Are You a Lazy Leader?

There has never been a time when it was easier to find excellent information on what it takes to be an effective Authentic Leader. There are many outstanding TedTalks and books and blogs on developing yourself as a leader. Much of the content available online is free. You only need to be willing to invest in yourself. 

Unfortunately, as the saying goes, too often some of that content falls under the category of “you get what you pay for.” Along with the excellent content there is stuff provided by hacks who have no business talking about leadership. Actually, they have no business talking at all. 

I came across one such blog post a few weeks ago. The author made the suggestion that leaders should NOT take the time to get to know their people personally. Getting to know someone on a personal level is not necessary. They said you are better off keeping to yourself than wasting time talking with people about non-work topics.

They said connecting to people on a personal level could be misleading and cause them to think you cared about them. It could even lead to the “disastrous” thought that you like them. 

At first I thought the author was being facetious. But as I continued reading it became clear that his recommendation was serious. It also became clear that has was a knucklehead. 

But I’m sure some people in leadership positions agreed with what he said. That’s most likely because while they may be in a leadership position they are certainly not leaders. They are too lazy to invest the time required to Authentically Lead. They won’t invest time to know, understand, and appreciate the people they are supposedly leading. 

Authentic Leaders know that their people want to connect with and get know their leaders. Authentic Leaders get to know each person on their team, their history, their goals, and their aspirations. They understand getting to know their people on a personal level helps them establish rapport and make deeper connections. People generally want to know that those they work with care about them and respect them for their contribution to the team’s success.

Leaders make decisions and judgments about their people that have a tremendous impact on their lives. Authentic Leaders know they can’t do that well without knowing those people. By the way, I should point out that making judgments about a person’s ability to contribute to a team’s success is not the same as judging them as a human being. Authentic Leaders don’t judge people, they make judgments. If you struggle to understand the difference then you’ll likely struggle to lead as well.

It doesn’t take a huge investment of time to know the people you lead but it does require an intentional investment. Don’t think you can learn about your people in your free time…cause there ain’t no such thing as free time for an Authentic Leader. 

Instead set aside 5 minutes EVERY DAY to conduct an “Innerview” with one of your team members. Not an “interview.” An interview is what you do when you’re hiring someone. An “Innerview” is what you do when you want to understand someone enough that you can help them grow, as a person and as a team member. You ask questions to gain an “inner” view of who the person really is. Their goals, personal and professional. Their challenges and struggles, again, both personal and professional. 

Yes, you can do that in 5 minutes a day. IF you do it everyday. Pick a different person each day, if you have a small team you may have several conversations with each of them a month. If you have a very large team then dispatch other leaders in your organization to conduct “innerviews” of their own. 

Knowing your people is vital to helping them grow and develop. If you can’t invest 5 minutes a day to do that then you might be a lazy leader. Too lazy in fact to Authentically Lead.

On a another subject…Donald Trump and Joe Biden both say they “never miss a video from LeadToday on Twitter!” Well… they would say that if they had ever heard of me, or if one of them hadn’t been kicked off Twitter. The videos they aren’t talking about are something new I’m trying 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 leadership topics, sales tips and ideas for better overall relationships. I’m assuming there will be far fewer Super Followers than the million or so people who regularly follow me on Twitter. 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!”

My goal with SuperFollowers is to build a better connection, one where I can help more and have a greater impact. I’m hoping it gives me a chance to mentor to a wider audience. It’s still new, we’ll see how it works. It’s a $5 dollar investment that may be the extra “push” you need to get to where you want to be. I’d be honored to be able to help get you there. 

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, and if you are, be sure to let me know how I’m doing and how I can be of even more help.

Communication Always Matters

I’ve never met anyone in a leadership position who likes rumors. Rumors create lots of productivity and morale killing conversations. Not public conversations mind you, but the whispered hallway conversations that stop suddenly with the appearance of a supervisor. 

The people in leadership positions who dislike rumors the most are often the same ones who create the rumors to begin with. They create rumors by failing to communicate with their people. 

The people who work in your organization have a vested interest in what’s happening within the organization. Lots of people in leadership positions tell me they share information on a “needs to know basis.” Those leaders fail to understand that their people NEED to know. 

I understand that not all information can be shared within an organization. I also understand that far more information could be shared than is being shared in most organizations. 

Too many people in leadership positions don’t understand their people’s need to know. They want to know how the company they work for is doing. They want as clear a look into their potential future as possible. They crave information. That craving causes people to invent information when none is provided. That “invented” information is delivered to others in the form of a rumor. 

Authentic Leaders know that real information is the enemy of rumor. That’s why they provide as much information to their people as is legally and ethical possible. 

The most current example of people needing to know is still the whole pandemic situation. The omicron variant is the current Covid 19 variant making the news. I’m not very knowledgeable in the Greek language but I believe “omicron” is Greek for “who the hell knows.” 

