The Time to Lead

Leading people is not easy. Especially when compared to managing things. There are management processes and standard work practices. Both are predictable, you do certain things, you get a known outcome as a result. 

But people can’t be managed, they must be led. When leading people there are few predictable outcomes. People will always surprise you. We can’t know for certain how people will react in various circumstances until we see them react. Just because they acted in a particular way does not guarantee they will act the same way when they are in similar circumstances. 

That can make leading people a significant challenge. It can also make leading people very rewarding. Authentic Leadership helps people grow and develop. It frequently helps ordinary people achieve extraordinary results. It turns followers into leaders. 

The challenge of actually leading people is what causes many people in leadership positions to attempt to manage their people. Attempting to manage people causes an entire host of problems. In fact most of the personnel “problems” that an HR department deals with are a result of a person being managed rather than led. 

The employee may be labeled a “problem employee” when in reality it could well be a leadership issue. 

People in leadership positions who don’t actually lead quickly become frustrated with their people. They don’t understand why people won’t respond in predictable patterns. They give the same direction to 5 different people and they get 5 different results. They are also unlikely to understand their own role in the 5 different results. 

If you’re in a leadership position and you’re struggling with the performance of your people you first have to consider your role in their performance. You need to accept the fact that their performance is at least partly related to your effectiveness in leading them. If you have someone in your organization who is underperforming then there are two possible “root causes.” One, you hired the wrong person or you put them in the wrong role. Two, you are not providing them with the skills and tools they need to succeed. Either way, you must own that. 

You must also consider how you “see” your people. Are your people an expense or an investment. When you are attempting to coach an underperforming team member do you think “I’m going to have to SPEND time ON that person to get them up to speed.” Or do you think to yourself, “I have an opportunity to INVEST time WITH that person to help them reach the potential I see in them.” 

The difference in that mindset will shape every conversation with your team. Your people will pick up on that attitude and they will respond accordingly. If you believe your people are a problem then I can almost guarantee you that your people will be a problem. 

Leading people, Authentically Leading them, will take an investment of time. Often a substantial investment. If you don’t have the time to truly lead then you are doing your people and your organization a disservice by occupying a leadership position. You may want to stick with managing things because it could be that people just aren’t for you. 

Measuring Authentic Leadership

I was asked recently what characteristics I look for in an Authentic Leader. Well that’s a big question and the answer would consume several blog posts. But perhaps the most important “characteristic” isn’t a characteristic at all. It also isn’t “in” the leader. 

If I want to know how authentic a leader is, and how effective they are, I don’t look at the leader. I look at the people they lead. I look to see if their followers are authentic as well. Are they committed to the leader? Are they engaged and consistently motivated? Are they accomplishing extraordinary things?

Most important, what percentage of them are moving beyond Authentic Followership to become leaders themselves?

The most common shortcoming of limited leaders is they fail to help their followers become leaders. I can’t even begin to count the times I’ve seen people in leadership positions lose an opportunity for promotion. The opportunity was lost because they had not built even one of their followers into a leader capable of taking over their role. 

I frequently see leaders who move on, either to retire or move up into a different organization, and there is no one on their team prepared to step in and lead. It happens again and again. In every organization. Every single day. 

If you’re in a leadership position and you’re not working with your people to help them grow from follower to leader then you may possess certain characteristics of an Authentic Leader but you are not leading authentically. 

Authentic Leaders do not create more followers, they create more leaders. Leaders who grow more leaders leave behind a legacy that limited leaders can’t. 

If you’re trying to determine if someone is an Authentic Leader look at the people they lead. If they are transforming from follower to leader then it’s very likely the person leading them is a true Authentic Leader. If not then they are in all likelihood being led by a leader who is at least somewhat limited. 

Leaders who help followers become leaders have the potential to unleash explosive growth within their organization. They have the potential to help ordinary people achieve extraordinary accomplishments. Their leadership outlasts their time as a leader. 

When you see a leader like that you know you’re looking at an Authentic Leader. That‘s true even if you can’t see the obvious characteristics of Authentic Leadership.

Leading from the Front

Most commonly leaders lead from the front. There is nothing wrong with that, usually. But, if you’re only leading from the front you run the danger of getting too far out in front of your people and when you turn around there’s actually no one there anymore. 

 

Authentic Servant Leaders never outrun their people in their rush to succeed. 

 

Hopefully you’ve found yourself in a leadership position because in some way, or perhaps many ways, you have outrun your competition for the position. If that’s the case then one of the first things you need to do upon becoming a leader is slow your roll. Stop trying to outrun everyone else, the race is over. 

 

If you consistently outrun the people you’re supposed to be leading it won’t be long before you’re leading no one. You may have incredibly high expectations for yourself but it is a mistake to transfer the expectations you have for yourself to everyone else in your organization. 

