The Reward of Leadership

Managing people might be the most difficult, least rewarding thing a person can attempt.

 

On the other hand leading people is actually far easier and way more rewarding. In fact, leading people is one of the most rewarding things anyone can ever do. 

 

I don’t want to give anyone the impressive that leading others is easy, it’s just easier, far easier, than attempting to manage them. It’s easier because managing people is impossible. It’s impossible because people refuse to be managed. 

 

People need and want leadership not management.

 

Leadership is about people while managing is about things. If you’re trying to manage people then you’re treating those people like things and that doesn’t work. 


There are no doubt managers reading this who believe managing and leading are one and the same. I can only wonder how they have time to read anything considering how many problems they create for themselves with that kind of mindset. Could it be they just don’t deal with the problems they create?

 

Most every “people problem” that ends up in an HR Department comes directly from attempting to manage people. The vast majority of turnover comes from managing people. The overwhelming majority of “attitude issues” is directly linked to people feeling managed instead of led. When you keep in mind that over 70% of employee terminations result from some form of attitude issue it seems like it would be a good idea to not create even more. 

 

Managing people may seem easier than investing a part of yourself in leading them but attempting to manage another human being is like attempting to go boating without water. It’s not going to happen. 

 

While leading others requires a greater investment by the leader in the lives of those they would lead the return on that investment can be huge. It can be life altering, for both the leader and the led. It is richly rewarding and it’s a reward that money cannot buy. 

 

Authentic Leaders, and particularly Authentic Servant Leaders, lead because they want to make a positive difference in the lives of those they lead. A simply thank you from their people is worth more than all the tea in China. That thank you is pure gold. Knowing you’ve made a positive difference for someone is why true leaders lead.

 

Okay, time for an aside here….my dad would frequently say something was worth more than “all the tea in China.” Having been to China only once I didn’t notice an unusually large amount of tea. Does anyone know where that saying came from? 

 

Anyway, if you want to make a difference in the life of someone else then try to manage them. It won’t be a difference they will thank you for but it will be a difference they will remember. If you want that difference to be positive then make the effort to authentically lead them. 


Knowing you have made a positive difference in the life of another person is a reward that money will never be able to buy. 


Unleash the Power of Your People

I have been around long enough to see buzz-words come and go. Now as it turns out I’ve been around long enough to see some of them that came and went come back again. 

 

One of those words is empowerment. 

 

A couple of decades ago it was said that the Boomer Generation wanted to be empowered to think for themselves and make some decisions. They wanted to feel as if they mattered. They needed to know that their thoughts and opinions carried a little weight….even at their places of employment. 

 

Consultants blanketed companies sharing this wisdom with anyone who would listen. (and pay for it) The business leaders of the day quickly adopted this word as a kind of cure-all for whatever was ailing their organization. 

 

The word hung around for a long time; until people figured out that telling someone they were empowered and actually empowering them were two very different things. 

 

The word faded a bit from prominence but never went away completely. Some organizations were actually successful in empowering their people. For most however it was more of a rallying cry than an actual business strategy. 

 

With all of the “what do Millennials want” research going on the empowerment word is again buzzing about organizations like bees in a flower garden. The research seems to show that one of the key strategies to engage the Millennial generation is to empower them. 

 

So here we go again. Or do we? 

 

My own, albeit somewhat limited, experience with Millennials tells me that they won’t be fooled by mere words. They don’t just want to be empowered, they need to be empowered. They need to matter, they need to make a difference. 

 

If they are not challenged and given the opportunity to grow at the job they have then they will find another place to work. A place that will challenge and empower them. There may not have been plentiful opportunities for Boomers to change jobs 20 years ago but there are tons of opportunities today. If your Millennial employees are not challenged and empowered, for real, they will simply leave.

 

Companies may have been able to get away with talking empowerment in the past but these days they have to actually empower their people. 

 

Empowerment is authorizing a person to think. It is allowing them to take action, control work and make decisions about their job in autonomous, self-directed ways. It is feeling self-empowered to take control of one’s own destiny.

 

If your people have to wait for permission, authority or approval to take action then you may be saying they are empowered but they are not. They absolutely are not. 