But just because you may not have all the answers about what your organization is doing with regards to pandemic issues is no excuse to not provide your people with the answers you do have. 

While leaders are storing up information to present all at once they are creating the rumors they so dislike. One very large retail operation recently asked their employees to submit their proof of vaccination by the end of the year. No other information was provided, only a request to provide the proof by a certain deadline. No reasons where given for a request that seemed to come out of the blue. No consequences were provided in the event you failed to comply.

You can imagine the rumors that started. This company has hundreds of thousands of employees, that’s a whole lot of rumors going around. It is by all measures a really good company. One that has taken good care of their people during the entire pandemic. But it’s an example of how even otherwise very effective leaders can forget the importance of effective communication. 

I hold people who have the audacity to call themselves leaders to very high standards. One of those standards is continuous communication with the people they lead. It has never been easier to communicate with your people, even if they are spread out around the world. You can write a internal company blog. Create a weekly informational video. A simple Monday morning email update with a “what’s up” theme. 

Many leaders tell me that they don’t have time to do those things. Some of those leaders don’t have time because they are too busy putting out the fires started by the rumors they helped create. 

People in leadership positions make excuses for why they can’t communicate with their people. Authentic Leaders don’t make excuses, they make communication plans and they stick to them. 

How to Lead When There is No Crisis

This will likely be my last blog post that has anything to do with challenging times, new normals, old normals, viruses, leading in times of crisis or any other current events you might be seeing in the news.

There’s two reasons for that. One, I’m just tired of the virus. I’m tired of what might happen stealing the joy out of what is happening. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in on the social distancing guidelines and washing my hands until the skin falls off. I will be responsible and respectful to all my fellow humans on the planet. So I intend to wear a mask when I’m around other people, not for me but for them.

But all those things will be “additive” to the things I normally do. I’ll stop doing only the things that conflict with keeping other people safe. As it turns out, that is likely the very best way to keep myself safe as well.

So, what about all this “leading in challenging times” and “leading in times of crisis” stuff that’s currently flooding blogs and podcasts? (Yep, I’ve written a couple too) My thinking on this has evolved.

It’s evolved because I’ve come to the realization that if you were a poor leader when there was no crisis you will be a poor leader when there is a crisis. If you were an effective leader when there was no crisis then you will be an effective leader when there is a crisis.

That’s because leadership is about people. People’s basic need for leadership does not change one iota in times of crisis. Authentic Leaders may be a bit more intentional with their leadership in times of crisis but the fundamental characteristics of leadership remain the same.

Poor leaders will not suddenly develop leadership skills when circumstances attempt to force the need to truly lead upon them. Contrary to what many people want to believe a crisis doesn’t turn a non-leader or terrible leader into some kind of Churchill.

In difficult times great leadership becomes more visible. That’s only because Authentic Leaders lead almost exclusively from the front in times of crisis. In times with less headwinds they will sometimes lead form the middle of the pack or even the back of it. The fact that some people might not have recognized their leadership skills does not mean that they were not present.

The leadership characteristics that Authentic Leaders possess every day become more apparent when they move themselves to lead from out front. They will make some adjustments like communicating more frequently. They make themselves more accessible to their people in order to coach and counsel. The fact that those characteristics are more exposed in difficult times does not mean that they didn’t exist in the absence of challenges.

People who believe leading in difficult times is vastly different are trying to wrestle with “unknowns.” That is completely unnecessary so long as you’re a leader who is willing to dance your very best dance with the “knowns” of difficult times.

The value of Authentic Leadership is more appreciated in tough times…and that is a shame. It should be valued in both good times and bad. If you are fortunate enough to experience Authentic Leadership be it in good times or bad, let that leader know you recognize their efforts. Let them you you appreciate them for taking the lead.

They deserve your support and will welcome your recognition.

Leading With Communication

You won’t find too many excellent leaders who are poor communicators. Some are better than others when presenting in front of large groups and some are better in one-on-one situations but overall, excellent leadership requires effective communication.

Effective communication means speaking in such a way that what you’re saying is crystal clear, easy to understand and hard to forget. Truly effective communicators accept 100% responsibility for the clarity of their message. They don’t blame others for misunderstandings.

Just so we’re all on the same page here I want to make it clear that I’m talking about face-to-face communication. The verbal kind, you know, like speaking with people.

Some leaders believe they can use technology as a substitute for personal communication. They blog, use their organization’s intranet, newsletters, etc. That’s all good because it helps support a message and sometimes repetition is required. But it’s a mistake to think those tools will ever take the place of face-to-face personal communication. 

There is no media that can communicate a leader’s intensity and passion as well as personal, human contact. When a leader exits the relatively safe confines of their office to personally speak with members of their team it automatically adds weight to whatever it is they are saying.

