Why Leadership Really Matters


Top performing, passionate people still need direction, focus and a purpose. The most common source for those three prerequisites for success is an effective leader. Without effective leadership even top performers lose the motivation the use their skills and abilities.

They can get simple direction from a manager, they can even be somewhat forced to focus but their purpose becomes clear only when there is a vision to work towards. Vision casting is a prime responsibility of an effective leader.

People will put forth effort for mere money… for a while. Money alone however has proven to be a poor motivator for top performers. People are most productive when they know that they are making a difference. Working towards a vision shows them where and how they can make a difference.

If the vision can’t be articulated by the leader then there might as well not be a vision. If the vision isn’t shared often then that too is nearly as bad as not having a vision at all.

Leaders are role models as well – good or bad. They should not expect to see more effort from their people than they are willing to offer themselves. They should not expect better decisions or more prudent risk-taking than they put forth as leaders.

If you’re in a leadership position then you absolutely MUST know that your people are watching you… always. They watch to see if your words match your actions. (They do what you do, not what you say) They watch to see if you’re committed enough to the vision and if they determine that you’re not then they will not commit to you.

If they cannot commit to you then they will not commit to the vision. People, especially top performing people, commit to a leader before they commit to the leader’s vision.

The energy that makes good people top performers turns on itself without direction, focus and purpose. When that happens top performers go sour, become ineffective and they eventually leave the leader…. or worse, they stay with the leader and simply stop performing.

Leadership matters, it always has and it always will. Without effective leadership even promising top performers will struggle to reach their potential.

If you’re in a leadership position then you not only have the opportunity to lead, you have an obligation to lead. If you can’t or won’t meet that obligation then you owe it to your would be followers, and even to yourself, to step aside and let a real leader take over.

Leadership for the Ages – Conclusion

Not admitting to the differences between generations will not make the differences go away. 

If you’re going to do more than just occupy a leadership position, if you’re going to actually lead, then you’ll have to understand and use those differences.

One of the challenges in writing a series like this is that in the interest of time you almost have to use some generalities in your writing. When I finally get around to writing my book on leadership I promise I’ll add more specific detail.

If it is true that each generation is different, and it is true, then it is also true that there are differences within each generation as well. So many differences in fact that I couldn’t list them all, even in a book.

As a leader it is incumbent upon you to know those differences in your people. The fact that they come from a particular generation can give you some idea as how to lead them but it is a picture  painted in shades of gray. To truly lead you must have a picture of your people painted in vivid color.

This is a picture not painted with a brush but with information. It requires information to truly know your people. To acquire the type of information needed for this picture you’ll have to talk WITH your people, not TO them. It will help immeasurably if you’ll listen too.

I frequently recommend to leaders that they periodically conduct innerviews with their people. No, I didn’t misspell that… I mean innerview, not interview. An interview  is something you do when hiring someone. An innerview is something you do when you really want to know them.   

It is maybe a five minute conversation about the person you’re innerviewing; it gives you the opportunity to discover what’s important to them, what motivates them, what their goals and objectives are. You’ll better understand their specific values and background. You’ll know how they want to be led and they will know that they and their ideas matter to you and their organization.

If you can invest 5 or 10 minutes a day to talk with the people of your organization, everyday, with all generations, you’ll lead more effectively than you ever thought possible.

The number one concern I hear from leaders when I share the “Innerview” concept is the time required to do it. 5 or 10 minutes a day, everyday. I’m amazed by the number of “leaders” who tell me they can’t afford the time. 


If you don’t have the time to invest in your people then you simply don’t have the time to lead. You may need to move out of the way and let a “Kid” take over. I’d rather have an experienced leader who truly leads than an experienced person who merely occupies a leadership position.

So, feel like leading today? Then go do an innerview.

Leadership for the Ages – Part Five

The future is a pretty sneaky thing. It just kind of creeps up on you and before you know it you’re actually living in it. Except that it’s not the future anymore, it has become the present.

Thirty years ago when I was preparing to write a workshop on cold-calling it occurred to me that I didn’t know that much about the subject. So I took a 3 month part-time job selling cellphones because at the time cellphones were selling for $3000 and up and most sales were the result of a cold call. I figured to learn cold calling in a hurry by selling phones. (I did)

The visionary owner of the company I was selling for predicted a day when people would be able to call you anywhere in the world, from anywhere in the world, whether they knew where you were or not. Just by having one phone number for you they could reach you anywhere. I have thought for years how amazing that would be if his vision ever became reality.

