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. 

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.

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?

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?

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. 

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?