Leading, Actually Leading

If everyone in a leadership position who wasn’t actually leading were fired there would be a ton of open leadership positions. The sad reality of leadership is that most people in leadership positions merely pose as leaders. They don’t do the hard work that truly leading requires.

Think of it like this. If you’re going someplace in your car and someone asks to tag along because they have nothing better to do then you’re taking them for a ride. That’s like occupying a leadership position without really leading. People might be in the car with you but they have no commitment to any particular destination.

When you’re giving someone a ride to a place they need to go and they might not get there without you, that’s like actually leading. They have a destination in mind and you’re their guide to get them there.

A person in a leadership position who actually leads has the ability to change the world for the good.

Maybe only one person’s world but that is more than most leaders in name only will do.

It’s not a big surprise that most people in leadership positions don’t actually lead. Over 50% of people in leadership positions have never received a minute of formal leadership training. More than 80% have never participated in a leadership development program.

If you’re wondering about the difference between leadership training and leadership development I’d explain it this way. Leadership training focuses on the “as is.” It’s about focusing on past leadership experiences to maintain the status quo. Leadership development aims higher. It is about being a better leader than the leaders that came before.

Leaders who actually lead invest themselves in their people. They celebrate the success of their people as much as their own. They know that as a leader who actually leads their success in completely dependent upon the success of their people.

“Leaders” who merely occupy a leadership position think in terms of “spending time” to correct mistakes made by their people. Leaders who lead think in terms of “investing time” to grow their people to a level where mistakes are virtually eliminated.

Leaders who actually lead understand that budgets, buildings and other “things” are managed. They also understand that people must be led and they have learned the difference between managing and leading.

People who are managed will never reach their potential. That’s the biggest problem with having “leadership posers” in a leadership position. If they are responsible for a budding superstar and they try to manage them rather than lead them that bud will never bloom.

That makes it a huge challenge to grow an organization.

When leaders don’t lead then their people don’t grow, or they grow too slowly to have the impact on the organization that they could. Don’t let that happen to your people. If you’re in a position of leadership and your organization doesn’t offer you Leadership Training or Leadership Development then do what an Authentic Leader would do…seek it out on your own. It’s like an investment in yourself.

Lead yourself to success. Lead yourself to truly lead your people.

The One Absolute of Authentic Leadership

I am frequently asked how to define the difference between Leadership and Authentic Leadership.

A leader is anyone who has influence over other people. That’s a very broad definition and points to the reality that almost anyone can lead. Your level of influence will determine your ability to lead. The greater your level of influence the greater your leadership potential.

But Authentic Leadership is something different. Being an Authentic Leader requires more than mere influence. It requires that you use that influence in a way that positively impacts the lives of the people you lead.

Authentic Leadership begins when you care for the people you lead. That’s because Authentic Leadership requires that the leader put their people first. If you don’t care for the people you lead it’s nearly impossible to put them first.

When you care for your people and you put them first it leads to enthusiastically helping your people succeed. It leads to making a positive difference in their lives.

That’s why the one absolute measure of whether a person is an Authentic Leader is whether or not they have helped make the people they lead better. Better at what they do, better at how they do it and better at why they do it.

Authentic Leaders make a difference in their people’s lives. They do it with no expectation of receiving anything in return for themselves. It may indeed help their organization but that’s not their primary motive for helping their people. They help their people in almost anyway they can because it’s the right thing to do.

A leader can have a large dose of success in many areas but if they haven’t helped another person reach their potential and achieve more than that person thought possible then they may be a Leader but I would not define them as an Authentic Leader.

If you’re wondering whether or not you’re an Authentic Leader you don’t need to wonder anymore. Look around at the people you’ve been leading. Are they better off because of the positive impact you have had on their life? Would they agree that you’ve had that positive impact if they were asked.

If the answer to both those questions is not a solid yes then you have some growing to do as a leader. That growth begins with a decision that says “I will LeadToday.” When you make that decision to authentically lead you won’t only change the lives of the people you lead, you’ll likely change your life as well.

Unknowing Leadership

True or false? Leaders must know everything.

That’s false. In fact it’s absolutely  positively false. Few things about leadership will ever be more false. It’s odd then that so many people in leadership positions act as if it were true.

Insecure and inexperienced leaders hate to say “I don’t know.” To avoid admitting to what they see as a weakness, they guess. They make something up or in the worst case, lie.

All because they believe uttering the words “I don’t know” makes them look weak.