In January I received a phone call on my cell. It was from a friend from Minnesota who was in Phoenix for the winter. He was wondering if I could fill a tee time on the following Friday if I was going to be in town. I told him I was not going to be in town, in fact, I was standing in the middle of the ancient city of Pompeii. He called my Minnesota phone number, from Phoenix and reached me, instantly, in Pompeii. Italy.

The future had snuck up on me. I never saw it coming.

So it is with many of my “Middle” friends, the “Kids” generation has snuck up on us, they have arrived and are ready, well maybe not ready, but certainly willing, to take over and lead us all into the future. 

And one day, in the future, they most certainly will.

The “Kids” generation or as most people call them the “Millennials” are the group born after 1980. The “Kids” are the first global-centric generation, having grown up during the brisk growth of the Internet and the expansion of global terrorism. They are absolutely the most resilient in navigating change and they have a deep appreciation for diversity and inclusion. 

With remarkable gains in technology and an increase in educational opportunities during the 1990s, the “Kids” are also the most educated generation of workers today. They also represent the most team-centric generation since the “Dads,” as they have grown up at a time where parents scheduled much of their lives with sports and recreational activities to keep them occupied while their “Middles” parents focused on work. 

One of the characteristics of “Kids,” besides the fact that they are masters of digital communication, is that they are prepared to do well by doing good. Almost 70 percent say that giving back and being civically engaged are their highest priorities.

The “Kids” are not the most patient of the generations and are often surprised, disappointed, and even annoyed when the older generations, the “higher ups” don’t act on their ideas because they haven’t figured out that the “model is changing.”

The “Kids” NEED feedback, and whether positive or negative, the feedback needs to be structured in a way that leaves no room for misunderstanding. Feedback needs to be clear and specific in order to be effective with this group. 

To be productive they need to know and buy into their organization’s vision. To feel valued, they need to know their role in achieving that vision. 

More than the “Middles” and “Changers” the “Kids” are especially eager to progress in their careers and are seldom willing to wait three to five years for a promotion. Organizations and companies that want to develop this next generation of leaders need to develop in-between steps and titles, so “Kids” can meet their need for career advancement.

According to a 2012 survey by staffing agency Adecco, 68% of recent graduates identified good opportunities for growth and development as one of their top professional priorities. Assigning challenging projects and sending “Kids” to training conferences will be especially helpful for those “Kids” workers interested in learning and growing their skills.

This generation, more than any other, needs flexibility. With their technology skills they are essentially able to work anytime from anywhere. Let them! Let them if you expect to keep them. A 2012 study of this generation by Griffith Insurance Education Foundation discovered that “Kids” will sacrifice pay for increased vacation time and the ability to work outside the office.

To my fellow “Middles” leaders and even leaders from the “Changers” generation you should know that the future is upon us. The “future” looks pretty darn young, too young to be serving us hamburgers much less occupying the office next door. But nevertheless, the future is here. These “Kids” happen to make the future look pretty good too!

Leaders of today can work against the future and lose or work with the future and succeed beyond their time. It is a choice all leaders will have to make. Choose well!

Leadership for the Ages – Part Three of Some

In my last post we looked at the leadership you’ll find from the “Dad’s” generation. In this third of what’s likely to be a five post series we’ll look at the group best known as the “Baby Boomers” or as I call them “The Middles.” This is the group born between 1946 and 1964, I was born right in the middle of those years, hence the name “middles.”

This generation, my generation, was the first to actively declare a higher priority for work over personal life.  The “Middles” generally distrust authority and large “systems.” Our values were shaped by the civil rights movement, Viet Nam, and for a time, run away inflation. We are mostly more optimistic and willing to change than “Dad’s” generation.

We’re also known to some however as the “Me Generation” and that moniker is probably well deserved. If the “Dad’s” invented Minute Rice then it was the “Middles” who decided that a minute was way too long a time to wait for rice, or nearly anything else for that matter. We do tend to want everything NOW. That need for instant gratification can sometimes show up as a sense of entitlement. It is never good for someone in a leadership position to have any kind of sense of entitlement, it tends to send followers running for the door. 

