Perfect Leaders

Every leader I’ve ever met and every leader I’ll ever meet in the future all suffer from the identical weakness. They are human.

 

I actually believe “humanness” is the most vital strength a leader can have but there is no doubt being human comes with certain limitations. 

 

Humans aren’t perfect. That means they make mistakes, it means they have faults. It means they have, at least sometimes, less than desirable characteristics. 

 

Yet because they are leaders many people expect them to be perfect. 

 

In the understatement of understatements let me just say that’s not realistic. 

 

Very very few people do what I do in the environment that I do it in. I speak about, train on, and try to model leadership in a corporate environment, day after day. I say things like “this is how a leader should behave and this is how a leader should speak” and then I behave and speak differently. Not often but often enough that people notice. 

 

It’s one of the major reasons why people who do what I do almost always, nearly 100% of the time, do it as an independent consultant. Their message is judged on their words and not their actions. It’s not that people wouldn’t judge their actions, they are just not around long enough for that to happen.

 

Every time I say one thing and do another my message is diluted. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining in the least. That’s exactly how it should be, a leaders, and certainly someone who claims to be able to help build other leaders, words and actions should always match. But again, that human thing comes into play so….

 

Because I’m human I’ve accepted the fact that my words and actions won’t always match. Principles are after all much easier to talk about than they are to live. I’ve also accepted the fact that when my words and actions don’t match I’m not helping other people grow to the extent that I could if I was better at aligning what I say with what I do. I endeavor daily, weekly, monthly and yearly to improve in that area. If you ask those who I interact with everyday however they will tell you I have a long ways to go. So be it.

 

What everyone needs to understand is that there are no perfect leaders. Your leader’s actions will not always align with their words. It doesn’t mean that they don’t believe what they are saying, it doesn’t mean that what they are asking you to do is wrong. It does not mean that they are phony, and it does not mean that they are not an Authentic Leader, it simply means that they are human. As a leader they model leadership behavior but as a human they are a flawed model. 

 

Yes, it is far easier to find the faults of a leader but successful people rarely take the easy way. They most often take the most productive way and one of the most productive things you can do is to discover the strengths of the people around you, including your leader. 

 

Yes, it can be exceptionally challenging when the person above you isn’t exactly the humble type but that’s actually their problem, not yours. So don’t make it yours.

 

Instead of pointing out their gaps work to fill their gaps, if they are truly a leader they are trying to help you be more successful. Lead Up in your organization by trying to help your leaders be more successful too.


Leaders aren’t perfect and Authentic Leaders don’t claim to be so stop expecting perfection and allow your leader to lead. 

Where Future Success Comes From

Many otherwise successful companies have failed because they made one fatal mistake. They believed that their future was merely an extension of their past. 

 

They assumed that because they had always been successful they would continue to be successful. They convinced themselves that whatever they had done to achieve their success today would be the same thing they needed to do to maintain their success tomorrow. 

 

That may have almost been true decades and decades ago but it gets less true every year. Everything changes and one of the changes is that those changes are happening faster than ever before.

 

To assume that what got you to where you are will also keep you there is the kiss of death in business today. As most people who read this blog consistently know, I’m not always the biggest fan of change but I am a realist.

 

That’s why I am a huge fan of leaders who are visionaries. 

 

In 1968 the Swiss controlled virtually all of the wristwatch market around the world. They had an enormous percentage of the market share. They were as the saying goes, “on top of the world” when it came to making and selling watches. 

 

Then quartz watches were invented…by a couple of Swiss engineers. They showed it to company after company all across Switzerland and couldn’t find one interested buyer. No Swiss watch maker was interested, they didn’t need to be, they already “owned” the market. 

 

I guess you could say the leaders who ran those Swiss watch companies back then were not exactly visionary. I’d just say they made the fatal mistake of believing that their future was just an extension of their past. 

 

Funny thing is, these engineers were kind of persistent and they took their invention to some sort of watch convention to show it off. (I guess nobody told the engineers about that whole patent thing) Well a couple of Japanese watch makers came by and the rest is history… as was the Swiss dominance of the watch market. 

 

Today the Swiss have just a sliver of the world’s watch market, they still make perhaps the best watches but they make far far fewer of them. 

 

Visionary Leaders never, never stop looking for what’s next, they are relentless innovators. They have an almost insatiable need to constantly improve. A Visionary Leader doesn’t just say good enough is not good enough, they live it…and they lead it. 

 

Visionary Leaders reimagine what is until it becomes what’s next. While other people are enjoying the fruits of their labor Visionary Leaders are planting the seeds of tomorrow’s success. 

 

Your future doesn’t come from past accomplishments. What you’ve accomplished to date is just a starting point for what you need to accomplish to remain successful. 


Your future success will come from what you do today and tomorrow. The moment you think you’re where you need to be, you’re not there anymore. Never stop looking ahead because when you do you’re almost certain to fall behind. 

Leaders Don’t Complain

I’ll never really understand why some people continually complain about the people and circumstances they allow to be part of their lives. 

