The Look of Leadership

I was in a conversation with a colleague a while back and the discussion was about the relative leadership abilities of two individuals. We clearly had differing opinions of these two people and my colleague said it was obvious which one was the better leader. They said one looked much more like a leader than the other.

 

I think I know some stuff about leadership. We can debate all day long whether that is true or not but this much I will acknowledge without a doubt; I have no idea what a leader looks like. 

 

I have seen leaders of every shape, size and color. I’ve seen both men and women who were tremendous leaders. I’ve seen many people who never held a true leadership position who were nonetheless outstanding leaders. 

 

Leaders come from all walks of life. They come from every country, every economic level and every so called social level. A great education doesn’t make a person a leader anymore than a lack of formal education limits someone’s potential to lead.

 

Too many people get fooled by what they believe is the “look” of leadership. You know the look; they dress appropriate for their position. The say the right stuff. They are always politically correct. They smile a lot and compliment the people above them in the organization. 

 

It should be pointed out that many great leaders indeed have that exact look….but many do not. It also must be pointed out that having that look most certainly does not make a person a leader. Many people with that “look” are nothing more than a mirage of leadership. 

 

That’s why I don’t invest much time looking at a person to determine if they are in fact a leader. I look at the people they claim to lead. 

 

A managed person who will do what they are told and if they are not told to do something then it is likely that is what they will do, nothing. A person who is led will do so much more. They not only do more they think more, they take more risks, they are more engaged, they care more, they ARE more. 

 

A person who is managed will seldom reach their potential. A person who is led well will reach their potential and then push past it to accomplish more than they ever thought possible. 

 

The “look” of Authentic Leadership and especially Authentic Servant Leadership, is not found by looking at the leader. It is found by looking at the people they lead. 


Using appearance as a criteria for leadership is beyond silly. Yet it happens across organizations big and small every day. Don’t make that mistake, leaders produce favorable results, in themselves and in their people. Throughout history this simple fact has always remained true: if there is no result then there is no leader. 

The Essential Qualities of a Mentor

I write often on the importance of having a mentor. That invariably leads people to ask me what to look for in a good mentor. I’ve never actually written on the characteristics of a good mentor but this post will address that very topic.

 

First off the fact that people ask about what makes a mentor good should be a clue that not all mentors are created equal. Some are better than others are some are actually bad. Not bad people mind you, just bad as a mentor.

 

It would seem obvious that a mentor should be smart. What’s far less obvious is that a mentor must know why they are smart. A good example comes from the world of golf. If you watch golf on TV you see some amazing shots made week in and week out. Pro Golfers are the very best at what they do. I’ve been fortunate to know a few and play an occasional round with them. 

 

They are way better than me (understatement of the year) and I marvel at what they can do on a golf course. But most of those professional golfers aren’t much help when it comes to teaching me how to hit the shots like they do. They cannot transfer their knowledge of how to hit a golf ball to me. They know what works for them but they can’t explain why it works in a way that makes it possible for me to duplicate. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t great golfers, it means that they aren’t great teachers, or mentors.

 

A golf teaching professional is a very different story. While they may not be blessed with the skill to play top level golf on a weekly basis they do know what it takes to hit shots required to score well. They know why some shots work and why others don’t. Plus, they know how to transfer that knowledge to the people they teach. They are great teachers and mentors.

 

Not all successful people make good mentors. A good mentor will invest a fair amount of time thinking about not only what they did to become successful but why they did it. They not only know what works, they know why it works. You can get the “what” from a book but the “why” most often comes from a mentor. 

 

Good mentors spend a considerable amount of time in self-reflection. When looking for a mentor make certain that the person you select knows themselves well. They must be able to explain both the what and the why of their success. 

 

If you can’t trust your mentor then they cannot mentor you. Pick a mentor that you can trust with your deepest secrets and concerns. There should be no doubt that your mentor will not, under any circumstances, share your mentoring discussions with others. 

 

Your mentor must be courageous enough to tell you the truth even when the truth is less than pleasant. Hopefully your mentor will have the human relations skills to not crush you with the truth. Pure unvarnished truth may sting for a bit but it shouldn’t leave a lasting scar. You do not want a mentor who is so concerned with protecting your feelings that they forget about protecting your future. 

 

The number one reason that mentoring relationships fail is that one or both sides of the relationship underestimate the amount of time required for a successful mentoring relationship. Mentoring is serious stuff. 

