Weak Leaders – Part Five

Strong Authentic Leaders were at one time committed followers. Many of them still are, at least sometimes. 

If you have always struggled to follow someone else then you will most likely always struggle to earn the right to have someone else follow you. Leading someone requires their commitment. Weak leaders have no idea what is required to earn that commitment. Thus the best they can do is create more weak leaders. It is very uncommon for a weak leader to develop someone into a strong leader. 

I could write for days on what causes a lack of commitment but I can sum up it’s result in one word…insubordination. The act of insubordination can take many forms. It could be completely ignoring the requests of the leader. It might be doing the opposite or nearly the opposite, of what is needed for the organization to succeed. Often it is simply talking poorly about the leader behind their back.  

Talking behind a leaders back results in one of the most productivity killing activities an insubordinate follower can undertake. That activity is known as circular communication. Let’s say the leader directs follower number one to perform a particular task. Follower number one thinks it’s a ridiculous request. So follower number one needs to find someone to complain to, we’ll call that person follower number two. 

Follower number two is never chosen at random. They are carefully selected because they must possess one singular quality above all others. They must agree with follower number one that the leader is making a ridiculous request.

It’s also likely that follower number one finds a follower 3, 4, and 5 to complain to as well. Followers 2, 3, 4, and 5 may also tell several other people until finally word gets back to the leader that follower number one thinks the leader is making ridiculous requests. Then the messy circle is complete. 

So now there are multiple people involved, discussing an issue that only two people have the ability to solve. Only the leader and follower number one. By not going directly to the leader follower number one has impacted the productivity, and likely the morale, of many people in the organization. That’s circular communication.

Follower number one may find themselves in a leadership position one day but they will almost certainly be a weak leader.

If you’re in a middle leadership position today and you’re participating in circular communication then you will be seen as a weak leader. Because you probably are. 

Strong Authentic Leaders do not try to communicate to someone through others. They communicate directly with the person who they need to speak with. Indirect, circular communication is a trust killer. When you lose the trust of the people around you then you’ve lost the ability to earn the level of commitment required to lead. 

The five characteristics of weak leaders I have written about in this series are fairly common. The good news is that each of them can be overcome. It requires a weak leader to make a commitment to improve their leadership skills. 

People who convert themselves from weak leaders to strong leaders often do so with the help of a coach or a mentor. It’s tough to do on your because one of the things that make people a weak leader is their inability to see themselves as they really are. 

The eyes and the objectivity of a mentor can make a big difference…if you’re willing to listen to them and act on their recommendations. 

Most weak leaders are satisfied with holding a leadership position. Strong Authentic Leaders made the choice to make a difference in the lives of others. 

Your position of leadership can make a difference for you or you can make a difference with your leadership position. That choice is completely up to you! 

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.

When to Stop Investing in People

I frequently speak with groups on the topic of leadership. Sometimes the groups are just too large to have a real two-way conversation but once in a while they are small enough to allow for a real dialogue to take place. Those are my favorite presentations.

Last week was one of those smaller interactions. One of the questions I received was as serious, challenging and complicated as a question can get. 

The question came during a segment in which I was speaking about the difference between a management mindset and the mindset of a leader. A management mindset thinks “I have a person working for me who isn’t getting the job done. I better spend some time on them.” A leadership mindset thinks, “I have a person working with me who isn’t getting the job done, I better invest some time with them.”

Leaders see people as an investment, not an expense.

Let’s be clear on this, leadership is about people. We don’t lead companies, we don’t lead budgets, we don’t lead buildings or inventories, we manage them. We lead people!

People don’t want to be managed, they want leadership. You’ll hear people complain every single day about being micro-managed but you’ve probably never heard a person say the word, micro-led. 

Leaders invest their time, experience, knowledge and even a piece of themselves in the development of their people. The success of their people is as important to them as their own success. If their people fail they take at least partial ownership in that failure.

But…

There does come a time when a leader has done all that they can do and still one of their people is just not progressing. Investing in people is much more complicated than any other investment, there is much more at stake. But just like any other investment that doesn’t work out, at some point in time you just have to cut your losses. 

The question I was asked was, “When is it time to stop investing in a person and let them go?”

THAT is one big question. I hate failing at anything, I hate failing with people development even more. I’m supposed to be good at it, I’m supposed to help people perform better. When I don’t then I’ve failed. So the decision to stop investing is a big one… but it’s not a hard one.

Here’s how I answered the question.

I stop investing when the good of the one begins to outweigh the good of the many. Simply stated, when the time required to help just one person grow begins to negatively impact and limit the amount of time I can invest with the rest of the team, I have to stop investing in the “one.”

This is particularly true when there seems to be little or no return on that investment. No leader can sacrifice the “many” for the “one.” 

Letting someone go, demoting them or reassigning them is a terrible decision to have to make, but leaders make that decision. Leaders do not let their ego get in the way, they admit, that for whatever reason, this is “one” they just can’t help develop. 

Leaders do what needs to be done, that’s one way, one very big way, that you can tell they are a leader.