“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.

Surprise, You’re Fired!

Being fired from a job is one of the most traumatic events a person can experience in life. It’s right up there with the death of a loved one or divorce.

When a person is fired from their job the usual thought process says it’s the person’s own responsibility. That is frequently true, more or less.

I say more or less because often there is another person who shares some of the responsibility for the failure of that employee. That person is their boss.

Now if you’re a boss with the mindset of a manager you’re saying that it’s never your fault. You’re saying that you hired an adult and that they are responsible for their performance. They needed to “step up” and get the job done. You say they should have tried harder, worked longer, learned more or “figured it out.” I can’t disagree with any of that.

But if you’re a boss with the mindset of a leader before you say anything about your employee you’re saying YOU should have “stepped up” and led them more effectively. You’re saying YOU should have tried harder, worked longer, learned more about them or figured out what it would have taken to motivate them to perform at a higher level.

If you’re a boss with the mindset of a leader you understand that there are really only two possible reasons your employee failed to perform. You either hired a person with the wrong skill set for the job or you failed to provide them with the tools and motivation they needed to succeed.

Either way, if you have the audacity to label yourself a leader then YOU must accept at least part of the responsibility for the failure of your employee. If it gets to the point of termination then it’s a gigantic failure. The person who was terminated faces tremendous trauma in their life and you as a leader played a part in making that happen.

If the person you terminated was surprised by the termination then the trauma is greater still. If you’re surprised that they were surprised then your failure is even more than gigantic.

Those “surprise” firings most often happen because a reality gap exists between what the boss wants and what the employee has convinced themselves they are delivering. That’s a reality gap and that gap can only be filled through coaching.

And here’s the thing, bosses with a managerial mindset seldom coach, they tell. Bosses with a leadership mindset seldom tell, they coach and they frequently coach by showing. Bosses with a leadership mindset have no need or time to boss, they are focused on leading. They are focused on developing those they lead. They celebrate the success of their people and share in the pain of any failure they may have.

They help create that success and avoid the pain with near constant communication. Most often that communication comes in the form of providing a model of successful behavior but sometimes they even use words.

Employees who are led instead of bossed are never in doubt as to what is expected of them. They are rarely fired but when they are they are never surprised.

Do your people know exactly what is expected of them? If not then you may be a boss but you’re most likely not a leader.

 

Are You a Boss?

First a disclaimer: this is NOT a political post. One of the Democrats running for President in 2020 gave an interview the other day. During the interview she provided a great example of the difference between being a boss and being a leader. This is a person I first met many years ago and occasionally come across at an event if we both happen to be attending. This is a person I mostly admire. This is someone who seems to me to be a nice enough person who is intelligent and hard working. 

 

This is also a person who projected a very poor image of herself in the interview. And I don’t think she knows it. 

 

Much of the early publicity surrounding this candidate has been focused on her reportedly poor treatment of her staff. Her office has one of the highest turnover rates of any member of Congress. She is apparently more than a little challenging to work for. 

 

She was attempting to defend herself in the interview and in doing so she demonstrated not only why she was a difficult boss but a poor leader as well. 

 

She said she was a boss and as a boss she had to be hard on her people. She said she had high expectations for her staff and when they let her down she let them know about it. She said she expects her people to produce a good “product” and that oftentimes the product was her image.

 

I wondered, I was amazed actually, how someone who has accomplished so much could possess such backwards thinking when it came to leading her staff. 

 

The mindset of a boss says it’s the workers job to make the boss look good. The mindset of a leader says it’s the leader’s job to help their people succeed. If you think there is a fine line between the two then you may be a boss, you may be an excellent manager but you are most definitely not a leader. 

 

A typical boss will drive and push their people to achieve results. A leader will push, pull, motivate and sometimes even carry their people to success. They frequently do it from the middle and sometimes from behind. They most often do it while being along side their people.

 

A leader knows that they are responsible for the success of their people. They know that they can’t succeed unless their people succeed. They don’t try to “make” their people succeed they “help” them succeed. 

 

Too many bosses try to force their people to drink from the well of success. Authentic Leaders walk with their people to the well while helping them develop a thirst for success along the way. 

 

If you are someone who believes that you must be hard on your people because you are “the boss” then you will always have problems with your people. They will underperform as long as you’re their boss and you’ll be even harder on them as a result. 

 

When they eventually leave and go to work with an actual leader they will begin to reach their potential. You’ll be left to wonder why they wouldn’t work that hard for you. You’ll become a resentful boss and push the people left around you even harder. And the cycle will continue as long as you think being a boss means being hard on people. 


I’m going to bet that this particular candidate is like the vast majority of people in leadership positions. The vast majority of people in leadership positions have zero leadership training. It doesn’t make them bad people, it doesn’t make them poor managers, it doesn’t even make them poor politicians. It just makes them exceptionally poor leaders.