say but that’s not what they show. When a leader’s words do not match their actions their credibility quickly goes south. That creates an entire host of additional problems. 

Every survey and every bit of research in 2021 leads to the same conclusion. There is a vast shortage of Authentic Leadership in business (and government for that matter) today and the shortages are only going to get worse. 

The majority of people elevated to leadership positions have less than 10 hours of formal leadership training during their entire careers. Some studies say that’s true for over 80% of people in leadership positions. 

If you’re running any type of organization and you hope for it to survive in the future you must stop paying lip service to this issue. You need to begin developing the future leaders of your organization. It is also vital that you understand the distinct differences between management training and actual leadership training. 

You may think that you’re investing plenty in leadership development. But are you really? You can invest a bundle in management training. That however will do little to nothing to develop your leadership team. Management training pertains to running a organization. Leadership training pertains to growing the people within the organization. Leadership training and management training are not the same.

The difference is not mere semantics as some would have you believe. You manage things, you lead people. When you attempt to manage people they feel as if they are being treated like a thing, not a person. They do not feel appreciated. 

79% of people who have left a job in the last year stated that not feeling appreciated was their number one reason for leaving. 

Companies that actually invest in training to develop Authentic Leaders do not lose people. They experience very little turnover. They grow their people AND their business. 

Still think you’re doing a great job developing your future leaders? 

Living Up to Expectations

I’m a huge disappointment to some people. I don’t know who exactly but I’m sure I’ve disappointed some people along to way to where I am, which is right where I want to be. 

While I may have not lived up to other people’s expectations for my life I’ve most definitely lived up to mine so I’m good. In fact, very good. 

I’ve known plenty of people who have lived a stress filled life. Much of their stress was caused by trying to live up to other people’s expectations for their life. They didn’t want to disappoint anyone. I would frequently try to help them by pointing out that they were someone too and their expectations for their life mattered most.

If you truly want a happy life the first thing you need to know is that you are not obligated to live up to anyone’s expectations except your own. Your needs and wants matter! You may not live longer but you’ll live a lot better if you do things because YOU care about them. If you do things because YOU feel they are the right thing to do. You’ll be a ton happier if you stop doing things because someone else expects you to.

Sometimes living up to your own expectations will mean going it alone. That’s okay, you don’t need someone holding your hand every step of the way. You don’t need anyone’s permission to live your life. Some people who begin your journey with you will fall way before you finish. Don’t feel bad that they are in their own path…that’s why we are called individuals. 

Don’t let anyone tell you what’s possible for you. People will try to put their expectations on you with seemingly harmless little phrases like, “be realistic.” If people like Steve Jobs had been realistic I wouldn’t be writing this on an iPad right now. Trust your instincts, only you know  what’s possible for you. Trusting yourself, believing in yourself, is the most realistic thing you’ll ever do. 

One of my great mentors once told me that every person has three versions of themselves. The version that other people think they are. The person they think they need to be, that’s the version of ourselves that we try to portray to other people. Then there’s the third version, that’s who we really are. We rarely show that person to other people, sometimes we even try to hide it from ourselves.

When we try to live up to someone else’s expectations it creates huge “gaps” between those 3 versions. Those gaps create stress in our lives. Living up to your own expectations closes those gaps. But you must be honest with yourself about what and who you want to be. You must also be willing to disappoint a few people who think they know you better than you know yourself.

The best advice I’ve ever received is the best advice I can ever give. That advice is to be you. The right people, the people who should be in your life will find you. The right people will accept you as you are. Their expectations for you will be what YOU want for yourself. The people who care about you will help you along the way. They will finish the journey with you. 

It’s hard to completely shut out other people’s expectations for your life. But the more you can live your life according to YOUR own expectations the better your life will be.