Leading, Actually Leading

If everyone in a leadership position who wasn’t actually leading were fired there would be a ton of open leadership positions. The sad reality of leadership is that most people in leadership positions merely pose as leaders. They don’t do the hard work that truly leading requires.

Think of it like this. If you’re going someplace in your car and someone asks to tag along because they have nothing better to do then you’re taking them for a ride. That’s like occupying a leadership position without really leading. People might be in the car with you but they have no commitment to any particular destination.

When you’re giving someone a ride to a place they need to go and they might not get there without you, that’s like actually leading. They have a destination in mind and you’re their guide to get them there.

A person in a leadership position who actually leads has the ability to change the world for the good.

Maybe only one person’s world but that is more than most leaders in name only will do.

It’s not a big surprise that most people in leadership positions don’t actually lead. Over 50% of people in leadership positions have never received a minute of formal leadership training. More than 80% have never participated in a leadership development program.

If you’re wondering about the difference between leadership training and leadership development I’d explain it this way. Leadership training focuses on the “as is.” It’s about focusing on past leadership experiences to maintain the status quo. Leadership development aims higher. It is about being a better leader than the leaders that came before.

Leaders who actually lead invest themselves in their people. They celebrate the success of their people as much as their own. They know that as a leader who actually leads their success in completely dependent upon the success of their people.

“Leaders” who merely occupy a leadership position think in terms of “spending time” to correct mistakes made by their people. Leaders who lead think in terms of “investing time” to grow their people to a level where mistakes are virtually eliminated.

Leaders who actually lead understand that budgets, buildings and other “things” are managed. They also understand that people must be led and they have learned the difference between managing and leading.

People who are managed will never reach their potential. That’s the biggest problem with having “leadership posers” in a leadership position. If they are responsible for a budding superstar and they try to manage them rather than lead them that bud will never bloom.

That makes it a huge challenge to grow an organization.

When leaders don’t lead then their people don’t grow, or they grow too slowly to have the impact on the organization that they could. Don’t let that happen to your people. If you’re in a position of leadership and your organization doesn’t offer you Leadership Training or Leadership Development then do what an Authentic Leader would do…seek it out on your own. It’s like an investment in yourself.

Lead yourself to success. Lead yourself to truly lead your people.

The One Absolute of Authentic Leadership

I am frequently asked how to define the difference between Leadership and Authentic Leadership.

A leader is anyone who has influence over other people. That’s a very broad definition and points to the reality that almost anyone can lead. Your level of influence will determine your ability to lead. The greater your level of influence the greater your leadership potential.

But Authentic Leadership is something different. Being an Authentic Leader requires more than mere influence. It requires that you use that influence in a way that positively impacts the lives of the people you lead.

Authentic Leadership begins when you care for the people you lead. That’s because Authentic Leadership requires that the leader put their people first. If you don’t care for the people you lead it’s nearly impossible to put them first.

When you care for your people and you put them first it leads to enthusiastically helping your people succeed. It leads to making a positive difference in their lives.

That’s why the one absolute measure of whether a person is an Authentic Leader is whether or not they have helped make the people they lead better. Better at what they do, better at how they do it and better at why they do it.

Authentic Leaders make a difference in their people’s lives. They do it with no expectation of receiving anything in return for themselves. It may indeed help their organization but that’s not their primary motive for helping their people. They help their people in almost anyway they can because it’s the right thing to do.

A leader can have a large dose of success in many areas but if they haven’t helped another person reach their potential and achieve more than that person thought possible then they may be a Leader but I would not define them as an Authentic Leader.

If you’re wondering whether or not you’re an Authentic Leader you don’t need to wonder anymore. Look around at the people you’ve been leading. Are they better off because of the positive impact you have had on their life? Would they agree that you’ve had that positive impact if they were asked.

If the answer to both those questions is not a solid yes then you have some growing to do as a leader. That growth begins with a decision that says “I will LeadToday.” When you make that decision to authentically lead you won’t only change the lives of the people you lead, you’ll likely change your life as well.

Unknowing Leadership

True or false? Leaders must know everything.

That’s false. In fact it’s absolutely  positively false. Few things about leadership will ever be more false. It’s odd then that so many people in leadership positions act as if it were true.

Insecure and inexperienced leaders hate to say “I don’t know.” To avoid admitting to what they see as a weakness, they guess. They make something up or in the worst case, lie.

All because they believe uttering the words “I don’t know” makes them look weak.

Authentic Leaders embrace the unknown. They live in ambiguity. They know what they know and perhaps even more importantly, they know what they don’t know. And they are completely comfortable with not having all the answers.

They know that ambiguity leads to opportunity. When they don’t know their answer is “I don’t know…yet.” Their thought process in that moment is not on what is, it’s on what could be. They realize that not knowing is the beginning of the learning process.