My generation, “The Middles” have had their retirement plans changed, not really changed, more like ripped from them. The dot.com slaughter and the Great Recession have caused many of my generation to consider when and even if they will retire. 63% now say they will work at least part-time in retirement to replace lost savings. 

That can make a person a bit bitter and a bitter leader is a bad leader. A very bad leader. 

My generation embraced the value of having to sacrifice to get ahead. All that sacrifice makes us very loyal to one another. We’ve seemingly always understood the value of a solid effort and have had no issue with working to earn everything we receive. 

All of this has shaped our values into what they are. I believe “The Middles” are a great generation in their own way. But too many leaders from my generation also believe that “our way” is the only way and that can make it very difficult to lead. 

Authentic Servant Leaders to not apply their values and their value system to those they lead. To be an effective leader in 2014 you must lead people according to their value system, not yours. 

Leading others according to their values is not a sign of weakness on the part of the leader, it is a sign of caring and intelligence. 

Let’s say that you have a team member, someone you lead, from the “Changers” or “Kids” generation, and their work hours are 8:00am to 5:00pm. Each day you watch them turn off their lights and pack-up to head home at 5:00pm. Their work for the day is done, no big projects due or deadlines approaching but you question their loyalty and work ethic anyway. 

Your question doesn’t stem from their lack of performance, it stems from you applying your values to them. Remember, for us “middles” “work” is a place to go, for “Changers” and “Kids” it is something they do. 

The “problem” here really lays with the leader, not the follower. 

Authentic Servant Leaders seek first to understand and know their people. They know they can’t truly lead a person until they know the person they are leading. 

On another note, to my fellow “Middles,” maybe we can learn something from the “Changers” and “Kids,” go home and see what you’re missing. These youngsters just might be on to something. We’ll find out in the next post of this series!

The REAL Definition of Authentic Leadership

I write and speak often on the topic of “Authentic Leadership” and I have a clear understanding of what that means …. to me.

As it turns out however, not everyone has the same understanding. In fact, there are just about as many opinions on the definition of Authentic Leadership as there are people in the world.

I wrote a post titled “What Authentic Leadership Looks Like” a couple of week ago and gave examples of characteristics of authentic leaders. I decided to go with “looks like” for the very reason that defining “authentic” leadership is very hard to do.

In his 2003 book entitled Authentic Leadership, Bill George said that authentic leaders are self-aware and genuine, they are mission driven and focused on results and that they lead with their heart. 

I admire and respect Bill George, he is by any definition, at least my definition, an authentic leader. The characteristics he describes however have little more to do with being authentic than the characteristics I wrote about. They have to do with being a genuinely decent, successful person. Whether or not you’re a leader.

I have come to the conclusion that I have been misusing the term “Authentic Leader.”

Here is the dictionary definition of “authentic:” 


of undisputed origin; genuine.
“the letter is now accepted as an authentic document”
synonyms: genuine, real, bona fide, true, veritable; legitimate, lawful, legal, valid; informal the real McCoy, the real thing, kosher

“an authentic document”

Authentic basically means real. If we define leadership in the simplest of terms we would say that leadership is influence. Put the two together and we have something very different than most people mean when they say “Authentic Leader.” 

There have been people of great influence who were real creeps. Some truly bad people who were true to their own warped sense of values who also had great impact on their followers and even the world. They were, by the most accurate definition, authentic leaders.

When people like me, who speak and write about leadership use the term Authentic Leadership we imply all sorts of stuff that may or may not be true. We have sort of hijacked the word authentic and redefined it as “good” or “honorable” or “caring.” 

After a discussion this week with a few leaders I admire I have decided to add a second adjective to the phrase “Authentic Leader,” it may be Authentic Servant Leader, or Authentic Effective Leader, or maybe Authentic Caring Leader, but this much seems certain, simply using “authentic” isn’t enough to describe what I have in mind when I say Authentic Leadership. 

It appears that the real definition of Authentic Leadership exists only in the minds of the people who use or accept the term. If your definition is different than mine then we have a communication gap, I think using one extra word will build a strong bridge across that gap.

What do you think, can one extra word make a difference that matters?   

Continue reading “The REAL Definition of Authentic Leadership”

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!