Are You a Manager or a Leader?

Not a single person reading this has ever successfully managed people. That’s because it can’t be done. Human beings resist being managed to the point of being impossible to manage. 

People insist on being led. If you think managing and leading are one and the same then you may be a manager but you’re most certainly not a leader. 

I’ve written about this before but since it’s been awhile here’s a refresher. 

Managing and leading are two different things. You manage things. Things like a budget, buildings, inventory, property and the like. If it’s an “it” you can manage it. If “it” is not capable of expressing emotion go ahead and manage away. 

But if you’re dealing with a flesh and blood person then attempting to manage them creates nearly every problem the typical manager complains about. 

Leadership is about people and only people. When you attempt to manage people you risk treating them like things…at least they feel that way. That highlights one critical difference between managing and leading. Things don’t “feel” but people always do. 

That makes leading far more challenging than managing. Dealing with our own emotions is tough enough, trying to make sense of other people’s emotions can be more than a little daunting. That’s likely why so many people in leadership positions don’t try. They try to manage their people instead.

Another reason that happens is that over 70% of the people in leadership positions have no formal leadership training. None. Zippo. Zero. They also have had no mentoring from a successful leader. They are put into a leadership position and then expected to fend for themselves. It’s almost as if people think leadership just happens.

Make no mistake about this absolute fact…leaders are not born, they are trained. The training can take on different forms but absent some type of training it is exceptionally rare for Authentic Leadership to emerge. 

That makes for a difficult leadership experience, for both the leader and those they try to lead. 

I wish I could tell you that every company that promotes someone to a leadership position also provides them with the training to succeed as a leader. Unfortunately very few actually do. So be aware that just as it is in much of life, if success as a leader is meant to be then it’s likely up to you to make it happen.

So find yourself a leadership development program to enroll in. Maybe even more important, find yourself a leadership mentor. Someone you trust and admire as a leader and ask them to show you how they do it. 

If you’ve chosen the right person will be thrilled to invest their time to share their insights with you. 

One last point. I don’t want anyone to think that I’m diminishing the importance of solid management within every organization. Poor management is in fact the cause of many business failures. If you’re a great manager then your impact on an organization can be substantial. You are vital to the success of any organization. 

It’s important to understand however that being a great manager does not make you a great leader anymore than being a great leader makes you a great manager. Some people are blessed with both skillsets. Many are not and it’s incumbent upon you to know the difference. 

Questions of Leadership

People in leadership positions tell others what to do. Authentic Leaders ask others how they can help them do it. 

When I’m trying to determine someone’s leadership ability that’s one of the first things I watch for. Are they telling or are they asking. Authentic Leaders seldom wonder what’s going on in the lives of the people they lead. They seldom guess about why their people make the decisions they make. They don’t assume they know what motivates their people. They don’t need to assume because they have asked.

If you’re in a leadership position when was the last time you asked each of the people you lead how you can help them remain consistently motivated? When was the last time you asked them how their job or position was treating them. When was the last time you asked them about their goals or objectives…and not only professional goals but personal goals as well? When was the last time you asked them what you or the company could do to ensure they never feel the need to look elsewhere for employment? 

When was the last time you asked them specifically if they were certain that they were having an impact on the organization? When was the last time you asked them how you could help them be more effective? When was the last time you asked them how you could honor them? When was the last time you asked them anything at all? 

Here’s a question that many people in leadership positions would never think of asking. It’s also a question that Authentic Leaders ask fairly often. “How am I doing as a leader?” 

I’ll never ask someone in a leadership position how they are doing as a leader. It’s hard for any of us to see ourselves in the same way as others see us. So when I want to know how about the effectiveness of a particular leader I ask the people they lead. 

If you’ve established trust with the people you lead they will provide you with an honest answer. If you haven’t established trust with them then you’re not an effective leader. Sorry to be so direct and unequivocal with that but it’s a fact. You cannot lead people who do not trust you. 

I often hear from people in leadership positions that they don’t have time to ask these kinds of questions. Funny thing is I never hear that from Authentic Leaders. It’s not that Authentic Leaders have more time, it’s that they have their priorities in the proper order. They know that their own success is dependent upon the people they lead succeeding. 

They also know it is far easier to help them succeed if they invest the time to really know them. So they ask more and tell less. 

Yearning for Some Learning

Successful people have a yearning for learning. The most successful people never stop learning. They know that curiosity might kill a cat but it helps a human being grow. 