Authentic Leaders embrace the unknown. They live in ambiguity. They know what they know and perhaps even more importantly, they know what they don’t know. And they are completely comfortable with not having all the answers.

They know that ambiguity leads to opportunity. When they don’t know their answer is “I don’t know…yet.” Their thought process in that moment is not on what is, it’s on what could be. They realize that not knowing is the beginning of the learning process.

Authentic Leaders know they will never know it all. They also know that they don’t have to. They use the knowledge and experience of their teams to fill in their gaps. They also don’t expect anyone in their organization to have all the answers and they willingly fill in the knowledge gaps of their team.

When an Authentic Leader doesn’t know what to do they do the next right thing. Doing the next right thing doesn’t require knowing the end result, it only requires knowing the next right thing to do. A series of “right next steps” will invariably lead to the desired end result.

Authentic Leaders do not try to solve every problem immediately. They live in the unknowns of a problem to better understand it and it’s root causes. They are willing to allow the problem to persist a bit to ensure that once it’s solved it’s solved for good.

It’s only by embracing what you don’t know that you can know more. If you think you know it all, or think you must convince others that you do, you rob yourself of the opportunity to grow.

Don’t simply tolerate ambiguity, embrace it. Relish the unknown and use it as a springboard to knowing more. Admit what you don’t know. Admit it especially to yourself. And remind yourself that not knowing isn’t a weakness, it is the beginning of knowing more.

“They” Do Have a Choice

At the conclusion of a presentation I was giving on Leadership a while back a person raised their hand to ask a question. I had started the presentation the way many of my Leadership presentations begin and that was by saying “your title or position does not make you a leader.” I usually go on to say that only followers can make you a leader.

The presentation then most often talks about how to be the type of person someone would want to follow.

The person with the question didn’t really have a question; he wanted to make a statement. He said that in fact his title DID make him a leader. He said that the people who worked for him “had no choice” but to follow him because he was “the boss.”

The started me off on the longest response I’ve ever given to someone in the audience at one of my presentations.

I told the person that while being the boss may force someone to comply with his “commands” it absolutely didn’t make him a leader. A leader is someone who is able to earn the willing commitment of their people. They have no need to “boss” because their committed people will do what needs to be done in order to assist their leader.

Committed people outperform compliant people every time. They do more, they do it better and they do it faster.

A “boss” may hold a position of leadership but that has nothing to do with leading. A person who holds a position of leadership and doesn’t lead actually is the cause of most of an organization’s personnel issues. A person in a leadership position who doesn’t lead creates turmoil in the organization and demoralizes it’s people.

Assuming your position or title makes you a leader is about the biggest mistake a person occupying a leadership position can make. It makes them look arrogant and sends a message to their people that they are somehow inferior to their “leader.”

To lead another human being requires their permission. It also requires their commitment. People do not commit to titles or positions, they only commit to other people. That commitment must be earned and it must be earned by showing the people you would lead that you care about them as human beings.

Your title can’t care and your position can’t care. Only you can care.

I finished up my response by saying that if someone doesn’t have the willingness and desire to care for other people then they may hold a position of leadership but they do not hold the hearts and the minds of the people they hope to lead.

That could make them many things but it doesn’t make them a leader.

He didn’t have any other questions.

People or Policy?

Businesses must have policies! They need a set of procedures that help their employees know what to do in any given circumstance. Those policies and procedures also help provide a consistent experience to their customers. Until it doesn’t.

I’m all for policies and procedures when it comes to “things” like how to do the books, how to mix some exotic coffee drink (it’s all exotic to me) or how to answer the phone. “Things” are best done with some consistency.

There should also be policies when it comes to people. My preferred “people policy” is to not have a policy. The last thing I want to hear from a customer service representative is the policy of whatever place they are working at. That’s bad business.

What’s worse is when someone in a leadership position attempts to “lead by policy.” Every single person is unique and the only policy that fits everyone is to have no policy. I’ve never met anyone who was smart enough to develop a policy that “fit” every individual they might encounter. Trying to squeeze every person into a “one size fits all” policy is demoralizing to the people who don’t fit.

A leader can certainly benefit from some guidelines. They can use past history to help determine their actions but leadership is about people and every person is different. Policies and procedures tend to lock a leader into a decision. People who lead by policy look at a situation and apply the logical procedure in the same way they did the last time they faced a similar situation. They will apply the same procedure the next time they face the situation.

That would be fine except for one little problem. Leadership is about people. People are far more emotional and far less logical than those “things” that work better with consistent policies and procedures.

That is one of the major challenges of leading.