 

Some people would rather complain than actually do something about their situation. Doing something may require leaving their comfort zones and that’s well, that’s just too uncomfortable. Other people just want to fool themselves into thinking they have no power of decision, often because they have no idea what to do. 

 

Some people are just too lazy to take control over their lives. 

 

I wouldn’t care about any of that if they would just stop complaining about the things they allow to be part of their lives. If by chance there are things, people or circumstances in your life that you don’t like and you have no control over, well that’s a different story. 

 

If that’s the case then you need to change your attitude about it. Either learn to accept it or make a substantial enough change in your life to gain some control over the situation. Understand that complaining alone never solves anything. Change requires action and refusing to take action is acceptance of the situation. Don’t complain about what you accept. 

 

I know there are some circumstances that people can’t change, some situations there may not be a way out of, and those can cause bitterness which often results in complaining. In those cases complaining may be the only relief or outlet a person has. I get that.

 

What I’ll never understand however is someone in a leadership position, especially a senior leadership position, who has complete control, or nearly complete control over their circumstances and yet they complain about those circumstances while doing nothing to change them.

 

That is not leading. 

 

You’re in that position to lead. You’re in the position to build people, to build people who will help you build an organization. You’re not in a leadership position to condemn, criticize or complain. You’re especially not in that position to complain about a member of your team, someone that you likely hired. To complain about the people you’re responsible to build is sheer nonsense.

 

Here’s the deal. If you have someone who reports to you and they are not performing to your standards there are really only two possibilities. The first is that you hired the wrong person. You either were fooled in the interview (hey, it happens) or you missed something, or you “settled” for someone who didn’t meet the requirements. That’s on you, that’s your responsibility.

 

The second possibility is that you’re simply not providing them with the tools and training that they need to succeed. That’s on you too, that also is your responsibility. 

 

You might not like to admit it but that’s what leading is all about. Being responsible for the success of other people. With that in mind, why in the world would an Authentic Leader complain about a circumstance that they created? 

 

Authentic leaders don’t complain, they adjust their thinking, the adjust the plan, they modify their actions until such time as the circumstances change enough to remove the temptation to complain. 


You can complain or you can lead but you can’t do both. If you’re in a leadership position I’d highly recommend actually leading. 

If it Ain’t Broke, Break It?

You know, try as I might I’m just not a big fan of change. Unless of course I’m driving the change. But I’m also fully aware that perhaps the most dangerous words in business are, “because we’ve always done it that way.”

 

So the first part of this post is written for me and those of you who share similar sentiments about change. We need to get the heck over it and realize that the pace of change is only going to continue to accelerate. We can either get on board that bus or that bus is going to run us over. 

 

Imagine the world if everyone lived with that “we’ve always done it that way” philosophy. No cars, no airplanes, no TV, no internet, and oh my gosh, no cell phones. (I guess no phones for that matter)

 

Obviously we only need to think for a few seconds to realize that change can be very good. The challenge for many people is stopping to think for those few seconds. The reality is that almost everything we use in our daily lives will one day be replaced by something even better.

 

If you can’t embrace change you can’t grow and if you can’t grow you can’t get better. The first thing you may want to consider changing is your instinct to resist change. Replace it with an open mind and at least a “we’ll see” attitude, you never know, you may just be pleasantly surprised.

 

Now for the second part of this post. It is written for those of you just itching to change stuff because you can. You should take a quick lesson from Winston Churchill who said, “there is nothing wrong with change, if it’s in the right direction.”

 

Change for the sake of change is seldom good change. Before you change what’s worked for a long time you may want to consider exactly why it’s worked for a long time. While I’d agree, there very possibly is a better way, make certain you’re not also discarding the part of a process that works and replacing it with an untested process that may not. 

 

“We’ve always done it that way” is a proven method of failure. “Let’s blow up what works and start over” often is as well.


Moving forward with little or no knowledge of your starting point is a quick path to nowhere. Go ahead and change, just be certain that your “better” direction indeed has a solid, realistic chance to be better.


What Great Leaders Understand

There are tangible reasons some leaders are better than others. Some people may believe it’s luck, others may think it’s karma, still others insist it’s just a timing thing.

 

But the fact is some leaders are better than others because they understand stuff that average leaders just don’t get. Chief among that stuff is that decisions matter and they matter because every decision changes something once it’s acted upon.

 

The best leaders are always at least a few steps ahead of weaker leaders. It’s like when you watch a good pool player. They are thinking where they want to leave the cue ball for their next two or three shots. Great Chess players are always several moves ahead of average Chess players.

 

So it is with the best leaders. They know that every decision has consequences, some could be good and some could be not so good. But they understand that every single decision comes with consequences and they not only consider the consequences they also consider the consequences of the consequences and the consequences of those consequences. They are generally way ahead in their thinking than average leaders.

 

Average leaders make too many decisions without thinking of even the first layer of consequences. They are more reactive decision makers than proactive and that puts them behind the curve pretty much every step of the way.