 

The most important thing a committed mentor can give you is their time. They may have the best of intentions but if they don’t also have time to commit to you then it will not work. Ask upfront how much time your prospective mentor is willing to invest in you. If they are serious about helping you they shouldn’t be at all offended by the question. 

 

Ask also if that commitment includes regularly scheduling time with you on their calendar to make sure those good intentions become great mentoring sessions. 

 

Everyone, absolutely everyone can benefit from a true mentoring relationship. Regardless of your stage in life, your level of success or the goals you are pursuing, you will be better off with a mentor than without. 


That’s assuming of course that they are the right mentor for you.

The Most Important Characteristic of Leadership

I have long held that the most vital characteristic of leadership is integrity. Other’s including some who I greatly respect would say the most important characteristic of leadership is good judgment. 

 

I have a hard time admitting I could be wrong about this. It does seem though that lots of people are willing to sacrifice integrity for what they think is judgment that more closely resembles their own. 

 

But it is beginning to appear that those who believe judgment to be the most crucial leadership characteristic may be mistaken as well. That’s because empathy seems to be increasing in importance. 

 

There are currently 462 million variations of the definition of leadership on Google. No matter which one you prefer they all have something to do with people. The definitions say something about motivating, encouraging, teaching, challenging, or building people. They talk about caring and making a difference in the lives of the people you lead. 

 

Every definition of leadership indicates that empathy is a critical characteristic. Perhaps even THE critical characteristic for successful leadership. 

 

There is a great line near the beginning of the all time classic Christmas movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It’s the scene where Clarence the Angel is getting his instructions from Joseph. Clarence is in a hurry to get to earth. He wants to earn his wings by helping George Bailey who is played by the great Jimmy Stewart. But Joseph tells Clarence to stop long enough to learn something about George’s life. Joseph says that if he is going to help George he needs to know something about him.

 

So it is with leadership. 

 

If you’re going to lead others, motivate and coach them, challenge them and make a difference for them then you’re going to have to know something about them. You’re also going to need to be able to see their life from their point of view. 

 

That’s empathy!

 

Empathy grows in importance as technology continues to push the human element out of relationships. If you lose sight of the humanness of the people you’re supposed to lead then you lose the ability to actually lead them at all. 

 

So what is the most important characteristic of leadership? Here’s the real answer… if you lack integrity then you lack the ability to lead. Without integrity people will not trust you and if they can’t trust you they simply will NOT follow you. 

 

If you have integrity but lack sound judgment then you will be an honest failure but a failure as a leader all the same. If you have no empathy for the people you lead then you’ll likely find that even with integrity and excellent judgment there will be no one following you. People will know that while you may care about them, as you would any “asset” in your organization, you don’t actually care for them. 


I suppose what I’m discovering late in my own leadership journey is that it doesn’t really matter which leadership characteristic is most important. If you struggle with even one of them you’ll have significant challenges when attempting to lead. 

How to Build a Solid Leadership Brand

The first step in building a leadership brand is to realize that if you’re in a leadership position you have one. The only question is are you branding yourself or are you being branded? 

 

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon says that “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

 

Your leadership brand is built from the total of what you do, how you do it and why you do it. There is no faking your brand. Sooner or later the authentic you is revealed and when it is that becomes your brand. 

 

To build a strong leadership brand you must first realize it’s not all about you. Your work experience and personal accomplishments matter but as a leader they pale in comparison to what you do for other people. 

 

Always be evaluating the best way you can help other people succeed and where you can add the most value to your people and organization. Once you determine that then you know where your focus should be. 

 

Remember that today more than ever your personal life is your public life. Your personal life reflects who you really are. What you do in your private life is your private life only as long as it doesn’t affect your ability to lead others. As someone in a leadership position, your personal life is open to scrutiny. 

 

Your ability to lead others will increase if people respect you. Posting your wild weekend behavior on social media does nothing to improve your credibility or your ability to lead others. You may see yourself as two versions of the same person but most everyone else will not make that same distinction.

 

Once you have a bit of credibility you can build on it by doing what you say you will do. How many times has someone told you: I’ll get back to you on that – then never followed up? Authentic Leaders don’t make promises they can’t or won’t keep. Trust is lost when promises are made and then broken. Keep your promises and you will build relationships built on trust. 

