Are You a Model of Success?

One of the things that frustrate many people in leadership positions is their people not doing what they are told to do. They don’t follow directions and frequently ignore what the leader says. 

It’s kinda true that many people don’t listen to what their leader says. That’s because they are too busy watching what their leader does. 

Authentic Leaders know that their actions speak louder, much louder, than their words. They know that people will do what their leader does about 1000 times faster than they will do what their leader says. Authentic Leaders know that they are the model for the behavior of their people. Not only are they the model for behavior, they are the model for their attitude as well. 

If you’re in a leadership position then you must be hyper-aware that your people are watching you. Always. They watch to determine if what you say is what you mean. If your actions match your words then they will do what you say. If your words say one thing and your actions another then they typically discard your words and do what you did. 

They know that while they may misinterpret your words they can clearly see what you’ve done. Doing what you do is “safer.” What you do likely helped put you into a position they would like to be in one day. It only makes sense that they would follow the example you set for them. 

You confuse them when you get frustrated because they did what you did. You may not realize that you’re leading by example but you most certainly are. Whether you intend to or not. 

Whatever behavior you “model” for your people is the behavior your people will give you. 

It works the same with the attitude your people display. If you demonstrate a negative attitude to your people then don’t be surprised when your people demonstrate one to you. If you’re leading a group of people with a negative attitudes the source of that attitude most likely looks back at you from the mirror every morning. 

Most people in leadership positions don’t like it, or agree with it, when I say that. They believe they are the sunshine in everyone’s day. Let me encourage you to look at yourself again. Maybe hit record on your smartphone and “listen” to yourself for a few hours. You may be surprised at how negative you sound…if you listen with an open mind. 

As a leader, do you cultivate an atmosphere where negative attitudes go to die or do you allow an atmosphere where negative attitudes can thrive? 

Authentic leaders know that when it comes to behavior and attitudes they will most likely get what they give. That’s why they work to consistently model an attitude of success and the behavior that goes along with it. 

Do Your People Have Reasons or Just Make Excuses?

Successful people have reasons why they made a mistake or something went wrong. Less successful people make excuses.

When someone shows up late to a meeting or an event they have two choices, they can make an excuse or provide a reason. Let’s say you have an employee who is late for work. A less engaged employee might say, “The traffic was terrible and that’s why I was late.” At first glance that may appear to be a reason but it’s really just an excuse. 

An excuse makes a victim of the employee who was late and I’d be willing to bet that wasn’t the first time that employee was late and it certainly won’t be the last. An excuse has the undercurrent of “it’s not my fault, it’s not my responsibility and there’s nothing I can do to prevent it from happening again. 

The excuse says that if you as their leader try to hold them responsible for being on time it is YOU who are being unreasonable. YOU need to adjust your thinking and YOU need to be more flexible and understanding. After all, they can do nothing to control the traffic and blaming them is almost being abusive. 

It’s amazing to me how often that “shifting of responsibility” works. Many managers back off at that point and allow the tardiness to continue. Authentic Leaders know that if they do not hold their people accountable they are failing in one of the primary responsibilities of leadership. That is the responsibility of establishing accountability!

When the more engaged employee arrives late they provide a reason for being late. They may say, “The traffic was terrible and I failed to allow for that possibility. As a result I did not leave early enough and I was late. I will not make that mistake again.” 

Providing a reason for being late includes an acceptance of responsibility.  It includes a commitment to do whatever is required to be on time going forward. 

As a leader it is important that you understand the difference between an excuse and a reason. An excuse means nothing is likely to change. A reason means responsibility has been accepted and improvement will at least be attempted. 

Determining if you’ve been given an excuse or a reason requires that you listen intently to your people. You must focus on what’s being said and often, on how it’s being said. Failure to listen, truly listen, is the most common cause of poor coaching on the part of a leader. 

You can not help your people grow by accepting weak excuses. Excuses erase accountability and lead only to more excuses. Help your people understand the difference between an excuse and a reason. You’ll then be helping them be more successful for your organization and for themselves. 

Your Ticket In

In all likelihood you were promoted to your first leadership position because you were good at your job. That job most likely didn’t involve leadership responsibilities. 

The challenge for most new leaders is that what earned them a leadership position will almost certainly not help them lead. They may have managed their job exceptionally well. They may understand how the business works, they may even know how to generate revenue for their organization. 

But none of that has anything to do with leading. That’s managing. We manage stuff, we manage things, we may even attempt to manage time but we do not, we cannot, manage people. 

Every business or organization needs excellent management to survive. They need superior leadership to thrive. 

The first step to becoming a superior leader is to understand that the skill sets that make you a good manager will not make you a good leader. While a high IQ can make you an effective manager it requires a decent EQ to help you develop as a leader.

Leadership is about people and only people. If you don’t “get” people you won’t get leadership either. If you can’t demonstrate that you care for people then people won’t care to follow you. 

People cannot follow someone they do not trust. Authentic leaders work to earn the trust of the people they lead on a continuous basis. They know that to be trusted their words must match their actions. Authentic Leaders lead will truth and honesty even when it’s a little painful. 

