Leadership for the Ages – Part Three of Some

In my last post we looked at the leadership you’ll find from the “Dad’s” generation. In this third of what’s likely to be a five post series we’ll look at the group best known as the “Baby Boomers” or as I call them “The Middles.” This is the group born between 1946 and 1964, I was born right in the middle of those years, hence the name “middles.”

This generation, my generation, was the first to actively declare a higher priority for work over personal life.  The “Middles” generally distrust authority and large “systems.” Our values were shaped by the civil rights movement, Viet Nam, and for a time, run away inflation. We are mostly more optimistic and willing to change than “Dad’s” generation.

We’re also known to some however as the “Me Generation” and that moniker is probably well deserved. If the “Dad’s” invented Minute Rice then it was the “Middles” who decided that a minute was way too long a time to wait for rice, or nearly anything else for that matter. We do tend to want everything NOW. That need for instant gratification can sometimes show up as a sense of entitlement. It is never good for someone in a leadership position to have any kind of sense of entitlement, it tends to send followers running for the door. 

My generation, “The Middles” have had their retirement plans changed, not really changed, more like ripped from them. The dot.com slaughter and the Great Recession have caused many of my generation to consider when and even if they will retire. 63% now say they will work at least part-time in retirement to replace lost savings. 

That can make a person a bit bitter and a bitter leader is a bad leader. A very bad leader. 

My generation embraced the value of having to sacrifice to get ahead. All that sacrifice makes us very loyal to one another. We’ve seemingly always understood the value of a solid effort and have had no issue with working to earn everything we receive. 

All of this has shaped our values into what they are. I believe “The Middles” are a great generation in their own way. But too many leaders from my generation also believe that “our way” is the only way and that can make it very difficult to lead. 

Authentic Servant Leaders to not apply their values and their value system to those they lead. To be an effective leader in 2014 you must lead people according to their value system, not yours. 

Leading others according to their values is not a sign of weakness on the part of the leader, it is a sign of caring and intelligence. 

Let’s say that you have a team member, someone you lead, from the “Changers” or “Kids” generation, and their work hours are 8:00am to 5:00pm. Each day you watch them turn off their lights and pack-up to head home at 5:00pm. Their work for the day is done, no big projects due or deadlines approaching but you question their loyalty and work ethic anyway. 

Your question doesn’t stem from their lack of performance, it stems from you applying your values to them. Remember, for us “middles” “work” is a place to go, for “Changers” and “Kids” it is something they do. 

The “problem” here really lays with the leader, not the follower. 

Authentic Servant Leaders seek first to understand and know their people. They know they can’t truly lead a person until they know the person they are leading. 

On another note, to my fellow “Middles,” maybe we can learn something from the “Changers” and “Kids,” go home and see what you’re missing. These youngsters just might be on to something. We’ll find out in the next post of this series!

Can a Leader Care Too Much?

The title to this post comes from a question I was asked after my last post. The quick answer is NO, a leader can’t care too much.

The complete answer is a whole lot longer and far more complicated. I don’t believe that an authentic leader can care too much, they can’t “over care” and it’s wrong to suggest that it’s not possible to excel as a leader when you “care too much.” 

Now, here’s where it gets complicated. While you can’t care too much. caring a lot can cause an inexperienced leader to underperform. They use caring to substitute for coaching and accountability. They can have the mistaken belief that they can’t both care about and confront or coach a team member at the same time. 

Let me give you a couple of examples. I have been fortunate to work for some very caring people. One was perhaps one of the nicest people I have ever met. There was never a doubt that he cared about his people. He said it and he showed it often. Absolutely 100% of his coaching comments were positive, in several years of working for him there was never any corrective action or changes suggested. 

I wish I could tell you I was that good, I was not. His caring personality got in the way of true leading. He allowed me to drift and develop some poor habits. While I was comfortable and enjoyed working for him, I didn’t grow.  

My experience with this leader is not uncommon. Lots of people work for a leader they would describe as “the nicest person” or as a person “who really cares”. That’s great but as important as caring is, caring alone does not make you a leader. 

To be an authentic leader you must use your caring nature to coach, motivate and nurture your people. Sometimes that will mean having a difficult conversation with them. Which leads me to the second example.

Many of you know that for several years I worked with the Dale Carnegie organization. The person I reported to cared about me as a person, I never doubted that. He also held me accountable and coached the heck out of me. He used nearly every principle from “How to Win Friends and Influence People” to do it in a way that motivated me to improve. 

I was motivated to improve because it was the right thing to do but more than that, I was motivated to improve “for” that leader because I knew his coaching came with my best interests in mind. 

Good leaders care enough to show it and great leaders care enough to show it and make the extra effort to coach anyway. It will take a bit more effort to confront and coach in a compassionate way so that your caring nature is not lost in the process. 

Authentic leaders know that the very best way to show you care is to help your people succeed. 

Make no mistake about this: caring is no substitute for accountability and coaching. If you care so much for people that you just can’t hold them accountable and help them reach their full potential then you might be a great person but you’re probably not a great leader.

Care AND coach to make a difference that lasts! 

When Leaders Care

When leaders don’t care then leaders don’t lead. They may well possess a leadership title or position but they don’t truly lead. They simply cannot be an authentic leader without a caring heart. 

Let me repeat that for you, they simply cannot be an authentic leader without a caring heart. 

