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! 

Listening is Free

I’m not sure if anyone has noticed but the world, yep, not only the US but the entire world seems divided right now. Never in my lifetime has the divide between different groups of people been wider.

Even in times of World Wars the divide was not as great as it is right now. Even during the World Wars people agreed on more things than they do today. Governments started those wars, not the people of the countries that were dragged into them.

But today is different. The universal language is one of hate. We throw the word hate around as if it almost has no real meaning. People claim to hate people who hate. “We” all hate all the hating going on these days.

We make slogans and signs about who and what matters. We talk about what must change and who must change. I’m struck by the number of people who “demand” immediate change yet refuse to look in the mirror to see if there is any change they could make personally.

Abraham Lincoln is famous for saying many things but one thing he said might be more applicable today than even the day he said it. When commenting on someone he was not particularly fond of he said, “I do not like that man. I need to get to know him better.”

Lincoln knew what too many people today seemingly have forgotten. That is that we human beings have far more in common than we give ourselves credit for. We can focus on the things that draw us together or we can focus on the things the push us apart. That’s a choice.

But that won’t happen until we do something else that seems to be a thing of the past.

That “thing” is called listening.

I mean real listening. Not reading someone’s social media posts. Not hearing some filtered version of what somebody thinks or what someone said someone said someone said. It’s a sad commentary on the world we live in but if you didn’t hear someone say it yourself then you might want to have some doubts about whether or not it was actually said.

Plus…don’t only listen to people who agree with you! Invite conversations with people who have vastly different views and life experiences than you. Do not think them wrong simply because their views are different than yours. Don’t talk to them, talk with them to determine where your views overlap. Build on that overlap!

I take great comfort from talking with people who share my views and beliefs. I like talking to my family and friends. But whatever growth I experience at this point in life comes from talking with people who frankly might not be my first choice to talk with.

You and I do not have to like the people who see the world differently than we do but we do need to understand how they view their life. We need to understand that if our life experiences were identical to theirs that our views would likely be identical too.

Most of all we need to get to know them better. The more we know about people the less chance there will be that we judge them. I want to say that again….the more you know about someone the less chance there is that you will judge them.

Listen more. Listen with your heart and your mind WIDE open. Listening is free but it just might be that it liberates you from hate. Listening is one of those things that while free it is also priceless!

Listening, really listening to different views could save you great pain. It could save your Country severe turmoil. Listening, truly truly listening to one another might even save the world.

Your People Are Watching

Leaders lead by example, whether they intend to or not. Their people are always watching them and they will do what the leader does far faster than they will do what the leader says.

That means that if you’re in a leadership position and your words and actions do not match then your people will follow your actions, not your words.

In times of difficulty, and these times are certainly that, it is imperative that you realize that you are the model for the behavior you want and need from your people. Very few people will outperform their leader in a time of crisis.

It’s also important for leaders to keep in mind that every person has this area in both their heart and head that NEEDS information. It doesn’t need accurate information, it just needs information. That area will get the information it needs come hell or high water. If it can’t find the information then it will make the information up. That type of information is called rumor.

I have never met a leader who thought that rumors were helpful. So keep this in mind…information, accurate, timely information is the archenemy of rumor. Rumor finds it much harder to exist in a sea of accurate and timely information.

So keep your people informed. You’ll be much better off with your people complaining about the ton of communication then you will be if your people are filling their information areas with fear filled rumors. Even bad and difficult information to hear is better than wrong information.

When times get challenging you simply cannot over communicate. If you’re wondering how much communication is too much I encourage you to risk what you may feel is too much information.

If you’re running a business in these uncharted waters you must remember to not lose focus on what is most important. No matter what you sell or what service you offer you are in the people business. The businesses that best take care of their people, both their employees and their customers will be the businesses that come out of the other side of this in the best shape.

The most important part of your business is people because we are all in the people business.

Now, wash your hands!

Are You a Talker or a Communicator? Part Two

In my last post we talked about accepting 100% responsibility for everything you say AND 100% responsibility for everything the person you’re speaking with hears. Once you’re willing to do that then you’ll have the opportunity to improve your own communication skills. 

 

The beauty of accepting 100% responsibility is that it doesn’t matter how good the other person’s communication skills are. You still get your message across and have the possibility of better understanding their message as well. 

 

To communicate well you’ll want to make certain that your thoughts are delivered in as clear and concise a manner as possible. It helps to have a good idea about what you’re trying to communicate. If you don’t know what you want to say how will the other person ever figure it out? 