Authentic Leaders care for the people of their organization more than they care about the policies of their organization. They apply the “rules” of the organization unfairly but they apply them equally unfairly to everyone. They think and act with unquestioned integrity. They know that the best thing they can do for the organization is to take care of it’s people. They show their understanding that not a single policy or procedure is more important than the people who implement them.

They know that what is right is sometimes unfair. The do the right thing anyway. They take each individual person’s circumstances into consideration. If there is no policy or procedure that fits then they make a new one that will.

Before all the HR professionals and lawyers reading this go nuts on me let me say this. I understand the need for employee handbooks and policies. I get that rules matter. I’m not advocating for anarchy in the workplace. I understand the danger of making up policy on the fly. I can only hope you understand the danger of not.

People, both employees of a business and the customers of that business are individuals. Believing that you can precisely fit all of them into some predetermined policy with a “close enough” attitude is a recipe for failure.

When it comes to building, engaging and motivating your people “close enough” isn’t enough. Authentic Leaders put their people before their policies to ensure a perfect fit.

Do you?

Are You a Person of Influence?

People without much leadership experience often overestimate the importance of a leadership title or a leadership position. They believe that they must have a high level position or fancy sounding title in order to influence other people.

But influence doesn’t come with a position or a title. Influence cannot be given, it must be earned.

A position gives you a chance and it can make it somewhat easier to earn influence but it still requires some time to earn your level of influence. Authentic Leaders will gain influence over time while lesser leaders will lose influence. Authentic Leaders understand that a position doesn’t make them a leader. They also understand that as a leader they can make the position whatever they want it to be.

While an inexperienced leader may have a mindset that says, “I want a position that people will have to follow,” an Authentic Leader has a mindset of, “I want to develop myself into the type of person that people will want to follow.”

Those Authentic Leaders know that people can only follow people who care about them. They demonstrate that they care for their people at every opportunity. They work hard at knowing and understanding the people they would lead. They see them as people first and employees second.

Authentic Leaders know that the deeper their concern for their people, the wider and more long-lasting their influence will be.

Authentic Leaders also grow their influence by making certain that their actions match their words. They do what they say they will do. They honor their commitments and help their people honor theirs. They coach, support and encourage their people on a consistent basis.

If you’re interested in being a person of influence then you should know that influence can’t go over, through or under walls. If walls exist between you and the people you’re hoping to lead then influence will not exist.

Relationships bring down walls. Invest a part of every day to know and better understand your people. It’s one of the fastest ways to build a relationship. Your level of influence will grow along with the strength of those relationships.

Lesser leaders can fool themselves into believing that they have more influence than they actually do. Authentic Leaders know that without a doubt their level of influence will be determined not by what it says on their business card but by who they are as a person.

Authentic Leaders are people of influence. Are you a person of influence?

The Need to Lead

Ever hear of the term “great world manager?” Me neither. The term we hear is “great world leader.” It seems that people almost instinctively understand that while a manager can steer the ship it takes a leader to set the course. It’s clear we have enough good managers, what we need is more leaders.

It’s Football season in the United States. The time of year when you hear football analysts describing the difference between an “ok” quarterback and an outstanding one. The “ok” quarterback is said to be a good “game manager” and the outstanding quarterback is described as an excellent “on-field leader.”

The difference is the “game manager” wins most of the games they are supposed to win and few of the games against the better teams. The “on-field leader” very rarely loses games they are supposed to win and frequently beats the better teams. One other notable difference, and this is my observation, the “on-field leader” also makes the players around them better.

I could write for hours about the difference between managing and leading. I’ll just say this, if you’re making your business better it’s likely managing, if you’re making your people better it’s most certainly leading.

Authentic Servant Leaders know something that other leaders, even effective Authentic Leaders often miss. They know that the fastest way to build their business is to build their people.

That’s why Authentic Servant Leaders spare no effort in developing their people. They don’t lead their people when they have the time, the lead their people ALL the time. People are their top priority. They recognize that every interaction with their people is a learning experience and that they can learn as much as their people.

Authentic Servant Leaders grow their organization by growing their people. People are their top priority in every situation. They will not sacrifice the long-term growth of their people for short-term profits. They know that they surest way to sustain their success is to work with their people, not on them.

Authentic Servant Leaders grow more leaders and those leaders grow the business. They make the people around them better. They help ordinary people achieve extraordinary results. They know that their own success is completely dependent upon the success of their people.

So where’s your focus? Are you focused only on the bottom line or are you focused on the people you need to help you grow it?