New leaders who want to become experienced Authentic Leaders understand that they are responsible for their own development. They willingly accept whatever development opportunities come from their organizations but they don’t stop there. 

They invest their own time and often their own money to further develop themselves. They will attend classes, listen to podcasts and seek out coaches who can help them develop their leadership skills.

If you’re in a leadership position, particularly if you’re new to a leadership position, you should know that your management skills are merely your ticket into the leadership world. Being promoted into a leadership position does not make you a leader, it merely provides you with an opportunity to earn the right to lead. 

By the way, while holding a leadership position may make it a bit quicker to earn that right, you do not need a leadership position to lead. You just need to care for people and want to make a difference in their lives.

Authentic Leaders will tell you that leadership development never stops. The most effective leaders continue to learn and develop their own leadership skills. They know that “good enough” never is. 

If you’re new to leadership, or struggling in your current leadership role then the good news is that there is lots of help available to you. You only need to make the decision to develop yourself into the most effective leader possible. 

That’s part of leading yourself, which always comes before attempting to lead someone else. 

Taking Care of Business

Every business promises to take care of their customers. Many have departments they call Customer Care. The new “thing” in customer service is called CX which short for the Customer Experience. Companies are investing small fortunes with consultants. All to improve the experience for their customers. 

They do this in an attempt to take care of business. 

But for many of those companies, way way too many, they have put the cart before the horse. 

I fully support anything that improves the customer experience. I’m all in on anything that gives the customer a reason to continue doing business with a company. It’s just that every business is in the people business, no matter the product or service they sell. 

Companies can invest literally millions of dollars trying to improve their customer’s experience. They spend on systems, programs and technology. But if they refuse to invest one dollar on improving the working experience of their employees the customer will never be happy. 

I recall a whole bunch of years ago when the pilots union at one of the major airlines in the US went on strike. It was a pretty contentious strike right from the beginning. Both the company and the pilots union took out ads in the newspapers saying that the other side were basically morons. I still don’t understand the airline’s strategy of telling their customers that the people who were flying them across the country were morons. But that’s another story. 

Part way through the strike one of the pilots was on a local talk radio show discussing the strike. He said something that has stuck with me to this day. He said the crux of the problem at the airline was that they were trying to satisfy customers with dissatisfied employees. 

The employees, throughout the airline, were disgruntled and disengaged. They believed they were taken for granted and disrespected. They passed those feelings on to the customers. 

The “cart” that many companies put before the horse is investing in customer service programs before they invest in the people responsible for implementing the programs. They are trying to make satisfied customers when their employees could be dissatisfied. That is unlikely to work. 

Most companies today know that regardless of what they sell they are in the people business. What they don’t seem to realize is that the employees of the company are people too. While the popular thinking says “the customer comes first” the reality is that unless employees know they matter the customer doesn’t come at all. 

Companies that attempt to take care of business before they take care of their people are making a mistake, often a very costly one. 

The most successful and profitable companies know that it’s their people who create satisfied and loyal customers. Programs, technology and systems do not. What they can do is help the people in the organization better serve customers. But if the people who are employed by the company do not feel valued it’s unlikely they will add much value to the customer. 

That’s why companies that last invest as much in their people as they do their products and customers. 

Does your organization have the cart before the horse? If so a change of focus is in order. Focus on your people first so they will enthusiastically focus on your customers. 

Fear School

Early in my career selling training programs I made a call on one of the world’s largest manufacturing companies. I was selling a variety of training programs but the one I was focused on during this call was Leadership Training. 

I asked how the company was currently developing their leadership teams and they said they were in kind of a gap period. In fact it had been awhile since they offered any formal training to their leadership team. 

We talked about what they had done in the past and they told me that all new managers were required to attend what they called “Fear School.” It was management training designed to help the new manager understand how to put the fear of God into their people. They had used their Fear School program for literally decades. They were now struggling with turnover and recruiting issues so they thought perhaps another approach might be in order. 

You may think that putting fear into the minds of people is an ineffective way to get them to do things. You would be wrong. It is very effective…just not for very long. Putting fear into people makes them compliant. They do what they are told because they fear the consequences of not doing it. 

They do it but they seldom do it well. They seldom do more than the minimum required to avoid the consequences. Compliant employees are very expensive for a company because they are not engaged with the goals or vision of the organization. They take up space and add little value beyond what the fear-mongering boss can force out of them. 

Compliant employees use their job description as a shield to deflect requests to do anything that might appear to be extra work. 

It is unlikely that any company still offers “Fear School” to their new managers. Many new managers however operate as if they passed the class with flying colors. They settle for the compliance of their people rather than working to earn their commitment. 

Authentic Leaders work daily to earn the commitment of their people. While compliant people are working to get out of work, committed employees are working to constantly improve both their organizations and themselves. They add value anyway they can. 

Some people will tell you that there is no difference between managing people and leading people. They say it’s all semantics. Those people would be mistaken. They would also be the managers most likely to settle for compliance. 

If you want to determine if someone is trying to manage people or if they are an Authentic Leader it’s actually pretty easy. Just look at the people they are responsible for leading. If the people are committed they are being led. If they are sleep walking through their day they are being managed. 

