Where Authentic Leaders Invest Their Time

Authentic Leaders know that one of their primary responsibilities is developing future leaders. Leaving behind leaders who can step into their shoes is vital to the long term success of an organization. When you consider any of the “levels of leadership” models all of them require that a leader develop their successor, or a series of successors to achieve the level 5 status. 

Yet many leaders, even some very good leaders, miss that key responsibility. There are many reasons for that. One of the big ones is that they get caught up in the day to day managing of the organization and let their leadership responsibilities fall to the bottom on their priorities. Sometimes they can’t see the leadership candidates in their organizations. That is also a result of being too “busy” to actually lead. 

I remember a conversation several years ago with a Director of Sales for a division of a company. He was leaving his role as Director and moving into a new role within his company. Just before he left his current role he asked me to critique his performance. 

He was a good leader. His people liked him, and more importantly, respected him. He was results driven and he helped his people get better. You’re probably thinking that all sounds good, and it was. But there was one big gap in his leadership. 

So I shared much of the good things about his leadership. Then I shared the gap. As he left his current role there was not one person on his team of a dozen or so people prepared to step into his role. That was a huge failure of his leadership. I knew that most people who asked to be “critiqued” really want to hear that they are doing great. Most aren’t actually looking for constructive criticism, they are looking to hear they have no need for improvement. So he wasn’t exactly happy with my input. But it was 100% accurate. 

I finished up with the rest of what he was doing well as a leader and offered to help him develop leaders in his next role. As disappointed as he may have been with my feedback I’m happy to say he took me up on my offer. 

So where exactly does a leader find future leaders in their organization? In a word, everywhere. 

Many organizations have some sort of talent pool. This is a select group of employees targeted for development. I don’t know much about how that works because I’ve never been in a pool like that. But I do know this…once somebody is in that pool it seems nearly impossible to get them out. Conversely, it appears that once you’re passed over for the opportunity to swim in that pool you’re never getting in. 

And that’s where leaders, sometimes even very good leaders, make their biggest mistake. They assume that the people they need have a certain “look.” They are of a certain demographic. They talk a certain way and dress “the way” a leader dresses. 

Leaders who fall short in developing future leaders don’t realize their entire organization is a talent pool just waiting, hoping, and needing to be developed. When only a small group of “select” people are allowed into that developmental pool many potential leaders are overlooked. 

If the organization is lucky those potential leaders will leave the organization and go on to greatness somewhere else. If the organization is unlucky those potential leaders will allow their potential to be wasted by staying with the organization that doesn’t see their value. They become the disenchanted and disengaged employees who cost organizations limitless amounts of money. 

If you’re a leader and you’re wondering where to invest your time my answer is everywhere. At some point your future leaders will show themselves and you can invest extra time with them. But never stop working to grow ALL your people. Not everyone rises to the top with the same speed. Some people develop faster than others. 

People will surprise you. I’ve seen over and over some of the best swimmers left out of the talent pool because they didn’t “fit” someone’s preconceived notion of what a “winner” or a “leader” looks like. 

As a leader it is your responsibility to make sure that doesn’t happen in your organization. You can delegate the task of developing future leaders to your HR and Training Departments but you can’t delegate the responsibility. 

Remember that and your pool of potential future leaders will get a whole lot bigger. 

Before You Fire That Person

Being terminated from employment is one of life’s greatest stressors. It’s right up there with death of a loved one and a terrible medical diagnosis. 

Thankfully, I think most people in Leadership Positions understand that and make firing someone a last resort. Unfortunately some do not. But maybe they would if they stopped to think long enough about what firing someone actually means. 

It means in every case a great failure on the part of a leader. There are two and only two reasons that someone is so underperforming in a job that they should be fired. The first reason is that they were hired for a job they weren’t qualified for or they didn’t “fit” with the organization. Either way, they should not have been hired in the first place. That is a failure of leadership. 