 

One of my favorite movies is Liar Liar about an attorney played by Jim Carrey. This attorney, a well known liar, was suddenly thrust into a position were he was unable to lie. He was forced to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. The complete and unvarnished truth. It caused him serious problems. People were actually insulted by the truth. But that was a Hollywood production. In real life it’s far better to tell the truth all the time. The worst thing a leader can do is to not be open and honest with people. Trying to hide information will always catch up with you. Tell people everything they need to know, even if it’s bad news. A lie can be forgiven but it’s hard for people to forget that you lied to them. You might not ever fully recover. 

 

Some leaders see their position as loftier than others. That causes them to look down on people, even if only subconsciously. Leaders with a strong leadership brand treat people as equals. The more “perks” you provide yourself and other leaders in your organization the more distance you put between yourself and the people you’re supposed to be leading. There is no question that top leaders in any organization have earned additional benefits and compensation, but be aware that leaders are in the spotlight in more ways than one. Too many perks can make that spotlight so bright that it actually melts away your leadership credibility.

 

As a leader you must make certain that all your people have the same opportunity to achieve the success that you have. Never lose sight of the importance of humility to a leader. There aren’t many things uglier in life then an arrogant person in a position of leadership.

 

It’s a worthwhile investment of a leader’s time to occasionally do a “brand check” to determine the strength of their leadership brand. Don’t trust yourself with this one….ask others, a coach or mentor for their opinion of your brand. Even more importantly, ask the people you lead how you are doing. 


If you get mixed responses that’s a good thing; your people trust you enough to be honest with you, that’s makes for a pretty darn good brand.

How to Maintain a Positive Attitude

Here’s an often debated age old question… which came first, the chicken or the egg? Here’s a much newer question still often debated… which comes first, success or a positive attitude?

 

The definitive answer to that first question can be found early in the Book of Genesis. The much less definitive answer to the second question can be found in this post.

 

Many people believe that successful people have a positive attitude because they have it made. Other people believe that successful people made it because they had a positive attitude all along. 

 

Count me in the second group. A positive attitude comes before success!

 

While it might be easier to maintain a positive attitude if you’re successful that doesn’t mean it’s easy. A positive attitude requires a conscious decision to make it so. Without that conscious decision it’s very easy to drift into negativity. Sadly, negativity is all around us and we can be overwhelmed by it when we let our guard down. 

 

The good news is that with a little focus, well okay, maybe a lot of focus, anyone can have a positive attitude. 

 

That focus includes a resolve to not let “things” get you down. Decide before negativity strikes that you will respond in a constructive and positive way. I know what you’re thinking…if only it was that simple. 

 

I know that it’s not simple but it is possible and with a coach or mentor it can even be likely. It’s darn hard to overcome negative input without help so ask someone who cares about you to help. Have them remind you that you’re working on controlling your attitude. Allow them to hold you accountable until you can do it on your own.

 

Do you ever talk to yourself? You likely just did when you asked yourself that question. Everybody talks to themselves from time to time and it’s important that when you do that you’re saying something positive. That’s even more important if you happen to be talking about yourself. 

 

Remind yourself that challenges most often lead to growth and to maintain success you must keep growing. Accept challenges as learning experiences and you’ll find them a little less frustrating. I know that’s easier said than done but not much worth having comes easy. Keep that in mind.

 

Dream again! Dream your dream as if it were new. Turn your dreams into goals and develop a written plan that’s states exactly how you intend to achieve those goals. Don’t forget that there will be obstacles along the way. Your plan must include specific actions you will take to overcome those obstacles. Knowing how you’ll solve a problem before the problem even shows itself, helps to minimize the negative effects that problems in general can have on your attitude. 

 

Finish and end your day on a positive note. You may not wake up with a negative attitude but checking your email and social media as soon as you’re up can take you to your negativity zone pretty darn quick. Start your day with a bit of inspiration, both Siri and Alexa can help with that, just ask. A good breakfast will fortify your body for the day and some good positivity will do the same for your attitude. 

 

Don’t finish your day with email or social media either. I’ve started writing a single Thank You note to someone just before bed. It reminds me of all the people and things I’ve been blessed to have in my life. It’s nearly impossible to go to bed with a negative attitude when you’re thinking about how good a life you actually have. 

 

Circumstances can make choosing a positive attitude a humongous challenge but there has never in the history of humanity been a circumstance that could fully remove that choice. 


Remember that and then chose positive!