 

The reason empowering cultures fail at most organizations is that empowering people comes with a level of risk that most leaders are not willing to accept. I think they figure that because it’s their rear-end on the line that they should be making the decisions. 

 

That’s understandable but it is also a managerial mindset, not a leadership mindset. 

 

Authentic Leaders allow their people to take measured risk. They don’t let their people take crazy chances but they trust the people they hire enough to let them try new things. Even things that they as the leader wouldn’t have tried themselves. 

 

Authentic Leaders let their people think. They know that if everyone is thinking just like them then they aren’t really thinking at all. You must allow and even encourage your people to share their ideas without fear of criticism or consequences. The moment one of your people hesitates to speak up or share an idea is the same moment that empowerment stops. 

 

Authentic Leaders allow their people to make decisions. Even decisions they know are probably wrong. They won’t let them make millions dollar mistakes.  But they know letting them mess up decisions that could cost the company some money can be some of the most cost effective training they will ever receive. 

 

If you’re hiring good people then unleash the power of those people by truly empowering them.  Let them take some risks, let them think and let them make some decisions on their own, even some big decisions from time to time. 


A couple of decades ago companies could get away with talking about empowerment. That won’t work today. If you refuse to empower tomorrow’s leaders today then you put the very life of your organization at risk. 

Authentic Followership

Your title may sound impressive. Your title may come with a substantial income. Your title may gain you entry into elite places and even get you VIP treatment in some of those places. 

 

But what your title doesn’t do is make you a leader. 

 

All the same things can be said about the position you hold within your organization. Even positions at the very top of an organization aren’t truly leadership positions unless the person who occupies the position makes the effort required to lead. 

 

People don’t follow positions or titles. People follow people. 

 

The absolute number one leadership mistake a person can make is believing that their title or position makes them a leader. Titles and positions can make you a boss but only authentic followers can make you a leader. 

 

What I mean by “authentic follower” is a person who is committed to you personally. They realize that you care about them and have their interests in mind with just about every decision you make. 

 

An inauthentic follower is someone below or behind you in the organization that “complies” with your directives. They only comply because they fear the consequences if they don’t. You might believe they are following but when you need them you turn around and see that they aren’t really there.

 

If you’re someone who has the audacity to label themselves a leader then their lack of commitment is on you, not them. Perhaps you believed they “had” to follow you because you hold a position above them in the organization. 

 

That belief is likely the second biggest leadership mistake a person can make. NO ONE can be forced to follow you. Authentic Followership requires a commitment on the part of the follower AND the leader. You can’t force anyone to commit to you. 

 

If you want Authentic Followership then you’ll need to practice Authentic Leadership. That means demonstrating that you care about your people. That means keeping your lines of communication open and crystal clear. It means understanding that you’re responsible not only for your own success but for the success of the people you lead as well.

 

If you’re an Authentic Leader you’re even more excited when one of your followers excel than you are when you excel yourself. If you’re an Authentic Leader you have a vision to share with potential followers. That vision includes benefits for those who become Authentic Followers. 

 

If you’re an Authentic Leader there is little doubt that you have Authentic Followers. When you count on your title or position to earn you followers then it may appear as if you’re leading but when you turn around you’ll see there is nobody there.


If you’re wondering if you’re an Authentic Leader there is an easy way to find out….ask the people you think are following you. If they struggle to provide you with ready answers then it’s likely you have some work left to do. You will need to change your ways if you want to add Authentic Leader to whatever title you’ve been using to gain the compliance of your people. 

I Dare You to Lead

 

I dare you to lead…from right where you are. I dare you to lead…with just the skills you have available to you today. I dare you to lead…with the title and position you have today…even if you have no title and no position. I dare you to lead…this very minute! 

 

We don’t need more leaders in the world. What we need is for more leaders to lead. Most leaders today are leaders in waiting. They are waiting for the title that will make them a leader. They are waiting for “leadership skills” to somehow magically appear. They are waiting for the right “opportunity” to come along and then they will spring into leadership action. 

 

For some of the leaders the waiting may seem necessary. Others know that they are simply procrastinating. Still others are hiding from their fear of failing as a leader behind the safety net of waiting. 