The second reason is that they were not given the tools and training to do the job effectively. That is also a failure of leadership. 

That means that if you find yourself needing to fire someone it’s on you, not on them. You can blame them all you want for their poor attitude or the lack of respect for the organization. You can call them stupid. You can call them lazy. You can say whatever you want. 

But one fact remains…you or another leader in your organization hired them. 

So now you’re likely to tell yourself that they weren’t stupid when you hired them. They didn’t have a poor attitude when they started. You rationalize that they were a better employee on their first day. They changed!

So what you’re saying is that you took a perfectly effective individual and put them in an environment where their attitude went to hell? You’re admitting that you took a bright, intelligent and engaged person and transformed them into an idiot? 

Wow, that’s something to be proud of. Or maybe not so much. 

I get that a large percentage of people embellish their qualifications when applying for a job. I understand that they are on their best behavior. I have been “fooled” during an interview process like every other person who hires people has. 

I also understand that there will be times, for several reasons, when separation from the organization is the only path available. 

But…if you are going to have the audacity to call yourself a leader then you had best be willing to stand up and admit your mistakes. If you even want to be thought of as an Authentic Leader then you must be willing to work with that person to help them develop into the very best version of themselves. As a leader it’s your responsibility to motivate to be on their best behavior every day, not only on days when they are interviewing for a job. 

Even if they fooled you into thinking they had a positive attitude when they didn’t, you need to ask yourself if you’re providing an atmosphere where poor attitudes can thrive or is the culture your cultivating within your organization one where positive attitudes are so contagious that negative attitudes can’t survive. 

Accepting a leadership title is very easy to do. Accepting the responsibility for people that goes with it is not easy. Accepting the responsibility for the success of those people is harder still. 

But Authentic Leaders do it anyway. Authentic Leaders know the trauma a termination can cause people. They know it’s effects can be devastating and long lasting. That’s why they hire carefully and work tirelessly to develop the people in their organizations. 

Think about that the next time you become so frustrated with YOUR leadership abilities that your tempted to fire someone because of it. Be certain that termination is truly your last resort and not your first one. 

Authentic Leaders Build a Strong Bench

Most Authentic Leaders wear at least two hats. The first of course is the hat of leadership. Leadership focuses on the people in the organization. People are what make an organization what it is. People are important, in fact, absolutely vital to the success of an organization. 

The second hat is the hat of management. Management focuses on the nut and bolts of running an organization. There are a ton of seemingly urgent tasks associated with managing a business or organization. In reality many of them are not all that important. 

But forever, managers and leaders alike have fallen into the trap known as the tyranny of the urgent. Once in that trap they spend way more time handling urgent matters, often, very very often, at the expense of the truly important things. The things that involve their people. 

One of those things, perhaps the most important thing, that gets buried in the tyranny of the urgent is developing the people who will one day lead the organization into the future. These are the people who will either maintain or even grow your culture as a competitive advantage. 

Developing these future leaders requires an intentional and deliberate investment of time. It requires that the Authentic Leader invest a piece of themselves in the success of their people. Authentic Leaders invest time to know and understand their people’s goals and objectives. It’s through that process that they learn about their strengths and developmental opportunities. 

When seeking to build a strong bench of future leaders they look for particular qualities that can grow into Authentic Leadership. They make note of an individual’s ability to communicate effectively. Effective communication means both speaking well AND listening well. It means being prepared to share ideas during a meeting and being able to defend their talking points with evidence and support materials. 

Authentic Leaders want their future leaders to possess outstanding human relations skills. The ability to build solid relationships is critical to any leadership role and ALL relationships are built on a foundation of trust. So today’s Authentic Leaders look for honesty and integrity in their future leaders. 

Leaders help groups of individuals become a focused and disciplined team. Leaders who build leaders observe their people to see who everyone gravitates to. Is there one person who other people consistently go to for help and advice? That may be your future leader. 