The Real Problem With Millennial Employees

Much has been written about the differences between the Millennial generation and other generations. It’s true that there are differences and some of those differences are substantial. 

 

It’s also true that there are more similarities between Millennials and other generations than there are differences. Millennials have similar career goals. They share many of the same values especially when it comes to leadership values.  They change jobs for many of the same reasons as their parents and grandparents did. 

 

Despite an opinion that is way too popular, Millennials are not slackers. Far from it actually. They work as hard and long as most baby boomers. They care just as much, they are as passionate or even more passionate about what they do and how they do it than the average baby boomer. 

 

One key difference is a desire for more flexibility. They don’t want flexibility in order to do less work. In fact it’s the contrary; they want more flexibility to be able to weave their work and personal lives together. They are willing to work long hours, they just want a little more freedom to choose which hours they work. 

 

This presents challenges for organizations that have Millennials in customer facing positions. But the reality is that too many baby boomer leaders/managers simply want to control which hours their people work. They feel that way because when they were rising through the ranks their work hours were determined for them. That’s old thinking. That’s expensive thinking too!

 

Here is some more old thinking and it’s even more expensive thinking. 

 

Most companies encourage their new employees to spend their first few years in the organization learning the ropes. It makes perfect sense because very few entry level employees know how to apply their “school knowledge” to real life work situations. 

 

The problem with that mindset of allowing  less experienced employees time to learn the ropes leads many managers/leaders to assume that their Millennial employees have too little to offer when compared to more experienced employees. 

 

But Millennials have much to offer. They are technologically savvy. They are nonlinear thinkers who don’t know that “something has always been done that way.” Millennials are willing to try new technology and are particularly adapt at exposing “group think.” I have to admit “group think” is often prevalent with my baby boomer generation. 

 

If you’re a leader of Millennials today you must be willing to risk allowing them more input into as many areas of your organization as possible. Yes, they have a lot of growing to do but that doesn’t mean they can’t help more experienced people grow in new areas at the same time.

 

People like me can learn so much from Millennials that sometimes I wish I was one. (But then I come to my senses) 


It turns out that the real problem with Millennials is more a of problem FOR Millennials. They have the ability to move slower companies into the future at a much faster pace. They only need to be given the chance. 

Do You Ever Wonder Where You are Going?

I wish I could say I’m surprised by how often I come across people who seem to be drifting through life. But I am not. 

 

The sad reality is that most people, the vast majority in fact, drift through life on a day-by-day basis taking what comes their way. They accept what happens and very often settle for less than they want or deserve. 

 

I suppose there could be many reasons that happens to people but one of the big ones, likely the very biggest one, is that they don’t have goals. True goals. Goals that are written out along with a plan on how they intend to achieve them. 

 

Direction in life comes directly from your goals. No goals means no direction. 

 

I understand why so many people lack true goals. It’s requires serious effort to first determine your core values and then set goals around them. Your core values are those values that you will not compromise on, regardless of the circumstances. Those core values guide every decision in your life. Beliefs can change over time, core values do not. 

 

Determining your core values does not happen overnight. It requires both reflection and introspection. The dividends of truly knowing your core values however are substantial. Your core values are who you are deep inside and once you know that, every decision becomes easier to make.

 

Once you’ve set goals around your core values you need to develop a plan, a workable, actionable plan, to achieve them. 

 

That plan must include the date AND time you will begin. I can’t tell you the number of great plans I’ve seen people create through the years and I can’t begin to tell you the number of those plans that were never implemented. You will not finish, you will never finish, what you do not begin. The pressure of a “start date” will push you to begin.

 

Remember, someday does not appear on a calendar.

 

The plan must also include a completion date. When will you accomplish each individual goal, do not leave yourself wiggle room by setting a date range. Nail it down with an exact date. You don’t want to almost accomplish your goals, you want total success.

 

Carve out time EVERY DAY on your calendar to work specifically towards achieving a goal. Success in achieving your goals will not happen by itself, YOU must make it happen. 

 

Do not allow yourself to get stuck where you are. Do not allow yourself to settle for less than you desire. Do not allow others to set your goals for you. And oh by the way, if you’re married the fastest way to being a better couple is to be a better you. Don’t forget to set some personal development goals along the way.


Goals are the beacon of light that can guide you through life’s never ending challenges. But for the light to shine you must have those goals in place. Set goals today and all your tomorrows will be better because you did.