The One True Prerequisite of Leading

You must have a follower!

 

No matter what your title happens to be, no matter how lofty your position may be within your organization if no one is following you then you are not leading. Period!

 

It’s probably the number one leadership mistake I see and I see it often, very very often. People believe that it’s their title or position that makes them a leader. This misnomer is especially common with people new to a position of leadership. 

 

But here is the absolute fact: titles and positions on an organizational chart do not make you a leader. The people following you make you a leader. 

 

You can be promoted to a position with a fancy title that makes it sound like you are a leader but you must earn the right to truly lead. No one, absolutely no one can promote you to the position of Leader, that can only come from the people you would lead and you must constantly demonstrate that you’re worthy of it.

 

The fastest way to demonstrate that is by showing your people that you care about them. Bringing donuts to the meeting is nice but a drone could do that. 

 

Showing you care requires that you connect with your people in a meaningful way. If you’re in a leadership position then I have some questions for you… How much do you REALLY know about the people you claim to lead? Do you know their goals, their needs, their hopes and desires for their future?

 

Do you know what their life struggles are outside of work? Did you ever consider those struggles may affect their work performance? Did you ever consider that maybe, just maybe you could help them, coach them or perhaps just offer them someone to talk to?

 

Leadership is about people and to earn the right to lead you’re going to have to be willing to SHOW you care. You must be willing to invest a piece of yourself in someone else’s life. You see, when you make a difference in your business you’re a manager and that’s great but when you make a difference in the life of someone else you’re a leader and that’s better, much much better.


If you’re in a leadership position it’s a good idea to turn around once in a while to see if anyone is really following. If they are not then it’s possible, actually likely that the people who could be following you have decided that you simply don’t care enough to truly lead.


A Culture of Caring

Every now and then I’ll receive a tweet or a response to a blog post that says the stuff I write sounds good in theory but it isn’t realistic in today’s business world. 

 

In particular people seem to take issue with my frequent statements that you can’t truly lead people until and unless you truly care about them.

 

I’m told “caring” is a sure path to failure. It’s a weakness that no business can afford today. They say that caring for your people is a luxury of bygone eras. Some people have even told me caring about your people is just plain stupid. 

 

I generally don’t respond, or I respond with a recommendation that they at least give caring a chance. But last week after reading a really terrible tweet I told the person that I was really glad I didn’t work for them and then in the spirit of practicing good human relations I told them I hoped they enjoyed the cave they were living in.

 

Okay, so that might not have been Dale Carnegie style human relations but the guy was pretty abusive with his comment. 

 

In my opinion, if we ever get to the point where caring about our fellow human beings indeed becomes impractical then we might as well hang it up. Would there be any point to living if we couldn’t care about people anymore? It doesn’t matter if we’re talking life in general or we’re talking business in particular, caring is never wrong and it’s never a weakness.

 

The fact is that the more you build a culture of caring within your organization the more stable and successful, and by successful I also mean profitable, your organization will be. I am completely at a loss when trying to understand people who seem to sincerely believe that you can get more out of people by treating them like dirt than you can get by treating them like the valued human beings that they actually are.

 

I will never understand how a “leader” could expect their people to take care of customers when those same people are not cared about by their leader. It just doesn’t work. It has never worked and I can’t imagine how it ever could. 

 

If you’re a leader who expects your people to care about your customers enough to provide them with top quality customer service then you better be a leader who consistently demonstrates how much you care about your people.

 

People who aren’t cared about, who don’t know with some degree of certainty that they are cared about, are far less likely to care themselves. 


A culture of caring will never weaken your organization, it can only strengthen it.  Don’t even think about believing otherwise. 

One Question, Three Answers

Over the weekend I had a reader of this blog ask me a question. It was one question that asked if I could share three qualities that make a leader successful. I did not respond immediately because I wanted to put some real thought into my answer. I answered his question later in the day but I didn’t stop thinking about my answer. 

Hence this blog post.

The three qualities cited in my answer were integrity, a caring nature, and good judgment. Some people will automatically assume that I believe those three qualities should be “ranked” in that order. The fact is that they don’t have to be ranked at all because they are intrinsically linked. 

Let me explain.

In many cases the lack of integrity comes directly as a result of poor judgment. Someone in a leadership position does something that they expect will turn out well but when it doesn’t they lie to hide their poor judgment. 

Lying destroys credibility. Not sometimes, not usually, lying ALWAYS destroys credibility. Even lying that comes about as a result of poor judgment destroys credibility. The bigger the lie the greater the destruction.

Liars don’t lead, they manipulate, they coerce, they maneuver, they twist and turn, and they disguise. They can even sometimes project the appearance of success but they do not lead, they never never lead. Some people in leadership positions who lack integrity believe that they can force people to follow them…that is the ultimate in poor judgment. 

They may trick people, they may force some level of compliance out of people for their personal gain and to some that may even look like progress but none of it is leading. Leading requires at least a minimal level of commitment on the part of at least a few followers. People cannot commit to people that they do not trust. 

Wondering which comes first, lack of integrity or poor judgment, is like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg. The reality is it doesn’t matter, both the lack of integrity and poor judgment are killers of leadership potential. 

Whether or not to maintain your integrity is of course the ultimate decision that someone in a leadership position must make. Their judgment when making that decision will determine whether or not they truly have an opportunity to be an authentic servant leader. All leaders should know this simply fact: no one can steal your integrity, you can only give it away.