Authentic Leaders know they will never know it all. They also know that they don’t have to. They use the knowledge and experience of their teams to fill in their gaps. They also don’t expect anyone in their organization to have all the answers and they willingly fill in the knowledge gaps of their team.

When an Authentic Leader doesn’t know what to do they do the next right thing. Doing the next right thing doesn’t require knowing the end result, it only requires knowing the next right thing to do. A series of “right next steps” will invariably lead to the desired end result.

Authentic Leaders do not try to solve every problem immediately. They live in the unknowns of a problem to better understand it and it’s root causes. They are willing to allow the problem to persist a bit to ensure that once it’s solved it’s solved for good.

It’s only by embracing what you don’t know that you can know more. If you think you know it all, or think you must convince others that you do, you rob yourself of the opportunity to grow.

Don’t simply tolerate ambiguity, embrace it. Relish the unknown and use it as a springboard to knowing more. Admit what you don’t know. Admit it especially to yourself. And remind yourself that not knowing isn’t a weakness, it is the beginning of knowing more.

Problematic PowerPoint

There really isn’t a problem with PowerPoint. The problem is with how so many people use it.

PowerPoint was never intended to be used as a shield for uncomfortable or inexperienced presenters to hide behind. PowerPoint was not developed to be an entertainment tool or act as “filler” for an incomplete presentation. It also was most certainly not designed to be a presenter’s notes.

PowerPoint was developed to enhance a well thought out professional presentation. It is intended to help a speaker present complex concepts where a visual is indeed worth a thousand words.

PowerPoint when used as intended adds to a presentation, it is not the entire presentation.

If you’re playing peek-a-boo with your audience by turning your back on them to read slides then you’re misusing the tool. If you put up a slide and your first words are “I know you can’t see this but….” then you’re misusing the tool.

If you spend more time prettying up your slides then you invest in strengthening your presentation then you’re doing a great disservice to your audience.

If you can’t make an outstanding presentation without your PowerPoint slides then you might not be prepared to make a presentation. If your presentation can’t continue because a light bulb burns out on a projector then you might be using PowerPoint as a crutch.

I’ve seen hundreds of post meeting surveys. I’ve never once seen a speaker receive feedback that said their presentation was terrible but their slides were awesome. PowerPoint will not save a poorly prepared presentation.

Practice your presentation without your slides. Once you’re comfortable with your content and you’re able to explain your key points without assistance then you’re ready to prepare your visuals. That’s the surest way to ensure that your slides are not your presentation but only an enhancement to it.

We’ve all sat through “death by PowerPoint” presentations, the next time you’re in front of a group make sure you’re not the one doing the killing.

Ethics

Books have been written, lots of books, on the topic of ethics. Most of them are well written and I suspect they were written with the best of intentions. But many of them are flawed (in my humble opinion) right from the start because they have titles that suggest there are different “kinds” of ethics. As soon as I see something like “Ethics in the Workplace” I’m turned off.

I’m turned off because of my admittedly simplistic view of ethics. I believe you’re either ethical all the time or you’re not ethical at all. Titles like “Workplace Ethics” or “Levels of Ethics” would indicate you can turn ethics on and off or be more ethical sometimes than you are others.

I originally titled this post “The Ethics of Leadership” and even that is a misnomer. There is no such thing as a special set of ethics for a leader. They are either ethical or they or not. They didn’t become more ethical when they accepted a leadership position. I changed the title of this post to “Ethics” because Ethics stand alone.

Ethics have no need for support from additional words or actions. Leaders don’t need to be held to a “higher standard” of ethics than anyone else. There is not a higher standard of ethics to be held to…you’re either ethical or your not.

If you’re ethical when it’s easy or convenient but not so ethical at others times then stop congratulating yourself because you weren’t actually ethical when it was easy either. It only appeared that way.

One particular concept I’ve recently read said that an ethical leader has no favorites and that they treat everyone equally.

Well…not exactly.

Until the robots take over all the leadership roles leaders will have favorites. That’s because all leaders have one thing in common. They are human. Humans connect with some people better than others. They have similar backgrounds, beliefs, work histories, etc with some people. That makes those people more “favored” then other people who have less in common with the leader.

That’s a fact of life. It does not mean the leader is unethical. Ethical leaders do however treat everyone equally. But do not mistake treating everyone equally with treating everyone the same.

Every person has different motivations, different needs, different levels of understanding and different life and career goals. Authentic Leaders understand those unique characteristics of their people and lead them accordingly.

They apply rules and regulations equally but expectations not so much.

I would never question another person’s ethics. I don’t have to because I’ve only met a few truly ethical people in my lifetime. (and nope, I’m not one of ‘em) My only question to people would be “are you getting closer to being an ethical person or moving farther away?”

I’m trying to get closer. I’m a work in progress.

What about you?

