Leadership Visibility

Much has been written about the most important characteristics of an Authentic Leader. Some would say judgement, some would say integrity. Some would say its something else but after integrity and judgement it kinda depends on the circumstances. 

But one characteristic is seldom mentioned. That characteristic is being visible. If your people can’t see you then your people can’t follow you. 

As a leader you are the model for the culture of your organization. You are the face of the values your organization represents. You are the cheerleader in chief and the light of hope when circumstances look dark.

But you can’t be any of those things if you’re not seen…on a very regular basis. 

There are many ways to communicate with your people these days. You can write a company blog. You can publish a weekly video. You can do email blasts a few times a week. But none of those can come close to just being “out there” among the people you lead. Short hallway conversations with anyone and everyone in your organization makes everyone feel as if they belong. The higher up you are in the organization the more these brief conversations are valued by the people you lead.

And there’s the challenge. The higher you are in the organization the more likely you are to get bogged down with the day to day requirements of managing the organization. It may feel as if the last thing you have time for is a talk with Patty from the mail room or Jerry from the loading dock. You may not even have time to talk with all your senior leaders. 

But that’s a terrible mistake.

No matter how busy you may be managing, never forget you’re a leader first. The health and culture of your organization will be largely (or should I say bigly?) determined by the quality of the relationships you have with each and every member of your team. The higher you are in the organization the greater the impact your words will have on people. A quick question to Patty about how she is doing can turn a disengaged employee into an engaged one. An additional comment about how much you recognize and appreciate Patty’s efforts will help the engagement last. 

If you’re wondering about how to tell if you’re “out there” frequently enough here is the only measurement that counts. The measurement is your people’s opinion. If your people think you’re invisible then you are. If they never see you then you might as well not exist. You can tell yourself that you’re more than visible but you don’t get a vote. The perception of your people is all that matters.

Visibility is the characteristic that not all leaders possess, not even all Authentic Leaders, but all Authentic Servant Leaders do. What they understand is that leadership is about people, and they know that strong relationships matter to their people. 

They make building those relationships a priority and they know they can’t build them while sitting behind a desk.

On a completely different subject…I’m trying something new out over on Twitter. It’s called “Super Followers.” For $5 a month, that’s 17 cents a day,  people can follow a part of my Twitter stream that is for subscribers only. It features short videos of me discussing the kind of things I tweet and blog about. But the best part is I’m assuming there will be far fewer Super Followers than regular followers. That will give me the opportunity to answer questions more throughly than I can on regular Twitter. Most of the answers will come in the evening cause we all have day jobs, right? Think of it as ”mentoring on demand!”

You can find more information by clicking the Super Follow button on my Twitter profile page IN THE TWITTER APP. http://twitter.com/leadtoday Give it a try if you’re so inclined, I can’t promise it will last for a long time but I can promise the content will be helpful as long as it does.

How to Spot an Authentic Servant Leader

In 2002 Pastor Rick Warren wrote an outstanding book entitled “The Purpose Driven Life.” I will always remember the very first sentence in the book… “It’s not about you.”

Every Authentic Servant Leader I’ve ever met, and I’ve been fortunate to meet a few, lived their leadership according to that simple sentence. They intentionally keep the focus on the accomplishments of the people they lead. They don’t simply share credit for success, they humbly give it all away. 

Authentic Servant Leaders measure their success by the success of their people. The goal of an Authentic Servant Leader is to grow people, to help them be “better” in every way a person can be better. 

They invest a piece of themselves in every person they lead. The do not prejudge anyone. They recognize that every individual has strengths and gifts. They work to make certain that their people are in positions where they can use their strengths. They do not set their people up to fail. 

Authentic Servant Leaders come in all shapes and sizes. They come in all colors and they can be a man or a woman. They can be old or young. They can come from the finest of formal educations or have a completely informal education. An Authentic Servant Leader could be almost anyone. But they are still easy to spot. 

You know one when you see one because they are they ones who through every word, every action and every interaction SHOW that they understand, without a doubt, that their leadership is not about them. It’s is always and only about the people they lead. 

If you aspire to be an Authentic Servant Leader then always always keep in mind, “It’s not about you.”

Cascading Leadership

I have written many times about the importance of a leadership “down line.” What that means is, as important as leadership is at the top of the organization it is every bit as important at other levels of an organization. 

