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. 

Everyone Needs Encouragement

This post has a pretty simple title. I’m hoping that everyone who reads this knows that unarguable fact. 

 

Knowing it isn’t enough. If you’re a leader you must actually provide encouragement to your people. Consistent, planned and very intentional encouragement. Now, before you say that you “do that all the time” stop for a moment and think. Think about the last time you actually stopped long enough to truly focus on someone else and provide them with meaningful encouragement. 

 

How long has it actually been?

 

If you’re thinking that “nice work” or “keep it up” or “way to go” is actually encouragement then I would suggest that you need to change your thinking. Passing someone in the hall and tossing a “nice job” their way is not encouragement. It’s not a compliment and it most certainly doesn’t pass muster as a sincere Thank You. 

 

Actual encouragement is the act of providing positive feedback that focuses specifically on effort and/or improvement, rather than specific outcomes.

 

To encourage someone ask them how you can help them. Offer to assist (doing someone else’s work for them is not encouragement) them with advice or ideas. You may be surprised at just how powerful the simple question “How can I help?” really is.

 

Asking questions to help them uncover their own ideas is also a great encourager, especially when you point out that the idea is their very own.

 

Offer encouragement in public, let everyone see what a difference true encouragement can make. When you bring encouragement out into the open you develop a culture of encouragement within your organization. 

 

Providing real encouragement to others requires practice and preparation. Authentic Leaders set aside time to make certain this vital leadership responsibility does not fall through the cracks. Keep your eyes focused on your people and you’ll find plenty of opportunities to offer real encouragement. 


It might not be easy or even comfortable at first but keep at it. Once you become an habitual encourager you’ll wonder why you didn’t develop this awesome habit long ago.

The Case for Micro-Leading

It seems as if I’m always learning something more about leadership. If there is one thing about leadership that I learn almost everyday it’s that I have a lot to learn when it comes to leading.

 

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time you’ll know my thoughts on micro-managing. It does great harm, to the person being micro-managed, to their organization, and even at times to the micro-manager

 

People resist being managed and they super resist being micro-managed. Micro-managing causes the micro-managed person to feel that they are not trusted even though that’s often not the case. Many times a micro-manager trusts their people and believes they are actually helping them. It’s not meant to be hurtful, it is in fact meant to be helpful. 

 

Regardless of their motives micro-managers are not helpful in the long-run. 

 

I am a firm believer in delegating tasks and empowering your people to take the reins. Let them work through the details and learn more than they ever would by being micro-managed. In the long-run it could be better for the organization. 

 

But….

 

You can delegate a task but as a leader you cannot delegate the responsibility for it being successfully accomplished

 

Which brings us to what I’ve learned lately. Given the choice between a well meaning leader who micro-manages their people, or a well meaning leader who empowers their people with little or no supervision, I’m going with the micro-manager every time

 

Despite my recent discovery I still refuse to acknowledge that micro-managing may have a place in the development of people. So I’m going to coin a new term and call it micro-leading. Here is the difference between micro-managing and micro-leading. 

 

If you’re closely managing someone only for your benefit or for the benefit of the organization then it’s micro-managing. If you’re closely supervising someone for their own development and learning then it’s micro-leading

 

Why you do something matters. Motives matter. 

 

Now, for those of you who think that the leader who sets their people free to find their own way has terrific motives I would say that you are likely correct. Except that successful leadership requires more, much more, than pure motives. 

 

Authentic Leaders cannot risk the good of the many for the development of one or even several people. Their first responsibility is to the entire organization. That requires them to find the balance between too much supervision and too little. Because of that awesome responsibility to the many I would have to suggest erring on the side of too much. 

 

It’s great when a leader can trust the judgment of their people but leaders must also understand that good judgment often comes from experience. If your people lack that experience then it’s not micro-managing to question their judgment, it’s micro-leading

 

Authentic Leaders “loan” their experience to their people until they have enough experience of their own. It’s only then that an experienced leader will allow them more freedom to use their own informed judgment to make great decisions

 

The good of the many must be foremost in the mind of a leader. It may cause the development of future leaders to be slower than they would like but if you’re in it for the long haul it’s the only way to go

The Vast Difference Between Managing and Leading

Leading and managing are seen as nearly identical, interchangeable words by most people. Even people who should and must know the huge difference often don’t. That’s why I write about the difference several times each year.

 

The difference between managing and leading is more, way, way, way, way more, than mere semantics. The difference in mindset between someone who attempts to manage people and someone who actually leads people is gigantic. 

 

The people who are managed feel that difference everyday. It feels as if they are a cog in the wheel, a bit player with little or no opportunity to grow into something more. You may be able to force the compliance of a managed human being but you will never earn their commitment. Only a leader can earn the commitment of an emotional being. 

 

Managing is mostly about stuff. We manage budgets, plans, inventories, buildings, etc. All the “stuff” has one thing in common, they are not emotional. 

 

Leadership is about people. It’s about people and only people. All people have something in common too; they are most certainly emotional. 

 

That’s what makes leading much more challenging than managing. 

 

Unless of course you’re trying to manage people. Now that’s a challenge! It’s a challenge because people basically refuse to be managed. They fight being managed every step of the way. Even if they don’t know why “it” doesn’t feel right they instinctively know being managed causes them some level of emotional distress. 

 

To the people who still believe that the difference between managing and leading is mostly semantics I would tell you that the vast majority of “people problems” or “personnel issues” that you experience on an ongoing basis are attributable to that belief.

 

If you think of the people you’re supposed to be leading as nothing more than human capital or an asset much like your printers or computers then you should expect them to fail you when you most need them….just like your printer or computer. 

 

Authentic Leaders understand the difference between what gets managed and who gets led. Authentic Servant Leaders understand better than anyone that people who are led commit to the leader and their vision. They understand that people who are led will outperform people who are managed every single day. 

 

People who are managed may, just may, help you maintain a stable organization. People who are led will commit to helping you grow your organization beyond your wildest dreams. People who are managed cause problems, people who are led solve them. 

 

People who are managed are cared about, people who are led are cared for and if you don’t understand the difference then you are likely having a hard time actually leading your people. 

 

Your computer, or anything else you might manage, will never know what you think of it and that’s okay because it doesn’t need to. The people you lead absolutely must know what you think of them and if you don’t tell them and back it up by showing them they will almost certainly believe you don’t think much of them at all. It’s an emotional response that Authentic Servant Leaders understand very well. 


If you have the audacity to call yourself a leader then you must, absolutely must must must, understand the clear difference between what you manage and who you lead. Without that basic understanding you will be very likely attempt the impossible task of managing people.