 

They may not be as committed as you are, they may not have the same skill level as you, they may value “life balance” more than you and there are a hundred other things that could cause them to not keep up with your pace.

 

As a leader it’s your job to help them exceed their expectations for themselves and overcome any artificial limitations they may have. But…. and this is big, setting unrealistic and unreasonable expectations for your people will cause them to fail as surely as having no expectations at all. 

 

Authentic Servant Leaders lead from the front and pull their people to success, they occasionally lead from the rear and push their people further than they thought they could go. Most often however, Authentic Servant Leaders lead from the middle. It’s leading from the middle that allows a leader to come along side of their people and coach them to success. 

 

When a leader coaches their people to success they ensure that their leadership legacy outlasts their leadership. When a leader leads from the front or rear they tend to make more and frankly, better followers. But Authentic Servant Leaders know that true leadership success means making more than just followers, it means making more leaders.

 

That requires being close to your people. It requires that you never get so far out in front of them that they lose sight of you. It would be simple to say that if your people can’t see you then they can’t follow you. But the fact is if they can’t see you, hear you, and even feel you then they can’t learn from you. 

 

You can’t grow your organization without growing your people. You can’t grow your people by separating yourself from them. One of the fastest ways to separate yourself from your people is to outrun them.


Stay close to your people, never think of them as slowing you down. Think of yourself as the leader who helps them move forward as fast, but never faster, than they possible can. 

One Way to Grow a Leader

It sounds odd but one of the best methods a leader has for growing future leaders is to not lead. Well at least not lead the way most people think of leading which is to be out front showing the way. 

 

What I really mean is to lead from the rear. Push your future leaders out front and see what they can do. 

 

If your goal as a leader is to grow more leaders (that should most certainly be one of your goals as a leader) then you must first understand that leadership can’t really be taught, it must be experienced. You can tell your followers what leadership characteristics are important, you can talk about making good decisions and the sacrifices that Authentic Leaders make but you can’t build a leader with words alone. 

 

So from time to time you must allow your future leaders to lead today. Right now, ready or not here they come! They may make mistakes along the way but you’ll be there to help them fix it. Notice, and this is key, I didn’t say you’ll be there to fix it for them, I said you’ll be there to help them fix it. 

 

Sometimes you may even see the mistake coming but you’ll let it happen anyway, just so your future leader can learn from it. I wouldn’t suggest sitting back and watching a serious mistake just happen but if the mistake involves only minor consequences then use it as a teaching opportunity. 

 

Your future leaders are far more likely to learn from a mistake they had to fix than they are to learn from a mistake you didn’t let happen. 

 

Not allowing your future leaders to take the helm from time to time is like planting grass seed with no intention of ever watering it. It may always have potential but everyone knows it will never be a yard the kids can play in.


Sometimes, maybe even often, the best thing a leader can do to grow future leaders is to simply get the heck out of their way. Give ‘em a push and stand back, lead from the rear and watch your leaders of tomorrow grow.

 

Who is Leading Who?

One of the main responsibilities of a leader is to fire their people! Not actually fire them but fire them up. 

 

Fire them up as in motivate them, challenge them, coach them, help them grow and help them succeed, again and again. If you’re in a leadership position and you’re not doing those things on a daily basis then you are simply not leading. 

 

If you’re in a leadership position and you’re not actually leading then you’re hurting the people you’re supposed to be helping. You’re also not helping the organization that has placed you into that leadership position and provided you with the opportunity to lead. 

 

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that your position makes you a leader. The only thing, the one and only thing that makes you a leader is leading. If you find yourself in a leadership position while lacking the skills required to truly lead then it is YOUR responsibility to seek out the help and training that you need to be a successful leader. 

 

Don’t wait for someone else to make you a leader, don’t expect the help you need to come to you. If you’re going to lead others then you must first lead yourself so lead yourself to the coaching you need to become a true leader.

 

If you’re following someone in a leadership position who lacks the skills to lead then you have three choices. 

 

You could just complain about it. You could point out their failings at every opportunity and become a drag on the entire organization. I’ve done that and it didn’t really work out well for anyone, especially me. 

 

You could, and should, attempt to lead up. By that I mean help fill the gaps of the person who is supposed to be leading you. You’ve no doubt already identified those gaps so try to use your own strengths to minimize the challenges those gaps cause within your company or organization. 

 

I’ll warn you that you may not get the recognition you deserve for leading up. Some people in your organization might even call you a suck up or worse. Even the person who is supposed to be leading you may be a bit leery about your motives but you’ll be doing the right thing. I can say with a high degree of certainty that doing the right thing will eventually pay off; it might take longer than you want but you can’t go wrong by doing right. 

 

The third option you have is to flee. Just leave, go find employment elsewhere. This is not as good an option as it may seem. While you left a problem behind you have no guarantee that you’re not just walking into another one. You also slow your own development by just leaving when the going gets a little tough. 