A bunch of great things come from learning everyday. 

Consistent learning makes you consistently more interesting to other people. You always have something interesting to pass along. Be aware however that nobody likes a know it all so use your hunger for knowledge to better yourself, not look better to others. 

The more you learn the easier it is to relate to people different than yourself. You’ll find more in common with others. You will value the opinions of others and have more empathy for them. That empathy will make it much easier to communicate with people who you don’t normally associate with. 

Learning helps build self-confidence and self-esteem, two big factors in your success. When you know you can learn anything it’s easier to believe in yourself. It’s easier to believe you can do anything. It’s easier to believe that because if you’re willing to learn it’s a fact…you can do anything. 

If you’re a leader, or hope to one day lead, then consistently learning sets a great example for the people you lead. It’s also a great example for your kids. The people you influence will do what you do far faster then they will do what you say. You have a much better chance of helping them become consistent learners if you’re a consistent learner too. 

People who know more tend to make more…more money that is. The more we know the more we can do. The more we can do the more we can help other people. The more we help other people the more likely it is that benefits follow. The benefit of knowing you did something good follows. The benefit of making a difference in the lives of other people follows. Leaving behind a legacy of caring when you’re gone follows and yes, the benefit of more money follows as well. 

Never in human history has it been easier to learn. The internet is loaded with good information. Much of it is even true but one of the first things you need to learn is that much of it isn’t true so choose your sources of information carefully. 

There are a ton of excellent podcasts. Even more highly informative blogs. TED Talks are informative AND free. 

Plus there are books! Leaders are readers. 15 minutes a day can make all the difference between learning something new and being stuck with old ideas and old ways of doing things. 15 minutes a day. If you have convinced yourself you don’t have 15 minutes a day to read then let me suggest the very first thing you need to learn about is prioritizing the important things in life. 

You have all the time you need, what you don’t have are the right priorities. Once you figure that out you will be unstoppable. Remember, you read it here first

If You Just Don’t Care Then You Just Can’t Lead

I get asked often what the most important characteristic of leadership is. I determined that most people who asked that had already determined what it was. They wanted confirmation that the one of the characteristics they possessed was the most important. 

Many of the people asking were hoping humility wasn’t the most important. 

My answers to those questions put integrity at the top with judgement a very close second. I put integrity first because in my experience it was a lack of integrity that often caused otherwise sound judgement to go off the rails. But there are other almost as important characteristics for a leader to possess. 

A leader who is missing even a few of those characteristics, so long as integrity is present, can still lead. They will have some deficiencies but those can be overcome by strengths in other characteristics. 

But there is another characteristic of Authentic Leadership that doesn’t get the “ink” that it should. That characteristic is a caring heart. 

One of the truest bits of knowledge I know about Authentic Leadership is this… you can care for people without leading them but it is impossible to lead them without caring for them. 

If you do not care about other people then you cannot lead them. If you do not care about other people then you should not pretend to lead them. If you do not care about other people then you cannot lead…anyone. 

When one of the people who you are responsible for leading asks you for help how do you reply? With “I’m busy right now but as soon as I’m done I’ll help you.” Or with, How can I best help you now?” 

Are you willing to complete your work after you help someone else? Does your success matter more than the success of the people you lead? Do the people you lead get whatever time you have “left over” after you’ve taken care of your own needs? Have you discovered their strengths, hopes, goals and objectives outside of work? Do you see them as an individual or simply an employee? Are you more interested in what they can do for you than you are in what you can do for them? 

Have you ever even asked yourself those questions? 

This quote has been attributed to many people so I won’t attribute it to anyone, just know that it isn’t mine. The quote says “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” 

What are you doing to demonstrate that you care about the people you lead? What are you doing to show people in general that you care about them? One of the surest measures of Authentic Leadership is how the leader treats people who can do nothing for them. 

If you only care for people who can help you succeed then you’re missing the one characteristic of leadership that you must have in order to Authentically Lead.

The Almighty Dollar

Businesses that have the singular goal of making money are very poor businesses indeed. 

They are also businesses that won’t be around very long. Businesses that survive long-term have leadership that understands no matter what business they are in, they are also in the people business. 

It’s people who make the products the business sells. It’s people who sell the products the business makes. It’s people who buy the products the business sells. It’s people who supply the profits the business needs to survive. 

Business Leaders who lose sight of those facts run the risk of losing, actually the likelihood, of losing the entire business. 