People without integrity AND good judgment might have a leadership position, but that doesn’t mean they are leading.

Which brings us to a caring nature. Leadership is about people and only people. You manage stuff, budgets, plans, and processes but NOT people. People cannot and should not be managed, they must be led.

If you don’t care about people you simply will not make them the priority that they need to be in order to lead them. When you truly care about someone they can see it in your actions and hear it in your words. They will know you care.

When you don’t actually care they will figure that out too. When your people know that you don’t care they will quickly determine that your motives are all about you. They will feel used. This happens even faster when they sense a lack of integrity because when they don’t trust you, they doubt your motives from the very start.

Caring for others is a choice. It’s a choice you must make before you choose to lead. Lying to someone for your own benefit shows not only a lack of integrity, it shows a tremendous lack of caring. 

As a leader your success is completely dependent on the success of your people. Not caring for or about those people shows terribly poor judgment. 

So what’s more important, integrity, caring or judgment? I’d say it’s irrelevant because having two without the third still makes it very challenging to lead.

 

Why Nobody Cares

Wondering why your people don’t care? Well, your people don’t care because you don’t care for your people. 

This will be a short post, which is probably good because there are likely to be a whole bunch of people who won’t like it.

Perhaps cause the truth hurts? 

You call yourself a leader? Then you must care first. 

As a leader you cannot expect your people to do anything first, especially care. When your people know, with very little doubt, that you truly care about them then they will feel it is safe to care about you. 

If your people can’t trust you, if they don’t see you as honest and credible, then they CAN’T trust you. It’s virtually humanly impossible to truly care about someone you believe does not have your interests in mind. 

If you’re trying to get your people to care, about their job, the company and especially your customers then you had better be prepared to demonstrate that you care first. Until they can care about you it will be pretty difficult for them to care about much of anything. 

You can tell them to care, you can even try ordering them to care but you should know that people buy into the leader before they buy into their leadership. If they can’t buy into you why would they buy into anything you want them to do.

Stop waiting for your people to care, start SHOWING that you understand that they are people, people with the same needs, challenges and emotions that you have. When you SHOW that you care you will no longer have to wonder why your people don’t.

It’s called follow the leader for a reason, YOU go first! 

Leadership Tricks?

I received an email a few days ago offering me free enrollment in a new webinar that promised to share all the latest leadership “tricks and secrets.” It said these tricks and secrets would allow you to get someone to do pretty much anything you wanted them to do, whether they wanted to or not. 

The one thing I can say for sure about the webinar is that it was priced right. There was no cost which was only fair because I’m pretty certain there would be no value either.

Leadership is a serious undertaking. It is not a game. There are no tricks to rig the system or manipulate people, in fact, manipulating people is just the opposite of leading them. Leadership involves caring enough about people that you actually want to help them succeed, however it is that they want to succeed. 

Leadership is not making people do what you want them to do, leadership is about helping them see they right thing to do and then encouraging them to do it. Authentic leaders don’t force people to drink, they help make them thirsty enough to drink on their own. Authentic leaders don’t decide what’s best for their people, they help their people make good decisions for themselves.

Great leaders get people to do great things, not through manipulation but through integrity based influence. They get people to do the right thing for the right reason.

Don’t waste time and maybe even money looking for leadership tricks or secrets. Instead develop a true caring attitude for the people you lead and then demonstrate that caring in everything you say and do. Caring is one absolute ingredient to success as a leader and the fact that it’s a secret to so many is a mystery to me. 

 

The Caring Leader

Many leadership gurus and experts say that in order to truly lead people you must care about them. While I would never claim the mantle of leadership expert or guru I would certainly agree that caring for people is an essential quality of leadership. 

You either care about people or you don’t. There is no in between. You don’t have to like someone personally to care about them, it certainly is easier but for an Authentic Servant Leader “liking” someone is not required to care about them.

You can’t really teach someone to care but you can help them see value in other people and seeing value in someone is where caring begins. I’m not talking about “value” in terms of what they can do for you, the value I’m taking about is the value that a human being brings to the table just by being themselves. 

A great measure of authenticity in a leader is how they treat people who can absolutely nothing for them. If they are still willing to help, support and guide that individual when they know there will be no personal return on that time investment then it’s highly likely they actually care about other people. 

An early step on the road to becoming an Authentic Servant Leader is to understand that every person has value, even the ones who are different than you and even the ones who hide their value deep inside. If your prerequisite for caring about someone is that they think and act just like you then you may be a boss but you are most certainly not an Authentic Servant Leader. 

Authentic Servant Leaders understand the value of diverse opinions and thoughts and they work to learn from people different than themselves. If you’re surrounding yourself with like-minded people then you will struggle to grow as a leader. It is by allowing other people to be who they are that you become a better person and a better leader.

Your leadership is about the people you lead, it is not about you. People will not truly follow you until they know that you truly care about them and if they don’t follow then you cannot lead. It’s a pretty simple equation. 

The challenge for Authentic Servant Leaders is not just caring for people that they don’t like, the ultimate challenge is caring for people they actually dislike. President Abraham Lincoln once said, “I don’t like that man, I must get to know him better.” 

Do you have the courage of Lincoln to invest time with those you truly dislike in order to discover the unique value they bring into the world? If you do then you will create the opportunity for yourself to really care about them. 

It’s truly a challenge to care for someone you would rather avoid when you see them coming down the hall. It’s a challenge that Authentic Servant Leaders are willing to accept.

Are you willing to accept it? 

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!