 

You may get lucky and join an organization that provides you with a true leader who works hard to develop and mentor you. If that’s the case then you’ve truly struck gold. The problem I have is with the luck part; I simply don’t like depending on luck for my success. 

 

I think most successful people would tell you that they made their success, they didn’t just luck into it. 

 

So I’ve written a bit here to leaders and the people who would follow them. I also want to say something to a third group. That would be the folks who put people who can’t lead into leadership positions. 

 

The truth is most organizations were able to “get away” with that for a long time. There used to be plenty of followers to go around and if an organization lost a few here and there they just plugged in some new people. 

 

Not anymore!

 

One of the key considerations an organization must make these days is who is leading who. If you have good young talent being led by a non-leader in a leadership position that good young talent will leave. That’s not a guess, that’s not a maybe, they will be gone, period. And they are getting harder to replace by the day. 

 

Whether you’re in Human Relations or another senior position within your organization, if you’re responsible for placing people into leadership positions then you better make sure you’re putting actual leaders into those positions. 

 

There is almost no bigger waste in business today than giving a bright, motivated potential superstar in your organization to a person in a leadership position who lacks the ability to help that bright, motivated individual achieve success.

 

There will always be some leaders who are better than others. You need to be certain that your best people are being led by your best leaders. That’s the reality of the business world in which we live today; no organization can afford to have their top people led by people who are not leaders.


You may want to consider dealing with it before it’s dealt with for you. 


How to Build People

Leadership is about people, and people only.

You manage things; budgets, inventories, and plans but you lead people. The ultimate goal of leading people should be building them and helping them succeed.

One of the biggest obstacles to building people is time. People development requires time, and most people in leadership positions are incredibly busy people. The speed of business is increasing by the day and with that speed comes a bushel of urgent tasks. The problem is, urgent things are very often not the most important thing you can be doing. They also are frequently not the most productive thing you could be doing.

In my perhaps not so humble opinion building people is one of the most productive actions a leader can take. But for too many leaders the urgent stuff gets in the way. It’s called the tyranny of the urgent. It prevents well intentioned leaders from doing the important things that offer a high return on their time investment.

If you’re a leader who sees developing your people as an expense of your time then you likely won’t take or find the time required to build them. However, if you see developing your people as an investment, an investment of your time, then you are likely to find or make the time required to build them.

So how exactly do you invest this time you’ve worked so hard to find?

Well, you invest it in getting to know you’re people, in understanding their motivations and how you can help them stay engaged. You invest time to show them how much you care. You invest time to demonstrate to your people how they make a difference. 

Some leaders say their people are their most important asset, successful leaders don’t waste time saying…. they use their time showing.

Showing your people that they are worth your time is the fastest and most effective way to build your people. Don’t be a “say” leader, be a “show” leader and start building your people today.

Transformational Leadership

One of the eight major leadership theories is known as the Relationship Theory of Leadership, also known as Transformational Leadership. Transformational leaders motivate and inspire people by helping team members see the importance of their role within the organization. These leaders are focused on the performance of team members and also want to help each person fulfill his or her potential. Leaders with this style often have high ethical and moral standards.

I am a big fan of and believer in Transformational Leadership. 

I believe in Transformational Leadership because transformational leaders leave something of value behind after they are gone. They leave more leaders. 

Transactional Leaders have high but reasonable expectations for their people. They inspire them to put forth their best effort because it is simply the right thing to do. They help their people through coaching and mentoring to achieve extraordinary outcomes and to develop their own leadership skills. In short, they help ordinary people accomplish the extraordinary.

Transformational leaders help followers grow by responding to their followers’ needs and by empowering them to make decisions. These leaders help to align the objectives and goals of the individual followers with the goals and objectives of the team and even the larger organization.

Researchers have found that this style of leadership indeed has the desired positive effect on people. “Research evidence clearly shows that groups led by transformational leaders have higher levels of performance and satisfaction than groups led by other types of leaders,” explained psychologist and leadership expert Ronald E. Riggio in an article appearing on the Psychology Today website. 

Transformational Leadership reinforces the importance of truly caring for the people you lead. Transformational Leadership requires that the leader invest a part of themselves in their people and that they care as much (or more) about the success of their people as they do their own.

Transformational Leaders fully understand that ultimately their own success is completely dependent upon the success of their people. Virtually every action they take and every word they speak reflects that understanding. 

The effort required to be a Transformational Leader is substantial but so are the rewards. Anyone can build stuff but it takes a special kind of person to build people, especially people who themselves become leaders.

Transformational Leadership is a rewarding style of leadership and if the leaders you help build eventually build leaders of their own then the rewards can go on indefinitely. 

Now that’s what I call leadership!