The leader at the top of an organization can be a very Authentic Servant Leader but in many organizations, especially large organizations, their leadership must be carried to other levels of the organization by their leadership team. If the team is not made up of effective leaders then the message, and likely the culture, of the organization does not reach very far.

That’s what it’s so important to have effective leadership spread out at every level. The vast majority of leadership comes from the middle of the organization, not the top. The top leadership may set the tone but if mid level leaders can’t carry the tune the broader workforce never hears it. 

Leadership cascades down through the organization. Poor mid level leaders act as a dam that stops the flow of Authentic Leadership. It has been said many times by many people that employees quit their managers, not their companies. That is absolutely true. That’s why even organizations with solid leadership at the top continue to lose key employees.  Employees who could be the future of their organizations. 

It has perhaps never been more important that organizations identify their key employees. They must make certain that they are being led by an Authentic Leader and not being managed by someone who merely holds a leadership position. 

Quality employees will no longer settle for being managed. They insist on being led, as well they should. 

If you’re a leader at the top of your organization then you need to ensure that your future “stars” are working under someone who understands the difference between trying to manage someone and actually leading them. 

Your “stars” need to be nurtured, challenged and informed. They need a leader who can mentor them, help them grow and set forth for them, a clear and obtainable career path. 

As a leader, you can stop the Great Resignation or whatever the heck you want to call it in it’s tracks. But to do so you must make certain that you have authentic leadership throughout your organization. You must especially be certain that your stars, who are the future leaders of your organization are being led and not managed. 

The next time you’re considering the effectiveness of your leadership be sure to consider whether you have “dams” that are blocking your leadership from reaching everyone in your organization. 

That’s important because if everyone can’t feel your leadership then your leadership may be more limited than you think. 

Privileged Leaders

There are all types of leaders in the world. Cleary, some are better than others. The worst however are what I would call Privileged Leaders. 

Authentic Servant Leaders see leading others to success as a privilege. Privileged Leaders believe holding a leadership position entitles them to “special” rules not available to those they think they’re leading. They live by the old saying “Rank has it’s privileges.” They make that old saying come to life by providing themselves with many privileges not available to the people they claim to be leading. 

Privileged Leaders will never have the commitment of the people they supposedly lead because they don’t think they need it. Without that commitment they simply cannot lead. 

Privileged Leaders are poor communicators because their different set of rules act as a wall between them and their people. They don’t understand the people they try to lead because they don’t care to understand the people they try to lead. 

They don’t value the people they are supposed to be leading because they see value only in themselves. They don’t listen to the people they hope are following them because…well because they don’t listen to anyone. 

Privileged Leaders believe that their title or position is what makes them special. They believe their income level makes them better human beings. 

Authentic Servant Leaders believe they aren’t special at all. They believe it’s the people they lead who are truly special. They value those people and seek out their advice. They listen, intently, to what they have to say. No amount of money, no title or position will ever make them think they are better than another human being. 

You’ll recognize a Privileged Leader the moment you see them. They will have placed themselves on a pedestal so high above the people they think they are leading that those people couldn’t follow if they wanted to. 

Authentic Servant Leaders make certain they stay close to their people. They lead from the front, they lead from the middle and sometimes they even lead from the rear. Whatever the case may be they lead from along side their people and never put themselves above them. 

Privileged Leaders have no way of learning how mistaken they are because they also believe they have nothing left to learn. They “know” every decision they make is the right decision simply because they made it. They don’t question themselves and woe to any person who dares to question their thinking. 

Authentic Servant Leaders know they will never know it all. They also know they don’t need to. They have a wealth of knowledge in the people who are committed to following them. They “tap into” that knowledge bank with great regularity for the benefit of their entire organization. They know that they could be wrong about virtually anything so they value having their decisions challenged. That challenge either confirms their thinking or causes them to change it, again to the benefit of the entire organization. 

If you’re working for a Privileged Leader then fasten your seat belt. It’s gonna be a rough ride. They won’t learn from their mistakes because they will never admit to them. They must either be forced out by an Authentic Servant Leader or the organization they are supposed to be leading will simply go the way of many failed organizations.

If you’re working with an Authentic Servant Leader then count your blessings, which will be many. Working for an Authentic Servant Leader gives you and your organization ample opportunities to grow. Make sure that you make the most of those opportunities.

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 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?

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.