Authentic Leaders never lose site of those facts. They keep their people, employees and customers alike, at the top of their organizational charts. Leaders who put The Almighty Dollar at the top of their organizational chart, even subconsciously, create disengaged employees and disgruntled customers. 

Businesses that chase The Almighty Dollar see every dollar spent as an expense. Businesses that put people first see many of those dollars as an investment in people. They see investing in people as the surest way to generate more long-term profitability. 

Businesses that only chase dollars have never seen a corner they couldn’t cut. They will cut expenses anywhere they can, all in the name of profits. They would rather make a dollar today than two dollars tomorrow. 

To be clear, chasing dollars is very different than prudent expense management. Expense management is done for the benefit of the stakeholders and the shareholders. Cutting corners most often benefits only the shareholders. It most often comes at the expense of the stakeholders. Stakeholders, if you’re not familiar with the term are primarily the employees and customers of a business. 

The challenge for businesses is to make sure that their expense management, done for the benefit of all, doesn’t turn into cost cutting done for the benefit of some. That happens when the leadership of a business doesn’t have strong core principles that put people first. 

For businesses that chase only dollars product quality is a corner to be cut. For businesses that chase only dollars customer service is a corner to be cut. For businesses that chase only dollars employee development is a corner to be cut.  

Many business leaders simply don’t understand that each one of those cuts, made in the name of The Almighty Dollar, actually make it less likely that the business can remain profitable long-term. 

Businesses don’t just need people to survive and thrive. They need engaged people. Employees who care and customers who are loyal. “Cutting” doesn’t accomplish that. 

There has never been a business that saved or cut their way to long-term success. Success over time requires investment in people. It requires a willingness to perhaps, and only perhaps, sacrifice today’s profit to make triple the profit tomorrow. 

Long- term success requires long-term thinking.

If you’re a business leader today then you need to know your people are watching…ALL of your people, employees AND customers. They want to know if you care about them as people or if all you care about is the profit they can bring you. 

There is a tipping point. People, whether they be employees or customers, will try to help an organization right itself if it loses sight of how important people are. 

But they only do that for a time. If they determine the business is not open to their help then they do something different. Committed employees leave and potentially loyal customers take their business elsewhere. 

The final lesson the business learns is that when enough people leave The Almighty Dollar follows them right out the door. 

Are you Really Leading?

Most, and yes I definitely mean most, most “leaders” I know are not leaders at all. They have a title or position that fools them, and a few others, into thinking they are a leader but upon a little examination they are not a leader at all.

While a leader in name only can fool some people into believing they are a leader they rarely if ever fool the people they think they are leading. People looking for Authentic Leadership can spot a fake leader from a mile away.

But here’s one of the things I find most interesting about leadership. Leaders in name only often have no idea that they aren’t really leading. Not only can they fool other people, they can even fool themselves. 

So how can someone in a leadership position tell if they are in fact leading? Well take a look around. If no one is following you then you’re not leading. Period. 

No matter how lofty your position or important sounding your title leaders lead people. If people are not following you then you may be managing a business but you’re not leading. 

So let’s say you take a quick look over your shoulder and you see a bunch of people. Even that doesn’t mean you’re an Authentic Leader. Take a closer look. Who is following you? If the people “following” you all have the same favorite word then you may not be a leader. If that word is “yes” then you’re most certainly not a leader. 

Authentic Leaders attract a higher caliber of people than leaders in name only. They are followed by people who are not afraid to speak truth to leadership. Authentic Leaders are a magnet for people with authentic leadership aspirations of their own. 

Authentic Leaders challenge their followers to continuously improve and their followers challenge them back to do the same. 

Authentic Leaders are also great followers. So consider for a moment who it is you’re following. Who do you know? I don’t mean following on Facebook or some other social media platform. I mean who do you really know? Who are your mentors? Who can you have a face to face conversation with? Who can you learn from? Who leads you? Who is pushing you to improve? Who is invested in helping you grow as a leader?

You can learn a lot in a book, blog, or video but leadership is a close personal contact operation. You need to follow and interact with real people who will help you grow. People who will tell you the truth about yourself and who will keep you on the path towards Authentic Leadership. 

If you have short comings in any of those areas then you have opportunity to improve as a leader, or maybe, even become an Authentic Leader for the first time. 

Either way, the self-improvement process for a leader begins with the question… Am I really leading?