Leaders who are good communicators speak with absolute clarity, they limit the use of buzzwords, jargon and corporate-speak. Their actions match their words, if they say they will do it, then they do it. That consistency adds significance to every statement they make.

It is important for a leader to be an effective communicator when speaking to large groups but it’s vital for leaders to be effective when speaking one-on-one.

So, excellent leaders speak well but….Authentic Servant Leaders speak well AND listen well. They know that speaking is only part of communicating; effective communication is a two-way street and if you never stop to listen you are not communicating well, no matter how good of a speaker you might be. 

Most people merely listen to respond, Authentic Servant Leaders listen to understand. They linger on the words being spoken until they understand the intent of the speaker. If they are not certain they fully understand what was said they ask for clarification. They don’t guess and they don’t assume, they ask.

The very best communicators are incredible listeners. It seems that by truly, completely listening to what other people are saying they always know just what to say in return and exactly how to say it. 

Perhaps the true secret to speaking well is listening even better!

Authentic or Effective Leadership?

Trust! It is a vital element of leadership, at least Authentic Servant Leadership. I suppose an effective leader can get away with a lack of trust, but the leadership of someone who is merely effective is limited.

If you’re wondering about the difference between an effective leader and an Authentic Servant Leader here is my take on it: an effective leader can influence people to take action, they can chart a course for their people and the can make a difference in the lives of those they lead… it may not be a positive difference but it will be a difference.

An effective leader can even build other leaders but it’s very unlikely that an effective leader will ever develop an Authentic Servant Leader.

On the other hand an Authentic Servant Leader can do everything an effective leader can do and so much more. They are far more likely to develop other, future leaders. The leaders they develop will be much more likely to be Authentic Servant Leaders one day. Authentic Servant Leaders create a culture where people care, a culture where everyone matters and a culture where people values are every bit as important as performance values.

Now, this post was supposed to be all about trust but since I’ve gotten off on this tangent I’m going to keep going. I guess “trust” will be my next post.

If you’re questioning whether your leader is merely effective or an Authentic Servant leader then maybe this next batch of words will help clarify that for you.

Somehow people have it in their heads that “authentic” means perfect. Nope, that’s not at all what it means. It means “conforming to fact and therefore worthy of belief” or “not counterfeit or copied.”

Authentic Leaders are genuine, the real deal. They lead, they make good things happen. The real difference comes when we add the word “servant.” A servant is described as a “person working in the service of another.”

If the individual leading you has your best interests in mind then it is very likely that they are a servant leader. If they can combine that with great judgcernment, (the vital combination of judgment and discernment) a willingness to make decisions, even when risk is attached, a vivid, forward looking vision and the ability to apply their emotions in a positive fashion then they may well be an Authentic Servant Leader.

Here’s something else you need to know about Authentic Servant Leaders: you may not always agree with them. They may have one idea about what’s in your best interests while you have something different in mind. They may ask you to do things you may not want to do, this happens because they will most often keep in mind that the good of the many outweighs the good of the one… that just means they put the good of the organization above the good of any one individual, even if they are that one individual.

Authentic Servant Leaders make mistakes, they do things at times that they regret later. Why, on their worst days they can even appear to be merely human… just like the rest of us.

“Authentic” doesn’t mean perfect and “servant” doesn’t mean doormat. Authentic Servant Leaders will makes mistakes and they won’t always do what we want them to do. Overall, working for, or even alongside a truly Authentic Servant Leader is a life-building experience, if you’ll simply let it be.

Do yourself a favor and let it be.

How Much Does Good Judgment Matter?

Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis are both well known business authors and both are considered experts on the topic of leadership. They also both agree that a leader’s most important role, regardless of the organization, is making good judgments. They define good judgments as well-informed, wise decisions that produce the desired outcomes. They say that when a leader shows consistently good judgment, little else matters.

They also have this in common: they are mistaken. Seriously mistaken. They are mistaken because lots of other stuff matters, lots and lots of other stuff.

Clearly good judgment is vital for all leaders. If we’re talking solely about effective leadership then I may even put it at the top of my most important leadership characteristics list. However, if we’re talking about Authentic Servant Leadership then many other characteristics come into play and they are equally as important as good judgment.

Let me attempt to struggle once again with the difference between effective leadership and truly Authentic Servant Leadership.

Think of it like this: effective leadership can settle for the good of the one over the good of the many. Authentic Servant Leadership will consistently, willingly, sacrifice the good of the one for the good of the many, even when they are personally the “one.”

If that’s an accurate description of the difference, or at least a difference, between “effective” and “authentic” leadership and I believe that it is, that makes effective leadership a whole lot easier than authentic leadership.

There is just a lot less to be concerned about. There are less “inputs” to consider when a merely effective leader is making a judgment.