 

Whatever their reasons the waiting is usually an excuse. No one who possesses the ability to influence another person need wait one more second. They can chose to lead right now, today.

 

Nothing makes you a leader but leading. Don’t buy into the myth that you need a lofty position or a fancy sounding title to lead. No title, no position, no timing and no opportunity can make you a leader. 

 

You must decide to lead. When you suddenly start leading there may be people in your sphere of influence who are offended. Lead anyway.

 

People like me can’t really “teach” leadership. We can only talk about how to lead. We can only explain the common characteristics of authentic leaders.  We can only describe the frequently repeated mistakes of poor leaders. 

 

But the only way to truly learn how to lead is to lead. Deal with your mistakes along the way, learn from them and lead better the next day. If you’re waiting until you are comfortable with your leadership skills and completely confident in your leadership abilities, then you may never lead at all. 

 

Authentic Leaders are often less than comfortable and completely confident with all the decisions they make and all the actions they take. They lead anyway! 

 

There has never been a great leader who was great on their first day of leading. Everyone learns along the way. Don’t wait until you think you’re good enough. Begin leading today and dedicate yourself to working hard to become the leader you’ve been waiting to become. 


I dare you!


Your Leadership Journey

I am always a little surprised when someone refers to me as an “authority” or “expert” on leadership. While I certainly appreciate the respect they are showing me by describing me with those words I know otherwise. 

 

I know some stuff about leadership but I also know that I know a tiny percentage of what it’s possible to know. I know too that neither I nor anyone else can ever come close to knowing more than that small percentage. 

 

Since leadership is about people and only people it’s impossible to truly be an “expert on leadership.” People will always surprise you. You can predict with some accuracy what people will do based on their past performance but never with enough accuracy to be a true expert. 

 

People are unique, they are actually even unique from themselves depending on the circumstances in their life at any given time. 

 

That’s what makes leadership so fascinating. It is what makes leadership so rewarding and it’s what makes leading so challenging. 

 

When someone else tells me that they are a leadership expert I am more than skeptical. I have only heard a couple of people describe themselves as an Authentic Leader. The moment the words came out of their mouth I was pretty certain they were anything but authentic. 

 

It’s kinda like when someone offers a class on humility taught by an “expert” on the subject. As soon as someone accepts the description of themselves as an expert on humility they are no longer humble enough to speak about it. So it is with leadership!

 

Authentic Leaders know that their journey to leadership excellence will never end. Authentic Servant Leaders know that helping the people they lead must always be the purpose of that journey. 

 

If you’re not constantly working on your knowledge of leadership then you run the risk of falling behind other leaders. If you’re not always developing your leadership skills then you run the risk of losing the people you would lead. 


Learning about all things leadership never stops for the best leaders. If you didn’t learn something new about leading others yesterday then you had best double your efforts today because if you’re not learning then you’re not leading.

The Biggest Mistake in Leadership

When it comes to businesses and the people who keep them running the rules are changing faster than ever before. This hyperactive environment presents unprecedented and unpredictable challenges to leaders everywhere, every day. 

 

Because everything else is changing it must be time to change how we lead. Right?

 

Well, maybe not. Actually not at all.

 

Leaders have behaved very much the same across the centuries. We know they come in different sizes, shapes, colors, and personalities. Yet by and large leaders do things, and get results, in similar ways. They always have and there is not a shred of evidence that’s going to change anytime soon.

 

Leaders don’t lead businesses, they don’t lead organizations and they don’t lead things. Leaders lead people and only people. Because people haven’t changed much since… well since there have been people on the earth, leadership hasn’t changed much either. 

 

Some would say that maybe people didn’t change before but with Millennials taking over the world everything is changing, even people. While there are some differences between the generations there are far more similarities. 

 

Leaders of today need to understand those differences. They also need to understand that despite huge changes in work environments, even bigger changes in the use of technology and the fact that for the first time ever we have 4 generations in the workforce, people have always had the same basic wants and needs.

 

People don’t want to be managed they need to be led.

