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.

Why You’ll Never Lead a Thing

If you’re reading this then I have news for you…. you will never lead a thing. Never!

 

Leadership requires an emotional connection between a leader and a follower. “Things” have no emotions and therefore they cannot be led. Only people can be led. In fact they must be led because as emotional beings we humans refuse to be managed. We fight back against being managed even if only subconsciously.

 

If you struggle with constant “problems” with your people it’s very likely that you are trying to manage them instead of leading them.

 

Many people in leadership positions say that the difference between leading and managing is mere semantics. They believe that they are one in the same. Authentic Leaders know better.

 

Authentic Leaders know that there is a huge difference between the mindset of a leader and the mindset of a manager. A manager’s mindset is about control. It is about being reactive. It is about maintaining the status quo, and it’s about policies and procedures. 

 

An Authentic Leader’s mindset is about vision and strategy. It is about influence and inspiration. It is about appealing to the heart and raising expectations. A leadership mindset is proactive and it is people focused. 

 

Now before you go and get all cranky on me I am not saying managing isn’t important. It is every bit as vital as leading. Asking which is more important is like asking if having air or the ability to breath is more important. It doesn’t matter because without one you don’t need the other. 

 

When you understand that there are real differences between leading and managing then you have the opportunity to actually lead. Leading requires a deep understanding of people and if you don’t understand people you’ll find it impossible to lead them. 


Adopt one of Dale Carnegie’s principles from How to Win Friends and Influence People…the one that’s says to be genuinely interested in other people. The key words there is genuinely; when you are truly interested in learning about people they will show you exactly how to lead. 

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 Ingredient for Success in Business

There are many ingredients required to grow a successful business. Many of those ingredients can be, and in fact are, provided by leaders at every level of the organization. 

 

But there is one ingredient, the one essential ingredient, that can come only from the leader at the very top. That ingredient is organizational culture. 

 

Leaders at the top must never fool themselves that the culture is developed “near” the top, or that it comes from the majority of the leaders. It does not. It comes from the very top and that’s the only place it comes from. 

 

If you’re a leader at the top of an organization then it is you who determines the overall health of the culture in that organization. You set the tone, you model what acceptable culture looks like and what it sounds like. 

 

You can’t do that by telling people what healthy culture looks like, you must show them. If your words don’t match your actions you can be sure that your people will follow your actions and not your words. They will do what you do light years before they will do what you say. 

 

The culture within any organization is merely a reflection of the top leader. 

 

Stop for a while today, a long while perhaps, and ask yourself what kind of culture you’re modeling for your people. Are you providing an environment where it’s impossible to maintain a negative attitude? Are you nurturing a culture where caring for others is encouraged and even rewarded? Are you demonstrating a culture where recognition is freely given and feedback is actually sought? 

 

Do you display a culture where people are free to provide suggestions and point out weaknesses within the organization… without the fear of reprisals? Is your culture one that values loyalty and does that loyalty work both ways? Is your culture one of “spending on people” or “investing in people?” Is yours a culture that supports and promotes the same opportunities for everyone regardless of their appearance or personal preferences? 

 

If you’re a leader at the top of an organization you must be able to confidently answer those questions. If you can’t then your organization could be lacking the essential ingredient for long-term success. 

 

That’s on you! You cannot shift responsibility for a healthy organizational culture in your organization. The moment you accept that fact is the moment the culture in your organization has a chance to improve.


Organizational culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage that top leaders completely control. If you’re not controlling that then what the heck do you think you are controlling?

Three Minute Leadership

One of the things I enjoy most about what I do for a living is that I get to meet a lot of people. As someone who enjoys studying people, their characteristics, habits, and attitudes, the more people I meet the better. 

 

It goes without saying that some people are more interesting than others. I recently met one of these “more interesting” people. It was after a leadership presentation that I did and this person came up to me so they could let me know that they agreed with everything I said. They also wanted me to know that I should consider that high praise coming from them. 

 

I knew better but I took the bait anyway and said in a questioning tone, “coming from you?” They proceeded to tell me that they were actually the best leader they knew. I was confused by this for a moment until I figured out that this person actually considered themselves to be the finest leader on the planet, or at least the finest leader they knew of. (Nope, I wasn’t at a big White House)

 

I said something about that being very impressive and thanked them for their comment. Then I immediately began looking for an escape. No such luck!

 

The person began to explain their own “excellent” leadership principles. I could have nodded in assumed agreement until they got to this beauty: if you’re spending more than 3 minutes a day “doing leadership stuff” with any one individual then you’re doing leadership wrong. 

 

If my wife had been with me she would have given me one of her knowing looks telling me to just walk away….but she wasn’t with me. 

 

So I started by violating one of Dale Carnegie’s most important Human Relations Principles and told this gentleman he was wrong. Dead wrong in fact, as in your leadership is DOA!

 

I mentioned that if he considered time with his people as being “spent” then they likely sensed that and were not truly following him. I said that most any Authentic Leader considers time with their people as an “investment.” They also consider that investment to be the most important and profitable investment they can make in their organization. 

 

Then, in the most non-confrontational tone I could muster I said something about having never met an Authentic Leaders who thought they were the best leader ever. He now seemed to be the one looking for an escape. Then, from almost 4000 miles away I could feel my bride looking at me like I was the poor leader in this conversation. I then decided to thank him for his “insights” and let him be on his way. 

 

Here’s why I reacted the way I did.

 

As a leader you have no greater responsibility than your people. Everything else in your organization may be urgent but your people are important, most important in fact. Never allow the merely urgent yet often unimportant tasks to rob you of the time you need to invest in the people who are truly important to your success and the success of your organization.

 

A very wise man once told me to never underestimate the absolute unimportance of nearly everything I do. It’s a sobering thought but it does keep a person from taking themselves too seriously. 


Your people must never fall into that unimportant category. You MUST view your people, every one of them, as worth more, much much much more, than three minutes day.