Here’s the sad part of all that. Every employee wants to be engaged. Every person wants to make a difference. Every person wants to enjoy their work. Every person can be an engaged and contributing employee. Every person wants effective and Authentic Leadership. 

Not every person in a leadership position wants to help their people have those things. They are “lazy leaders” who settle for compliance when they could have so much more. 

That’s a shame on many levels but especially for the people who lack the leadership they need.

Will You Really Invest in Your People?

Most leaders are rather proud to say that their people are their greatest asset. Funny thing is the only way you would know that is by listening to them because for many of them you don’t see it in their actions. 

When you challenge them to back up what they say about their greatest asset they invariably point to the the money they spend to develop their people. By the way, there is so much wrong with the “we spend a ton” statement that I could write several posts about it but I’ll talk about one for now. 

The first thing wrong with that statement is that with the exception of a very few companies it’s not true. In the United States the majority of companies spend an average of ten times more on their IT Infrastructure than they do developing their people. 

They see spending on IT almost as a sunk cost so while they may shake their heads at the amount, it gets approved as if there is no choice. Spending on people is a prospective cost and is often cut to protect the all important the bottom line. 

Authentic Leaders, the ones who grow and develop future leaders for their organization, know that the best investment they can make in their people is an investment of time. They don’t “spend” money or time ON their people, they “invest” money and time WITH their people. 

You can spend money on “off the shelf” training for your people or you can invest your time and your experience to truly grow and develop your people. 

If you’re delegating the vital leadership responsibility of developing your people solely to your HR team or worse, simply leaving it up to the people you lead, then you may hold a leadership position but you are not leading. 

Take a second here to reflect on the past week. What did you do to help one of the people you lead grow and develop? Criticizing them for a mistake is not helpful so don’t count those. Where during the last week did you invest the time to take someone’s mistake and turn it into a learning opportunity? When did you coach or encourage a member of your team? 

I already know the answers to those questions for too many of you. I also know the excuses you’ll use to explain away your lack of Authentic Leadership. So don’t got there. 

Go instead to your mirror and look yourself in the eye. Now read this:

Because I refuse to invest even a minute of my time to develop the people I’m supposed to be leading they will always struggle. Because I attempt in vain to manage people who desperately need to be led I will always struggle. Because we collectively struggle our organization will struggle as well. Because I am a leader in name only those struggles will be continuous. They will not be the responsibility of the people I’m supposed to lead, they will be on me. 

You may forget some of that when your excuses blot out your responsibility as a leader so you may want to read that everyday. Or you might start actually leading by investing the time to develop what you so rightfully call your greatest asset. 

Communication Always Matters

I’ve never met anyone in a leadership position who likes rumors. Rumors create lots of productivity and morale killing conversations. Not public conversations mind you, but the whispered hallway conversations that stop suddenly with the appearance of a supervisor. 

The people in leadership positions who dislike rumors the most are often the same ones who create the rumors to begin with. They create rumors by failing to communicate with their people. 

The people who work in your organization have a vested interest in what’s happening within the organization. Lots of people in leadership positions tell me they share information on a “needs to know basis.” Those leaders fail to understand that their people NEED to know. 

I understand that not all information can be shared within an organization. I also understand that far more information could be shared than is being shared in most organizations. 

Too many people in leadership positions don’t understand their people’s need to know. They want to know how the company they work for is doing. They want as clear a look into their potential future as possible. They crave information. That craving causes people to invent information when none is provided. That “invented” information is delivered to others in the form of a rumor. 

Authentic Leaders know that real information is the enemy of rumor. That’s why they provide as much information to their people as is legally and ethical possible. 

The most current example of people needing to know is still the whole pandemic situation. The omicron variant is the current Covid 19 variant making the news. I’m not very knowledgeable in the Greek language but I believe “omicron” is Greek for “who the hell knows.” 

But just because you may not have all the answers about what your organization is doing with regards to pandemic issues is no excuse to not provide your people with the answers you do have. 

While leaders are storing up information to present all at once they are creating the rumors they so dislike. One very large retail operation recently asked their employees to submit their proof of vaccination by the end of the year. No other information was provided, only a request to provide the proof by a certain deadline. No reasons where given for a request that seemed to come out of the blue. No consequences were provided in the event you failed to comply.

You can imagine the rumors that started. This company has hundreds of thousands of employees, that’s a whole lot of rumors going around. It is by all measures a really good company. One that has taken good care of their people during the entire pandemic. But it’s an example of how even otherwise very effective leaders can forget the importance of effective communication. 

I hold people who have the audacity to call themselves leaders to very high standards. One of those standards is continuous communication with the people they lead. It has never been easier to communicate with your people, even if they are spread out around the world. You can write a internal company blog. Create a weekly informational video. A simple Monday morning email update with a “what’s up” theme. 

Many leaders tell me that they don’t have time to do those things. Some of those leaders don’t have time because they are too busy putting out the fires started by the rumors they helped create. 

People in leadership positions make excuses for why they can’t communicate with their people. Authentic Leaders don’t make excuses, they make communication plans and they stick to them.