Authentic Leaders know that all leaders lead by example, whether they intend to or not. So they look for people who model the culture and values of the organization. They also want their future leaders to possess strong personal values and most importantly, live according to those values. 

They know that everyone makes mistakes. They also know that not everyone recovers from those mistakes. So they look for people who first of all are not afraid to make a decision. They pay particular attention when one of those decisions go wrong. They want to see the level of perseverance in the person and their creativity in fixing the wrong decision. They watch closely for the person’s willingness to accept responsibility for the mistake with integrity. People who attempt to hide their mistakes, or worse, shift responsibility to someone else, will never be an Authentic Leader. 

So, how about you. Are you working daily to strategically develop your “bench” of future leaders? If you’re not then I would submit to you that you’re missing a huge part of Authentic Leadership. That’s the part where you leave your organization in even better hands then when you were first given the helm. 

To make that happen you must keep yourself out of that trap of the tyranny of the urgent. One way to do that is to set aside time each day to work with, get to know, and build relationships with your people. Each day. All the time. It must be a priority. It must take precedence over the urgent things that may add no long term value to the organization. 

Your success as a leader depends a little bit on what you do today. But it is ultimately determined by what the people you leave behind do tomorrow. If that causes you to make developing a strong bench of future leaders a priority today, than the objective of this post has been accomplished. 🙂

The Trail of an Authentic Leader

I’m sometimes asked how I can tell when someone is an Authentic Leader. People want to know what to look for, what to listen for and what “signs” signify that someone is an Authentic Leader. 

While there are certainly identifiable character traits of Authentic Leadership there is one surefire way to know without a doubt that someone is an Authentic Leader. They leave a trail behind them. The trail is littered with leaders. 

Authentic Leaders invest the time required to develop their people. They begin the process of developing their people with the understanding that people need to be reminded more than they need to be taught. That is particularly true when it comes to leadership. 

Leadership is “modeled” much more than it is taught. That’s why it is so important that leaders always keep in mind that they are the models for successful leadership behaviors. They don’t tell people what to do, they show them. They know that people will do what their leader does 1000 times faster than they will do what their leader says. 

Authentic Leaders grow new leaders through consistency and persistence. They don’t offer drive by coaching. They know that elevating others requires work, patience and a willingness to suffer the occasional setback. Maybe even more than occasional. They don’t coach in their free time, instead they set aside time, often daily, to invest in their people. They don’t provide all the answers for their people, they help their people develop answers on their own. 

One of the reasons Authentic Leaders don’t give all the answers is that they admit they don’t have all the answers to begin with. They are willing to learn from anyone, anytime. They know the best leaders are constant learners. They also are not afraid to admit when they are wrong or have made a mistake. They take ownership of and responsibility for, their actions. 

They also give ownership away to help their people grow. They delegate tasks and the responsibility for getting them done. They allow their people to take ownership of the task. The allow them to make decisions and determine the steps to make to ensure successful completion of the task. 

Authentic Leaders know that the best way to help people learn to make decisions is to let them make decisions. That also means allowing them to clean up the messes they make from a poor decision. 

Authentic Leaders make most every decision with an eye towards the future. The full future. That includes who they will leave behind as leaders when their own time in the top spot comes to a close. 

I ask people in leadership positions who they are currently developing to fill future leadership positions. Many of them tell me they are too busy leading to “spend” time on developing people. That tells me without a doubt that while they may hold a leadership position they most certainly are not an Authentic Leader. 

Authentic Leaders consistently “invest” the time to develop the next generation of leaders and they leave a substantial trail of leaders behind them as a result. 

So…who are you developing today for the leadership roles of tomorrow?

The Least Unqualified Person

A bunch of years ago I was managing a small training team within a much larger company. One of my team members accepted another position with the company in a different division. That left me with a position to fill, one in which there were no obvious internal candidates.

