Authentic Leadership is Not Perfect

I have resisted the temptation to write about the recent leadership changes at Target. I’ve resisted because frankly I don’t know enough about the reasons for the changes to credibly comment on them. So I won’t…. well, I might a little.

What I will comment on is the perceived “failure” of the outgoing Chairman, President, and CEO of Target, Gregg Steinhafel. I do not know Mr. Steinhafel personally but three people that I do know and trust have told me in the last couple of weeks that he was an authentic leader. 

If he was indeed an authentic leader then what happened at Target. Could he if fact be an authentic leader and still fail? 

What exactly “went wrong” at Target is highly debatable. Whether or not an authentic leader can fail is not. An authentic leader can indeed fail.

They can fail because authentic leadership is not perfect. No leadership is perfect because leaders are people. The last perfect leader to walk the earth was here 2000 years ago and I doubt there are any leaders around today willing to make the sacrifices He made to demonstrate their perfect leadership. 

Authentic leadership should also not be confused with Effective Leadership. They are two very different things. Authentic leadership is represented by “who” you are, effective leadership is represented by “what” you do. Effective Authentic Leadership is represented by “how” you do it. The best leaders blend it all together seamlessly to leave a leadership legacy that will last well beyond their time as a leader. 

 Effective Leadership is fairly common, Authentic Leadership is less common and Effective Authentic Leadership is less common still. 

None of that however is the real point of this post. The real point is about something that happened at Target this week. 

A person described as a “mid-level” manager at Target used a website known as Gawker to complain about the culture of Target and it’s overall lack of innovation. The post went on to say that without significant changes Target was destined to become the next Kmart or Sears. 

Apparently Gawker is a website for people who lack the courage to attach their names to their opinions. I have no problem with that; sometimes people may feel they need to remain in the shadows to say what really needs to be said.

Remarkably, a Target executive posted a reply on LinkedIn basically saying that much of the original post was accurate and that the truth hurts. To be sure it was a very candid response.

Now here’s my point: if you’re a leader in an organization and your people are complaining about your organization on anonymous websites then you have a problem. If your people need courage to tell you the truth then you have a bigger problem. If you choose to respond to what you admit is the truth on yet another public website then you have the biggest problem of all. 

I’m in no position to judge the leadership of a company I only know from standing in front of their cash registers. That said, I can say that trust is a vital commodity of leadership. Authentic leaders must have the trust of their people to earn their commitment. Effective leaders must have the trust of their people to earn their bias for action. Effective Authentic leaders know they must have both to ensure long-term success.

There seems to be at least a bit of a trust issue at Target. I can’t help but wonder if the fact that Target has been so successful for so long is the very reason that trust has been eroded. Perhaps the leadership just started taking the trust of their people for granted.

You can never stop working to earn the trust of your people. Never stop showing you care, never stop showing your people how much they, and their opinion matters. Trust isn’t earned in a day and once it is earned it must continuously be re-earned. Every single day. 

As a leader, what did you do to earn the trust of your people today? 

Think about that!

People Really Do Follow the Leader

Follow the leader isn’t just a children’s game. It’s a fact of life.

People really do follow the leader. They do what the leader does. They behave as the leader behaves. They act the way the leader acts.

They don’t very often do what the leader says, unless of course what the leader says is the same thing the leader does. As a leader, who you are makes a difference. The most important message you can share is yourself. Your people watch you constantly, they are watching to determine if you’re the type of leader they can trust. 

Here’s the most basic leadership equation of all: trust = follower-ship. Where there is no trust there can be no true following. True following comes from commitment and while a leader’s position may get them the compliance of their people only trust can earn commitment.

If a leader isn’t trusted by their people then don’t be surprised when the people aren’t trusted by the leader. People really do follow the leader.

Everything a leader says and does either adds to or subtracts from their “credibility bank.” Almost nothing is credibility neutral, everything matters. Authentic leaders know that and work to make certain that their words match their actions as much as possible. 

Let me say this as clearly as I can; if your credibility sinks low enough you may have a title or position of leadership but you’re not leading anymore. You can’t be leading because people can’t follow a leader with low credibility. If you have no followers then you’re not leading no matter what your business card might say.

People do follow the leader but only if that leader is a person they can trust. If you can’t pass the trust test then all your leadership efforts will come up short. Your vision will never be realized, your influence will be limited, and your success will be in doubt. 

If you want to be a leader that people will follow then don’t work for a position or title that people will “have to” follow. Instead work to become the type of person they will want to follow. 

Be the type of person they can trust! 

Are You a Role Model?

Well, are you? The short answer, especially if you’re a leader or even just someone in a leadership position, is yes.

Your people watch you. No one is born with an innate knowledge of what it takes to succeed so they must learn it. They learn some of it by listening, some by reading, but mostly they learn from watching. If you are their leader or the person who is above them in a leadership position then it’s you they are watching.

You are absolutely a role model. The only question is do you model behavior that leads to success or do you model behavior that leads to something else.  

You can tell your people what to do and they may do it. You can show them and they will likely do it, you can tell them and show them and if what you said matches what you do they will most certainly do it. 

Therein lies the problem for people who are leaders only because they occupy a leadership position. Their words often don’t match their actions. They have yet to learn that their people will do what they do long before they will do what they say. They are also surprised when they eventually learn just how closely they are watched by those who would follow them. 

Authentic leaders are careful to make certain that their actions match their words. They realize that is the surest way to build trust and credibility and that those two characteristics are vital for leadership. 

If your goal as a leader is to build other leaders then your words and actions must coincide.  

So, watch what you say and remember, someone else is watching what you do.

Trust is a Mighty Big Word

Trust 1Trust is the stuff that holds people together. It protects us from all sorts of daily calamities and allows us to move forward without always having to look over our shoulders.  If we can’t trust the people closest to us, family, friends and co-workers then it becomes almost impossible to lead a satisfying life. Trust isn’t just another word, it’s not an idealistic goal which can’t be obtained in “real life.” Trust – or a lack of it – matters and it matters in everything we do and say.

If people are to have healthy relationships, trust must be more than something that is talked about; it must be at the center of everything they do. In business it’s trust that make the “relationship” in a business relationship possible.

Trust is the foundation of all effective leadership; if your people can’t trust you they absolutely will not follow you. They may give the appearance of following you but real trust will take the leader/follower relationship past appearances into true commitment. When your people are committed to you great stuff happens. Morale improves, problems are solved, productivity increases and more leaders are developed.

You can buy yourself a dog but you must earn the wag of its tail. It’s the same with trust, a leader can hire, pay and promote an employee but the trust must still be earned. It must be earned and re-earned every day. When a leader violates the trust of their people the fabric of the organization becomes torn and over time, often very little time, the morale of the organization erodes away.

When a leader does what they say they will, credibility follows.  When credibility is present, integrity can grow. When integrity grows, trust flourishes.

Effective leaders don’t let trust happen, they make trust happen. They proactively demonstrate trust by making certain that their words match their actions. They hold themselves to a higher standard than others; quickly admitting to a mistake and accepting often more than the responsibility due.

Effective leaders know they don’t earn trust by leading, they must earn the trust before they can lead. Effective leaders trust others and show it by giving them the opportunity to succeed.

What have you done in the past 30 days to earn the trust of those you would lead? It’s a question that great leaders ask themselves and ask themselves often. So…..