Not Every Leader Leads – Part Two

In my last post we talked about following an ineffective leader. We also discussed working through the frustration that comes with that situation. 

 

If you can manage to work through the frustration and lead yourself you are way ahead of most people. Too many people spend their days wallowing in their lack of leadership. They should be focused on leading themselves to success. 

 

If you have the leadership skills to deal with the frustration of following a leader who doesn’t lead then it’s likely you also have the leadership skills to “lead up” in your organization.

 

Leading up is the second part of the process for overcoming the lack of leadership when you’re working with a leader who doesn’t lead. Here’s the thing about “leading up” in your organization; while it is absolutely necessary when your leader isn’t leading it is also beneficial when your leader is already an effective leader.

 

If you’re a leader at any level in your organization then you should be adding value to everything and everyone you have contact with. I know it can seem counterintuitive to help people succeed at some cost to your own success but that’s Authentic Leadership. If you can help anyone then you should help them. It is the right thing to do. While it may feel as if you’re potentially costing yourself a promotion or raise by helping other people look good you’re not.  

 

Doing the right thing is never wrong. 

 

So, let’s talk about the “how to” of leading up. First before you can lead anyone else you must lead yourself. Allowing the frustrations of your position or job to dominate your thoughts and actions is not leading yourself. 

 

You must maintain control over your emotions because failing to do so will have a huge negative affect over your attitude. When it comes to influencing those around you, especially those above you in your organization, attitude is everything. If you can’t control your emotions then you won’t control your attitude. 

 

To lead up in your organization you need to remove as much work as possible from your leader. That will inevitably mean doing more than what’s in your job description. It will frequently mean doing it will little or no recognition, at least for you. Trust the fact that someone notices your effort. Even in the very unlikely event that no one does you can take pride in your efforts because you will have done what’s right. 

 

Leading up requires that you have the ability to say no to your leader. Whether your leader is an effective leader or something less than effective they need someone in their sphere of influence who has the courage to tell them the truth. Sometimes that will mean telling them what they don’t what to hear. If you’re going to lead up you’ll need to find a tactful way to do that. 

 

Leading up also means doing the things that others are unwilling to do. Anyone can do the easy stuff; leaders who lead up tackle the tough jobs that other people avoid. Making a difference for the people above you, or anywhere in your organization, will sometimes mean sacrificing your personal objectives for the sake of others. It may mean working with people you would prefer not to work with. But leading up teaches you tenacity and resiliency that people unwilling to lead up with never know. 

 

The reality is that there are people in leadership positions all around the world who don’t actually lead. If you find yourself being “led” by one of those don’t allow your attitude to be impacted by the lack of leadership.

 

Choose to control your emotions. Choose to lead up in your organization. Make the choice to have a positive impact on those who could have a negative impact on you. 


All is takes is a decision to LeadToday!


I Just Don’t Know

“I just don’t know” may sound like weak words to many people. But to Authentic Leaders and their followers they are some of the most powerful trust building words that can be spoken.

 

Leadership is not about knowing it all. It’s not even about knowing more than the people you lead. Leadership begins with integrity and at the heart of integrity is honesty. Trying to fool people into believing you know more than you do causes immense damage to your credibility. When your credibility is gone integrity soon follows it out the door and so does your opportunity to authentically lead. 

 

Saying “I just don’t know” is not a sign of weakness in a leader, it is a sign of authenticity, a sign of honesty. It is a sign that the leader has enough confidence in what they do know to admit what they don’t. 

 

In every successful endeavor I’ve undertaken it succeeded because I knew what I didn’t know. But I was able to find people to work with me who could fill in my gaps. In pretty much every endeavor I’ve undertaken that didn’t succeed I either couldn’t find people to fill my gaps or, and this is far more likely, I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did. (Or perhaps I was just fooling myself)

 

I’m sure at some point I figured out I didn’t know as much as I thought I did but by that point I could not bring myself to admit it to others. That caused a myriad of problems. Upon reflection everyone of those problems came from the fact that I wasn’t a strong enough leader to say, “I just don’t know.”

 

One thing I’ve learned without a doubt in this: if you’re pretending to know more than you actually do others will see through your charade sooner or later. When that happens you’re not likely to ever lead them again. Trust me, I’ve been on both sides of this, that’s just how it works. 

 

I’ve grown through the years and now I’m almost proud to string the words, “I just don’t know” together. Others may think that makes me weak but I know that makes them something other than an Authentic Leader. 

 

Courage is a basic requirement for Authentic Leadership. It will sometimes take courage to admit when you don’t know something, especially when it’s something that many people think you should know. 

 

Don’t damage your credibility by pretending to know more than you do. Summon the courage of an Authentic Leader and admit your knowledge gap and then find the people who can help you fill it. 


Leaders don’t know it all and there is no requirement that they do. Authentic Leaders know that much for sure!

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.