 

Leadership means creating a vision. Leaders are the first to articulate an organization’s vision, and tell how they expect to make it a reality. The vision includes a benefit to all stakeholders. People will not follow a leader unless they know where the leader is going. They are also much more likely to follow a leader when there is something in it for them personally. As a leader you need to turn around once in a while to see if anyone is following. If no one is behind you then you may have a leadership title but you aren’t truly leading. Authentic Leaders bring their vision to life through inspiring initiatives and contagious commitment.  

 

Leadership means communicating Core Values. Leaders communicate values at the heart of an organization. They share the principles that both hold an organization together and drive it forward. Not only do Authentic Leaders communicate those values, they live them. When a leader’s words do not match their actions they will find their leadership walk to be a lonely one.

 

Leaders engage and encourage people. Authentic Leaders understand that their people are their greatest resource. They know that their success, and the success of their organization, is completely dependent upon the success of those people. Authentic Leaders invest a huge amount of time and energy in their people. Many people think of a CEO as a Chief Executive Officer. If that CEO is also an Authentic Leader then they are also the Chief Encouragement Officer. 

 

The biggest mistake a leader can make today is believing that the requirements for leadership success have changed. Leadership is about people and only people. Don’t jump at leadership “fads” and the people promoting “Millennial Leadership.” If you want to lead someone from any generation you’ll need to understand that no matter their age, they are people too. 


That also is unlikely to change any time soon. 

Is Your Leadership Creating Negativity?

Perhaps the better question would be is your lack of leadership creating negativity? Or is there a characteristic missing from your leadership that causes negativity in your organization? 

 

I like that last question best because you can be an effective leader in some ways but if you’re missing the key ingredients of sincere recognition and consistent feedback then you’re missing the point of leadership. 

 

The point of leadership is people. Authentic Leaders, and Authentic Servant Leaders in particular, focus on helping their people. They help them succeed. They help them discover their purpose and potential and then they help them achieve them. 

 

Those leaders understand the importance of recognition and feedback. They seldom miss an opportunity to provide both. 

 

As a leader I’ve always been consistent in providing feedback but I’ve struggled with giving recognition. I’m not a touchy feely kind of guy. Early in my career I assumed a paycheck was all the recognition someone needed. 

 

As I’ve grown (that’s code for gotten older) I’ve come to realize that recognition is vital for a person’s mental health. It’s vital for a person to know, without a doubt that another human being sees the value that they bring into the world. 

 

We all need to know we matter. Some people need that affirmation more than others but everyone needs it to some degree. As a leader one of your prime responsibilities is providing that affirmation. Your people need to hear it. They need to feel it. They need to see it. 

 

Here is a crucial thing for leaders to understand. Most people, research shows that as much as 85% of the world’s population, suffer from some level of self esteem deficiency. They lack the confidence to know that they matter, that they make a difference, that they would be missed. 

 

They need rather consistent re-enforcement of that fact. 

 

If they don’t get it, if it’s not a periodic part of their emotional diet, then they start to doubt their value. Maybe it’s a nagging thought or little concern at first but over time without recognition it grows. It grows to the point where they become convinced that they are NOT of value. 

 

That doesn’t make them wacky or weak; it makes them human. It happens to all of us at one time or another. 

 

When that “unvalued” feeling persists long enough a person disengages from the leader or organization that doesn’t value them. Some will then leave the organization and the leader behind. They use what confidence they have left to put themselves into a situation where they might be valued. 

 

But many won’t leave, they stay and simply go through the motions with their organization. They become disengaged and offer little in return for their paycheck. They can even seek to pull others down to their level. They are labeled as “negative” employees or described as having a negative attitude. 

 

They may be negative but they were not born that way. They likely didn’t have that attitude the day they started with the organization. That attitude developed over time and it likely started with a feeling that they, and their work, didn’t matter. 

 

That’s how easy it is for a well-meaning but sometimes thoughtless leader to foster an atmosphere of negativity in their organization. 

 

No organization, not a single one, can afford that type of atmosphere today. As a leader you must be intentional with your feedback and recognition. I literally recommend to leaders that they put a reminder in their phones to recognize someone each day. 


“Busy” is no excuse for letting your people wonder if they matter. Tell them often because there are few, if any, activities you have to do that could be more important than that.