 

Make what you’re saying easy for the other person to understand. You do not want people guessing at what you mean because if they guess wrong that’s on you. Speak the way they speak, speak at their level and never never ever talk down to someone. Once I get the sense I’m being talked down to I shut my ears off cause I figure there isn’t anything to learn from this person.

 

Don’t try to convey multiple ideas in one sentence. This is especially true in written communications. Do your best to avoid “filler” words. Phrases such as “you know” “I mean” and “kind of” usually don’t add any meaning to what you’re saying but they can make it harder to decipher your message. 

 

Practice using fewer words. Try not to use 9 words to make your point when 8 words or 7 words or 6 words or 5 words would do. (See my point?) 

 

Don’t stop communicating part way through your message. Is there something you want to happen as a result of your communication? Then say so. Make certain you’ve given the other person ALL the information they need to correctly take the action you’re wanting. Remember YOU are 100% responsible for the success of every communication. When you leave out needed details then whatever happens is your responsibility too. 

 

We all communicate in some form every day. The better you communicate the greater the credibility you will have with your customers, your boss, your coworkers, your family and friends. 

 

I can pretty much guarantee you that almost every disagreement I’ve ever had with someone came from me not investing those 2 or 3 seconds required to think about what I wanted the other person to hear and to ensure that my communication was successful. 


Everything is simpler when I communicate well. I suspect you’ll find that to be true for you too. 

Are You a Talker or a Communicator? Part One

Before I begin this post on communication I feel that I must point out that I’m only writing about half of the communication process. And it’s the least important half. 

 

The communication process of course involves speaking and listening. Of the two listening is far more important. Listening is how we learn. You will learn more in five minutes of listening then you will learn in a lifetime of talking. Sometime in the future I’ll probably do a post on listening, maybe right after I do that post on procrastination. But for now we are talking about the speaking part of the process. I should also point out that much of the speaking part can also apply to our written communications. 

 

Here’s something you might not like to hear but you’ll be a much better communicator if you believe it: you are 100% responsible for both parts of the communication. You are 100% responsible for everything you say and you are 100% responsible for everything the other person hears.

 

If you ever had a disagreement where the other person says “well you said…..” and then you say, “no, I said…..” then YOU have missed the mark as a communicator. If the person you’re speaking to doesn’t understand what you’ve said then the whole point of the communication has been missed. 

 

The first step in being a more effective communicator is to accept total responsibility for the miscommunication. If you simply blame the other person for their poor communication or listening skills then you will miss the opportunity to improve your own. 

 

Speak in such as way as to encourage the other person to listen. Use words and a tone of voice that draw your listener in. Talk in terms of THEIR interests to encourage them to linger on your words long enough to understand them. 

 

Don’t use a bigger word than you need to. Don’t use lingo you’re familiar with, use their lingo. Or don’t use lingo at all. Sometimes people use lingo to try and impress someone but what’s truly impressive is being able to communicate in a way that anyone can understand. 

 

What surprises me most about my own communications is how often I say something with no consideration of how it will sound to the person I’m speaking with. I just blurt it out. I mean who has time to think about what they are saying before they say it. 

 

Well, I have time. So do you. 

 

The challenge is taking 2 or 3 seconds, yep, that’s all it takes, to consider our words before we say them. There will be a bit of silence in that two or three seconds and we, well me, thinks that makes us look stupid, like we don’t know what to say. 

 

Abraham Lincoln once said something like “it’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt.” 

 

Talkers talk. Communicators chose their words to convey the intended message. Which one are you? 

 

I’ve been working hard at thinking about what I’m about to say for a few seconds before I say it. What I’ve found is that I often end up not saying anything. It’s like my mom always told me…if you have nothing of value to add to a conversation then perhaps nothing is what you should add. 


In the second part of this post we’ll look at some of the more technical aspects of effective communication. There are clearly methods of communication that work and methods that don’t. We’ll be looking at the ones that work! 


Ten Cent Words

My grandfather was a pretty wise man and I was fortunate to spend a great deal of time with him. He owned a corner grocery store for four decades and for several years I would go with him to the produce market at 4:00am every Saturday morning. It was in those early hours of the day when I learned the most. 

 

Of the many things he taught me one still stands out above most others, perhaps it is because at the time I had no idea what he meant. He said that people who want to sound smart will use a ten cent word when a five cent word would be perfectly fine. He also said that people who actually are smart would never waste a ten cent word when a five cent word was enough. 

 

What I came to understand was that smart people don’t try to impress people with big words. They speak as plainly as they can. They also don’t use more words than are needed. 