 

That’s why average leaders always seem to be scrambling to “fix” what wasn’t broken until they broke it. They often receive recognition for being a great “fire-fighter” when the fact is they are a Pyromaniac of a leader. Their poorly considered decisions cause many of the fires they are later applauded for extinguishing. 

 

People don’t follow Pyro Leaders because the heat they generate makes it too hard to succeed.

 

If you want to become a more effective leader then you simply must understand that your actions and decisions have consequences. Not only must you understand that but you must also accept responsibility for those consequences, especially if those consequences turn out to be less than desirable. It’s only by accepting responsibility for your decisions that you’ll learn to make better ones.

 

It’s pretty tough to get ahead when you’re perpetually two steps behind. Consider the consequences BEFORE you act on your decisions and your decisions will likely change considerably. 


Then you’ll have the chance to truly lead.

A Culture of Caring

Every now and then I’ll receive a tweet or a response to a blog post that says the stuff I write sounds good in theory but it isn’t realistic in today’s business world. 

 

In particular people seem to take issue with my frequent statements that you can’t truly lead people until and unless you truly care about them.

 

I’m told “caring” is a sure path to failure. It’s a weakness that no business can afford today. They say that caring for your people is a luxury of bygone eras. Some people have even told me caring about your people is just plain stupid. 

 

I generally don’t respond, or I respond with a recommendation that they at least give caring a chance. But last week after reading a really terrible tweet I told the person that I was really glad I didn’t work for them and then in the spirit of practicing good human relations I told them I hoped they enjoyed the cave they were living in.

 

Okay, so that might not have been Dale Carnegie style human relations but the guy was pretty abusive with his comment. 

 

In my opinion, if we ever get to the point where caring about our fellow human beings indeed becomes impractical then we might as well hang it up. Would there be any point to living if we couldn’t care about people anymore? It doesn’t matter if we’re talking life in general or we’re talking business in particular, caring is never wrong and it’s never a weakness.

 

The fact is that the more you build a culture of caring within your organization the more stable and successful, and by successful I also mean profitable, your organization will be. I am completely at a loss when trying to understand people who seem to sincerely believe that you can get more out of people by treating them like dirt than you can get by treating them like the valued human beings that they actually are.

 

I will never understand how a “leader” could expect their people to take care of customers when those same people are not cared about by their leader. It just doesn’t work. It has never worked and I can’t imagine how it ever could. 

 

If you’re a leader who expects your people to care about your customers enough to provide them with top quality customer service then you better be a leader who consistently demonstrates how much you care about your people.

 

People who aren’t cared about, who don’t know with some degree of certainty that they are cared about, are far less likely to care themselves. 


A culture of caring will never weaken your organization, it can only strengthen it.  Don’t even think about believing otherwise. 

Can You Change You?

Most everyone I know says they would like to be better at something tomorrow than they are today. 

 

That “something” varies widely depending on the person. Some of that desired improvement may be work related, for other people it’s more personal. But regardless of what that “something” happens to be here is an absolute fact: Improvement, any improvement is not possible without change. 

 

People who want improvement but refuse to accept change are hoping for something more but are unlikely to ever see it. People who embrace change, or even better, drive change, have a chance to see consistent improvement, assuming of course that the change is the right change. 

 

Here’s my problem, I love change, I know of many many people and many more things that would benefit from change….I’m just not one of them. 😉

 

I struggle to embrace change that has a direct impact on me! I do not think I’m alone in that challenge because change is hard. We tend to, at least subconsciously, associate change with loss. We are giving up the familiar and moving to something unknown or something we are not sure of. 

 

I remember as a young salesperson calling on a customer who had equipment that was frequently breaking down. I was selling equipment that was far more reliable and yet the customer was reluctant to make a change. As I asked questions to uncover the reason for his reluctance he finally told me that while his equipment was always breaking down he knew how to fix it. He wasn’t sure he could fix mine if it did ever break down. The devil he knew was better than the angel he didn’t. 

 

For him change meant giving up the knowledge he had acquired through the years on his product, flawed as it was. Psychologically the benefit of no longer having to fix his equipment couldn’t outweigh his feeling of loss. 

 

We all face those psychological limitations when it comes to self-improvement. It’s tough to accept change so very often we tell ourselves that we are “good enough.” We rationalize why change isn’t really needed in our lives. We need help to overcome those limitations because way too often it’s simply too hard to change ourselves.

 

In this season of commencement addresses let me tell you what I wish someone had told me years ago at my own graduation. I think this single piece of advice could do more to change the trajectory of the lives of this year’s graduating classes than perhaps any other piece of advice.

 

Here it is: get a mentor. 

 

Find someone who you trust enough to listen to, a person who cares enough about you to be honest with you. Find a person who will invest real time with you and commit to invest your time with them as well. 

 

No matter how well you did in school, no matter how smart you believe yourself to be, no matter what path you’ve chosen for your life, you WILL have a greater chance at success if you are open to accepting change in your life. A mentor can help you do that. Bigly!


One more thing, no matter where you might be in your career, no matter how much success you’ve already experienced, you will be better off with a mentor than without. Everyone does better with a mentor, everyone.