It’s Good to be Pushed

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who liked to be pushed around. At least by my definition of being “pushed around.” I think that’s means being coerced into doing something you really don’t want to do for the sole benefit of someone else. Being pushed around can include being threatened with very unpleasant consequences. The worst part is that there is nothing to be gained by the person being pushed…it’s all for the benefit of someone else.

Being pushed is very different than being pushed around. Although it doesn’t necessarily feel better in the moment you’re being pushed. The end result however feels far better because the person doing the pushing is doing it for you and not only themselves.

I’ve frequently benefited from that type of benevolent pushing.

I should clarify what I mean by pushing. I went to a Military High School that promised parents that if they sent their boys to that school they would return them as young men. I felt pushed in that environment but often times that pushing was of the physical kind. Sometimes the “pushing” went well beyond a simple shove but eventually the bruises went away and the cuts healed up and it was all good. In the end the kids benefited from that sort of pushing too but I’m glad that type of pushing is largely a thing of the past.

The kind of pushing I’m talking about here is the encouragement kind, the positive affirmation that you can in fact do more than you think you can. That’s the kind of pushing I, and most people, benefit from.

I’ve always been lucky to have people in my life who believed in me enough that they pushed me to be better. Even very early in my life there were always people who believed in me. And then I got married.

Without boring you with all the details it’s safe to say that pretty much everything good in my life has come about as a result of my wife pushing me to do more, be more, enjoy more, care more, understand more, listen more…you get the drift, it was a lot of more more more. That can sure be frustrating except for this little detail…in every instance she was right. (sure hope she doesn’t see this)

Being pushed got to be such a habit that I actually started pushing myself. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when people believe in you. It’s beyond amazing when one of those people is you.

There is one major similarity between be pushed around and being pushed. For either one to actually happen you must allow it. The good news is no one can push you around unless you allow it. The bad news is no one can push you unless you allow it.

Eleanor Roosevelt said “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Being pushed around will make you feel inferior, DO NOT allow it.

Being pushed by people who believe in you and care about you can have a lasting positive impact on you life. Allow it despite the initial frustrations it may cause.

When the frustrations are forgotten you’ll be more than you would have been without them.

It’s 2020! Can You See Clearly Now?

I’ve never been clear on whether a year like 2020 is the end of the decade or the beginning of a new one. There are a high percentage of “experts” that would tell you the beginning of a decade is the year ending in 01, not 00.

I remember seeing Hubert Humphrey speak after he has lost the 1968 Presidential Election to Richard Nixon. I was very young but something he said has stuck with me to this day. He said you had to be very careful what you said in your concession speech after losing an election. He said it wasn’t your last speech of the just lost campaign, it was actually your first speech of the next, yet to be officially started campaign.

That’s why to this day I recommend to salespeople that they send a Thank You note thanking a prospect for the opportunity to earn their business after the prospect purchased from someone else. You see, that isn’t the final communication of the just lost sales cycle, it’s the first communication of the yet to be started next sales cycle.

But whether you see the New Year as a beginning or an ending it’s a pretty good time to take stock of where you are currently. Also to determine where you want to be in 1 year, 5 years, and 10 years in the future.

But the key to determining where you will be in the future is knowing where you are today. Really knowing.

Try getting directions from Google Maps without inputting a starting point. It doesn’t work. Neither does making plans for the future without seeing clearly where you’re starting from.

You must be brutally honest with yourself in regards to your strengths and weaknesses. If you can’t do that then you’ll need to find a coach or a mentor who cares enough about you to be honest for you. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time you know my thoughts on mentors….anyone, regardless of their level of success, age, or occupation will be better off having a mentor in their life.

Here’s the thing about being more successful tomorrow than you are today. You need to worry less about your weaknesses so you can focus more of your energies on developing your strengths.

If that seems counterintuitive to you don’t worry, you’re in a very large group. It’s the group most often called average. I don’t mean that to be insulting in any way. It’s just that most of us believe being better means turning our weaknesses into strengths. That is not always true. The most successful people invest less than 20 percent of their efforts trying to eliminate every weakness. They invest 80 percent of their time further developing their strengths.

There are times where those percentages won’t hold true. If you have a glaring weakness that is holding you back then you had best deal with it immediately. One example that comes to mind might be substantially below average human relations skills. If that’s the case it could affect your efforts in every other part of your life. In that case some of your strengths development will have to wait.

If you’re in that average group I’m guessing you have not invested a great deal of time over the past years to truly take stock of your strengths and weaknesses. “Truly taking stock” means more than a vague awareness of what you’re good at and what you might not be so good at. It requires a good bit of reflection. Reflecting is the only time I recommend looking to the past. I only recommend looking there long enough to learn what you can from your successes and failures. Then turn immediately to the future because that’s the only place you’ll find additional success.

How clearly you see yourself, your current situation, your current weaknesses and your current strengths will determine your level of success in the future.

But hey, it’s 2020, if you can’t see clearly now I don’t know when you will.