So if Tichy and Bennis are talking about only effective leadership they could have a point. But merely effective leaders are limited in their ability to earn the commitment of their people. That limitation lessons their influence and prevents them from ever achieving a Level Five Leadership Status.

Authentic Servant Leaders must have integrity and they must care about their people. They celebrate the success of others before their own. They don’t spend time on their people, they invest time with their people. Authentic Servant Leaders don’t just build a strong following, they build strong leaders. Yes, they have outstanding judgment but they know that there are very few things that “matter little” and many things that matter a lot in leadership.

Here’s where I can agree with both Tichy and Bennis: they say when a leader consistently shows poor judgment, nothing else matters. I believe that is mostly true. It’s true because you can care for people, you can have boatloads of integrity, and you can genuinely love it when other people succeed but if your judgment is always lacking, you may be a wonderful person but you won’t be a leader for long.

So judgment matters, it really really matters. To say that little else matters however is to diminish the legacy of many of the greatest leaders who ever lived. Judgment is a critical component of leadership, but it’s not the only one, it’s only one of many.

The Vital Importance of Conflict Resolution

I am not a fan of conflict. I’d prefer to have zero conflicts in my life, both my personal life and my professional life.

My preference however is unrealistic because conflicts are a part of life. They happen! As a matter of fact, if you have a pulse and interact with other human beings then you will have conflicts too.

Some people will go to extreme lengths to avoid conflict. I think they avoid them because they believe all conflicts lead to poor outcomes. They have so little confidence in their own communication skills that they fear losing control of their emotions and making the situation that originally caused the conflict even worse.

That’s a challenging way to go through life for anyone. If you have that challenge and you’re in a leadership position then it’s far more than a challenge, it can be a disaster.

Unresolved conflict leads directly to unreached potential. Let me repeat that in case you missed it… unresolved conflict leads directly to unreached potential. Directly!

If you’re a leader who avoids conflict then you’re a limited leader at best. You can make great decisions, hire the right people, build solid products, and be liked by everyone. What you can’t do is lead your people and your organization to their full potential.

It’s like seeing $40 on the ground and bending down to pick up $20, hoping that somebody else will pick up the other $20 and put it to use. You just left half of your potential “find” lay there. Hope may sound nice in a speech but I’m sorry to say, it’s a real crappy business strategy.

Leaders cannot simply hope the conflict resolves itself. Conflicts seldom disappear, they just simmer below the surface causing havoc in your organization. If you don’t care enough about your people to proactively, compassionately resolve conflicts then you likely don’t care enough to truly lead.

Conflict resolution is a vital skill that leaders need to learn.

If you view conflict as dangerous, it tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you go into a conflict situation already feeling threatened, it’s tough to deal with the issue in a healthy and productive way. Instead, you are more likely to shut down or blow up in anger.

Conflict elicits strong emotions and often leads to hurt feelings and disappointment. When handled in an unhealthy manner, it can cause irreparable harm, resentments, and long-lasting distrust. When conflict is resolved in a healthy and productive way, it increases your understanding of the other person, builds trust, and strengthens relationships. This is true in both your personal and professional lives.

Effective leaders possess the capacity to recognize and respond to the things that matter to the other person. They respond in a calm, non-defensive, and respectful manner. The are ready to forgive and forget if necessary and they are able to move past the conflict without holding on to resentment. Effective leaders know that compromise is not a dirty word and that while accountability may play a role in conflict management, punishing does not.

Authentic servant leaders hold the belief that facing conflict head on is the best thing for both sides. When dealing with conflict they care enough to listen with more than just their ears. They “tune-in” to the other person to completely understand what they are saying and why they are saying it.

When people are upset, the words they use often don’t convey the real issues at the heart of the conflict. When you listen for what is felt—as well as what is said—you have the opportunity to truly understand where the other person is coming from.
When you’re in the middle of a conflict, paying close attention to the other person’s nonverbal signals may help you figure out what the other person is really saying, This lets you to respond in a way that builds trust, and get to the heart of the problem. A calm tone of voice or an interested facial expression can go a long way towards relaxing a tense exchange.

Here are a few more points to consider before attempting to resolve a conflict:

Think resolution rather than winning or “being right.” Remember, if you win then somebody else loses. If somebody feels like they have been defeated then they may withdraw for a while but the conflict still exists.

Focus on the now. If you’re holding on to grudges based on past resentments, your ability to see the reality of the current situation will be impaired. Resolve the current conflict, don’t rehash old ones.

Let something go. If you can’t come to an agreement, agree to disagree. It takes two people to keep an argument going. If a conflict is going nowhere, it is okay to disengage and move on.

I firmly believe the worst thing you can do when it comes to conflict management or hopefully, conflict resolution, is nothing. If you actually intend to lead then you must face this challenge head-on, in a caring and thoughtful way.

It’s how Authentic Servant Leaders deal with conflict!