The person running the division I was in came to me with a “suggestion” on who could fill the position. The problem was he was completely unqualified for the position. When I pointed that out I was asked if anyone in the company was qualified for the position and my answer was “not that I’m aware of.” 

He replied, “so what’s the difference?” Just move “my guy” into the spot. When I pointed out that “his guy” was likely the least qualified of all the unqualified people he was okay with it. He said something along the lines of “since whoever we put in the role will likely not be qualified it might as well be his guy.” 

Luckily cooler, also likely smarter, heads above him prevailed and we found someone substantially more qualified to take the position. 

But how did we get to a place where putting a unqualified person in an important position was even considered?

We got there because I came up woefully short in a key responsibility of leadership. I had not been developing, looking or even considering who would fill the positions I managed if any of the people occupying them left, for whatever reason. I was like the vast majority of managers; I didn’t think much about a position until I had to fill it and that lack of forethought was expensive.

Waiting for a position to open before developing people to move up in your organization can be, and usually is, a very costly mistake. Effective leaders are always thinking ahead. They consider the “what ifs” at every level of their organizations.

We saw the benefit of having good “what if” strategies when the pandemic started. I don’t know how many organizations were fully prepared for that. I do know the ones who had thought out and prepared for the unexpected were clearly better off. 

Think about the key people in your organization. Do you realize that any of them, for a variety of reasons, could be gone tomorrow? What would you do then? You NEED to know and you’ll be a whole lot better off if you know before it happens. 

I asked about the key people in your organization because if you don’t have a succession plan for them it’s very unlikely you have one for anyone else in your organization. That will come back to bite you in places you don’t want to be bit. 

Have you identified the next generation of leaders in your organization? Do you have a plan in place to develop them. I mean a real plan. A couple of canned Leadership training courses a year won’t get it done. 

You need a well thought out, consistent, long-range plan. If you don’t always have people in your developmental pipeline then one day you’ll end up having a discussion about who is the least unqualified person to move up in your organization. 

Trust me on this…you won’t enjoy that conversation.

On a completely different subject…I’m trying something new over on Twitter. It’s called “Super Followers.” For $5 a month, that’s 17 cents a day,  people can follow a part of my Twitter stream that is for subscribers only. It features short videos of me discussing the kind of things I tweet and blog about. But the best part is I’m assuming there will be far fewer Super Followers than regular followers. That will give me the opportunity to answer questions more throughly than I can on regular Twitter. Most of the answers will come in the evening cause we all have day jobs, right? Think of it as ”mentoring on demand!”

You can find more information by clicking the Super Follow button on my Twitter profile page IN THE TWITTER APP. http://twitter.com/leadtoday Give it a try if you’re so inclined, I can’t promise it will last for a long time but I can promise the content will be helpful as long as it does.

Will You Really Invest in Your People?

Most leaders are rather proud to say that their people are their greatest asset. Funny thing is the only way you would know that is by listening to them because for many of them you don’t see it in their actions. 

When you challenge them to back up what they say about their greatest asset they invariably point to the the money they spend to develop their people. By the way, there is so much wrong with the “we spend a ton” statement that I could write several posts about it but I’ll talk about one for now. 

The first thing wrong with that statement is that with the exception of a very few companies it’s not true. In the United States the majority of companies spend an average of ten times more on their IT Infrastructure than they do developing their people. 

They see spending on IT almost as a sunk cost so while they may shake their heads at the amount, it gets approved as if there is no choice. Spending on people is a prospective cost and is often cut to protect the all important the bottom line. 

Authentic Leaders, the ones who grow and develop future leaders for their organization, know that the best investment they can make in their people is an investment of time. They don’t “spend” money or time ON their people, they “invest” money and time WITH their people. 

You can spend money on “off the shelf” training for your people or you can invest your time and your experience to truly grow and develop your people. 

If you’re delegating the vital leadership responsibility of developing your people solely to your HR team or worse, simply leaving it up to the people you lead, then you may hold a leadership position but you are not leading. 