They can manage, they can organize, they can plan, and they can have success, even great success, but they cannot lead. 

In many businesses today “caring,” especially caring about people, is sadly considered a weakness. It is in fact, anything but a weakness. Caring about people informs every major decision an authentic leader makes. It may make some decisions more challenging and add to the time it takes to come to a decision but it will almost certainly result in a better decision. 

Authentic leaders understand that you manage stuff, budgets, a process, buildings, contracts, and the like. They also understand that people won’t and really can’t be managed. They know that people must have a leader, not a manager, in order to achieve their full potential. 

Authentic leaders also understand that no one cares what they know until they know that they care. People must know that their leader cares more about them as a person than they care about any policy or HR manual or task. 

Authentic leaders know that you don’t have to sacrifice a single drop of profit or success in order to care about people. They willingly accept the added challenge of “serving” their people while meeting all the other requirements of leadership. 

Great progress is made when a leader cares about their people.

Authentic leaders have far fewer “people challenges” because their people are committed and not merely compliant. They are committed to the leader and will go above and beyond for them, often, very often, doing more than is technically required of them. 

Authentic leaders know that no business grows unless the people who make up the business grow first.

People like to grow, they like to be meaningfully challenged. Managers try to control people, leaders challenge and grow them. If you care enough about your people to compassionately challenge them to reach their full potential they will see you as an authentic leader. They will follow you anywhere. They will contribute to your success and the success of your organization.

Your success as a leader is judged by what your people do today but your legacy as a leader will be determined by how your people do when you’re not there to lead them anymore.

Do you care enough about them to invest yourself in them so that they continue to thrive in your absence? If you do then you may just have a chance to truly be of that rare breed… an authentic leader.  

How to Develop Your People – Part One

I could go into almost any company in the world and ask the leadership of that company  what their greatest asset is. Almost without exception they would say their people.

They would say their people make the difference. They would say their people are their “strategic advantage” and they would say developing their people is critical for their long term success. 

They say all the right things. 

Unfortunately saying it doesn’t get it done. Merely saying it doesn’t accomplish much at all. Companies that want to be good say the right things. Good companies do the right things. Great companies know why they do them and they do them intentionally.

Great companies know that their people NEED to feel worthwhile. They know that even their top performers need positive feedback from time to time. Great companies provide their people with constant and consistent recognition. They don’t recognize their people in their “free time” or “when the have a chance.” They are incredibly intentional about it, they plan for it and they make recognition part of every company gathering.

How do you feed your team’s need for significance?

Great companies regularly offer encouragement to their people. They coach constantly and they coach with a spirt of approval. They make mistakes seem easy to correct and they offer real suggestions on how to do better next time. Companies that develop their people don’t criticize their people without using compassion to soften the blow. They know there is no reason, ever, to tear their people down. 

Do you coach your people with an attitude of approval or criticism?

Great companies know that people don’t follow leadership, they follow a leader. Authentic leadership is a “person to person” kind of thing. If the leader doesn’t care about the people they lead then the people they lead won’t care to follow that leader. Authentic leaders never just say they care, they show it and they show it intentionally. Frequently!

How do you show your followers that you care about them?

We’ll continue this topic in the next post. Until then ponder these questions and remember, if your people don’t think you’re a leader then you’re most likely not.

How to be a Great Leader

imagesIt’s amazing to me how many people describe themselves as a leader without ever giving a thought as to what actually makes a person a leader.

It seems to me that more than anything else, what differentiates a leader in title or position only from an authentic leader is this: Authentic leaders care!

Many leadership experts describe leadership as influence and I agree. We must be able to influence a person if we hope to lead them. Influence however has two sides, positive and negative. History has many examples of people who used their ability to influence others to achieve bad and even historically horrible goals.

Those people probably are not leaders as we like to think of our leaders today but by the purest definition of leadership they are indeed leaders. The have many of the characteristics we would say are necessary for a leader to have. They have brains, passion, plans and are committed to their cause.

However, they are missing one characteristic and in my opinion it’s the most vital one of all. They don’t care!

People may comply with a leader who doesn’t care about them but they will not commit to them. If you have people working for you that are not committed, that most likely means that they are not fully engaged either. There is not a greater expense in business today than that of a disengaged employee.

Committed employees are engaged. They do more, they work harder, they find solutions to problems and this one is huge, they take much better care of a business’s customers.

That’s why authentic leaders take no chances in demonstrating to their people how much they care. Notice I said demonstrating. They don’t only say that they care, they show it. They show it intentionally and the consistently. The best leaders will literally block time on their calendar to ensure that the “demonstrating” does not fall through the cracks.

Authentic leaders know that their success is completely dependent upon the success of their people and their actions reflect that. They know this one indisputable fact of leadership: You can care for someone without leading them but you cannot lead them without caring for them.

So, if you want to know how to lead, first learn how to care. See everyone you meet as the unique and special person that they are. Just because they are not like you doesn’t mean they are any less valuable than you. Their values may be different, they might not look like the people you hang out with but none of that matters, they ARE people. People want to know you care.

It’s nearly impossible to care for people we don’t value, so as you begin your leadership journey in 2013 seek first to learn enough about your followers to see them as people. Special people who matter, the kind of people who when given a chance can truly excel.

Then and only then will you have the opportunity to truly lead.