 

For instance, in 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered one of history’s most famous and remembered speeches – the Gettysburg Address. It was 273 words. It took 2 minutes to deliver. The main address that day (the one Lincoln followed) was given by Edward Everett (known to be one of the greatest speakers of the time) and lasted 2 hours. His note to Lincoln after the event said…“I should be glad, if I could flatter myself, that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

 

Are you a Lincoln or an Everett?  Let me ask that another way; do you use 50 words when 25 would do? Are you using ten cent words when five cent words would convey the identical message?  

 

I once took a presentation class where I was assigned a topic to speak on. I was given 10 minutes for my presentation without much coaching. When I was done I was assigned to speak on the subject a second time. This time I was only allowed 8 minutes and instructed that I could not leave out any of the key points I made in the first presentation. 

 

When I finished the second presentation I was told to make the presentation yet again, with the same key points but to complete it in six minutes. This went on for a few more rounds until I was given just two minutes to make the same presentation with the same key points. 

 

The coaching at this point was rather intense but I managed to pull it off. The point of the exercise was very clear… most of the words I had used in my first presentation added nothing of consequence to the presentation. They may have made me sound smarter (well, maybe) but they did nothing to assist my listeners in understanding my message. In fact, the fewer words I used the easier it was for my audience to understand. 

 

So I ask again, are you a Lincoln or an Everett? It’s takes a lot of practice to make your point while using fewer words, I struggle with that often. (Just ask my wife, kids, dogs, or anyone around me a lot) 


The next time you’re preparing a presentation or even just engaged in a conversation with a friend, consider the simplicity of a five cent word. You can save the ten cent words for when you’re trying to impress yourself. 

Effective Communication Begins with You

I will occasionally have someone ask me about what to do with a person who won’t listen. My answer is always some variation of “I don’t know, I’ve never met someone who wouldn’t listen.” 

 

Their reaction is most often a combination of surprise, disappointment and frustration. They don’t believe I don’t know people who won’t listen. They are disappointed I can’t help and they are frustrated because they think I’m playing games with them.

 

But the truth is I have never met anyone who wouldn’t listen. I have however met some people who I couldn’t motivate to listen. Their failure to listen is on me, not them. I didn’t say anything worth listening to, at least from their point of view. 

 

You may not be willing to accept responsibility for the other person’s desire to listen and that’s fine…so long as you do not consider yourself to be a leader. But if you think of yourself as a leader then you must lead. That includes engaging people in conversation that they find meaningful. So meaningful that it motivates them to listen. 

 

To motivate others to listen you must first stop talking. Put yourself in their position and think about what is important to them. When you do talk make sure you talk in terms of the other person’s interests. Give them a reason to listen. Find a way to make your point while showing them that there is something for them in your point as well. 

 

Yes, that takes effort, and thought, but I’ll tell you without a doubt that talking without thinking is not real communication. It is certainty not effective communication. 

 

Look at the person you’re speaking with. Notice I didn’t say speaking to…I said speaking with. Great communicators don’t talk at or to people. They speak with them. Ditch your phone, notepad, tablet or whatever else may distract you from truly listening to them. That’s vital because the moment they sense a lack of listening on your part is about the same moment they no longer feel compelled to listen to you. 

 

On a side note, some of you will say taking notes is how you “listen.” There are times when taking notes is necessary but those are few and far between. Few people are exceptional at listening while taking notes. You miss what’s being said while you’re writing down what was said earlier. Make some quick notes after the conversation if need be but don’t kid yourself into believing you’re not missing something while you’re writing.

 

Don’t interrupt someone if you want them to listen to you. Interrupting someone mid-sentence is a sure sign that you’re not really listening. Most people, and yes I mean most, most people listen in order to respond and not to understand what is being said. If you’re interrupting people you’re likely in that “most” group. 

 

Linger on the words of the person speaking until you‘re sure what was said and meant. Only then should you begin speaking again.

 

Have you noticed yet that this post on being a better communicator has a strong focus on listening. Don’t make the incredibly common mistake of thinking communicating is only about talking. If you’re not listening intently to what the other person is saying then you may be in a two-sided monologue but you’re not in a conversation. 

 

The best communicators I know listen far more than they talk. You really get the feeling that when they do talk you had better be paying attention because you don’t want to miss it. 

 

I personally feel comfortable telling someone I’m a good speaker. I can’t honestly always rate myself that well when I take out the word speaker and replace it with communicator. But the fact that I know the difference between speaking and communicating at least gives me a chance to improve. 


As always I remain a work in progress. How about you?