Take a second here to reflect on the past week. What did you do to help one of the people you lead grow and develop? Criticizing them for a mistake is not helpful so don’t count those. Where during the last week did you invest the time to take someone’s mistake and turn it into a learning opportunity? When did you coach or encourage a member of your team? 

I already know the answers to those questions for too many of you. I also know the excuses you’ll use to explain away your lack of Authentic Leadership. So don’t got there. 

Go instead to your mirror and look yourself in the eye. Now read this:

Because I refuse to invest even a minute of my time to develop the people I’m supposed to be leading they will always struggle. Because I attempt in vain to manage people who desperately need to be led I will always struggle. Because we collectively struggle our organization will struggle as well. Because I am a leader in name only those struggles will be continuous. They will not be the responsibility of the people I’m supposed to lead, they will be on me. 

You may forget some of that when your excuses blot out your responsibility as a leader so you may want to read that everyday. Or you might start actually leading by investing the time to develop what you so rightfully call your greatest asset. 

Hiring Non Leaders

Only 11% of HR leaders are confident that they have the “bench strength” to fill leadership positions when they open up. That means, if my arithmetic is correct, that 89% of HR leaders are NOT confident that they have a strong group of up and coming leaders. 

Yet they continue to hire people with no leadership potential. Or at best they hire people not knowing if they have leadership potential. 

I think, and it’s just my thinking because I’ve not seen or done any research on this, but I think it’s because HR teams focus on the task at hand today. That task is filling open positions somewhere in the organization. Most of those positions are not considered leadership positions. So there is little or no consideration given to the interviewees leadership potential. 

If someone is hired who turns out to have leadership abilities then that’s great. They will be “discovered” in the course of doing their jobs and perhaps earmarked for further development. If they turn out to actually be able to lead then the organization will have gotten lucky. 

I wonder how many CEOs think it’s a good idea to “luck into” their future leaders? I’m betting not a single one. Yet when an organization hires someone without understanding their leadership potential they are leaving their future to chance. 

Sometimes Hiring Managers intentionally hire people without leadership potential. I remember a conversation with a Director of Marketing some years ago who was looking for a Marketing Communications Manager. He told me he was looking for someone who didn’t know anything about marketing or communications. He wanted someone who would do what they were told. He was tired of people suggesting new ideas or questioning his “orders.” 

Ya might say that person wasn’t exactly forward thinking. You can definitely say he wasn’t a leader.

As I write this post there are a record number of job openings in the United States. The competition for qualified candidates has never been greater. That has caused many organizations to lower their “standards” more than a little. 

I understand the need to fill open positions but that’s a mighty slippery slope. Despite the difficulty finding qualified new employees my recommendation for HR professionals hasn’t changed. I recommend organizations hire ONLY promotable people with leadership potential. 

When you can boldly and honestly tell candidates that you only hire promotable people with leadership potential it becomes a great recruiting statement. Word will get out and the quality of your candidates will go up. 

I’d ask every candidate about their previous leadership experience. An answer indicating they have never had an opportunity to lead would be a red flag. Everyone has opportunities to lead. I would ask for an example of when they chose to lead. I’d ask for an example of when they were forced by circumstances to lead. I’d ask about the outcomes from their leadership. What they learned, what the people who were influenced by their leadership learned. 

I’d ask those types of questions to every single candidate regardless of the position they were applying for. 

If they have no answers but are qualified for the job they are being interviewed for than the HR Professional has a decision to make. Do I hire this person who can help us today or do I hold off until and can find someone I know can help us today AND perhaps even more tomorrow. 

I do not envy HR Professionals and Hiring Managers who have to make that decision. But I encourage them to think about how long their organization can survive if the leadership potential of every new hire is unknown.

Don’t hope to luck into your future. Hire people with leadership potential. Help them develop into the leaders that will move your organization forward for years to come.