Are you Really Leading?

Most, and yes I definitely mean most, most “leaders” I know are not leaders at all. They have a title or position that fools them, and a few others, into thinking they are a leader but upon a little examination they are not a leader at all.

While a leader in name only can fool some people into believing they are a leader they rarely if ever fool the people they think they are leading. People looking for Authentic Leadership can spot a fake leader from a mile away.

But here’s one of the things I find most interesting about leadership. Leaders in name only often have no idea that they aren’t really leading. Not only can they fool other people, they can even fool themselves. 

So how can someone in a leadership position tell if they are in fact leading? Well take a look around. If no one is following you then you’re not leading. Period. 

No matter how lofty your position or important sounding your title leaders lead people. If people are not following you then you may be managing a business but you’re not leading. 

So let’s say you take a quick look over your shoulder and you see a bunch of people. Even that doesn’t mean you’re an Authentic Leader. Take a closer look. Who is following you? If the people “following” you all have the same favorite word then you may not be a leader. If that word is “yes” then you’re most certainly not a leader. 

Authentic Leaders attract a higher caliber of people than leaders in name only. They are followed by people who are not afraid to speak truth to leadership. Authentic Leaders are a magnet for people with authentic leadership aspirations of their own. 

Authentic Leaders challenge their followers to continuously improve and their followers challenge them back to do the same. 

Authentic Leaders are also great followers. So consider for a moment who it is you’re following. Who do you know? I don’t mean following on Facebook or some other social media platform. I mean who do you really know? Who are your mentors? Who can you have a face to face conversation with? Who can you learn from? Who leads you? Who is pushing you to improve? Who is invested in helping you grow as a leader?

You can learn a lot in a book, blog, or video but leadership is a close personal contact operation. You need to follow and interact with real people who will help you grow. People who will tell you the truth about yourself and who will keep you on the path towards Authentic Leadership. 

If you have short comings in any of those areas then you have opportunity to improve as a leader, or maybe, even become an Authentic Leader for the first time. 

Either way, the self-improvement process for a leader begins with the question… Am I really leading?

When Trust is Gone

Of all the things a person needs to be an Authentic Leader none is more important than the trust of the people they lead. They actually cannot lead anyone who doesn’t have a high level of trust in them. 

That’s because a sign that someone is an Authentic Follower is a commitment to the leader. Human beings don’t have the emotional ability to commit to someone they do not trust. 

People follow a leader for what the leader does for them and the organization. When they see a leader who makes decisions solely, or even mostly, for their own benefit then the trust erodes quickly. What many people in leadership positions fail to understand is that they are under a microscope and it’s the people they are trying to lead who are looking at them through that microscope. They need to know if they can trust their leader. 

They listen to what the leader says and look even closer at what they do. When the words and actions don’t align the perceived integrity of the leader takes a dive and trust goes with it. 

Authentic Leaders intentionally work to earn the trust of their people. They also demonstrate that they trust their people. 

What many people in leadership positions forget is that trust is a two-way street. While they want and often even expect their people to trust them they are less than willing to return that trust to their people. 

Most of the time people won’t explicitly tell someone they are trusted. So people generally go with their feelings. We can “just kinda tell” whether someone trusts us or not. We look for “signs” that indicate we are trusted. Things like being allowed to make decisions, call an audible on a decision that had already been made, or perhaps even work from home on occasion. 

When people are not allowed to make the most basic decision without running it past their manager (notice I didn’t say leader because leaders don’t operate this way) they feel as if they are not trusted. People who are micro-managed don’t feel trusted. People who must document every minute of their day don’t feel trusted. 

When people feel as if their manager or leader does not trust them then they will not trust their leader. It’s almost impossible to trust someone who doesn’t trust you. Absent that trust there can be no commitment. Absent that commitment there can be no Authentic Followership. Absent that followership there is no Authentic Leadership. 

You may call yourself a leader, you may hold a leadership position, you may have a big important title but if no one is following then you aren’t leading. 

If you cannot trust your people then you should have no expectation that they will trust you. If you cannot trust your people then maybe you’ve hired the wrong people. It‘s also possible that you’ve not yet earned the right to lead. 

Either way, when trust is gone so is the basic element required for a committed relationship between a leader and their people. Building trust requires effort. It requires time. It requires consistently doing what you say you will when you say you will do it. 

If you’re not willing to put in the time and make the effort then you will always struggle as a leader and your people will always struggle to follow you. 

Characteristics of Great Followers – Part One of Two

Much has been written about the characteristics of great leaders. A bunch of it has been written by me but I thought it might be worth the effort to look at leadership from a different perspective. The perspective of followership.

What exactly are the characteristics of someone who is a great follower? Some of you are likely  wondering why anyone would aspire to be a great follower. It seems almost like a given that the goal should be to leave the ranks of followers to assume a role of leadership. 

But that’s not always the case. It is not even close. Many people do not want to be in a position of leadership. They are fulfilled being more of a doer and have no aspirations to lead. 

That’s perfectly okay. In fact, it’s more than okay, it’s absolutely necessary. Let’s face it, they are called “doers” for a reason. They get stuff done. Not that leaders don’t but the heavy lifting, the majority of the things that must be done are done by followers, not leaders. 

Any leader who believes otherwise is a very limited leader. They are not being honest with themselves which will make it very difficult for them to be honest with anyone. 

In reality followers are also leaders. That’s why the first characteristic of a great follower is that they lead themselves exceptionally well. They honor their commitments. They maintain a positive attitude and try hard to always give their best effort. They show respect for others. They highly value time and demonstrate their respect of other people’s time with their punctuality. 

They don’t make extra work for their leader. In fact, they try to take some of the workload off of them. That’s the second characteristic of great followers, they lighten the load of others. They do not do it at the expense of their own workload. They efficiently complete their own work and only then look for ways to help their leader and co-workers finish theirs. 

Great followers possess the characteristic of doing what others won’t. They don’t shy away from the tough jobs or trying something new. You’ll seldom hear a complaint from a great follower when they are asked to do something that others are unwilling to do. They see being asked to tackle a tough job as a compliment and recognition of their abilities. They get the job done, no matter the job they were given to do. 

Authentic Leaders help ordinary people accomplish extraordinary things. Great followers can accomplish those extraordinary things with a minimum of leadership. Every leaders needs as many great followers as they can get. They understand that their success is dependent upon the success of their followers. When they have several great followers they can focus more of their attention on the people who need it most. 

In our next post we’ll look at a few more characteristics of great followers. If you’re currently in a “followership” position and aspire to one of leadership then you should know that all great leaders were once great followers. Your best hope of earning a position of leadership is to first develop yourself into the very best follower you can be. 

Leading With Integrity

So let’s get this out of the way right up front. If you’re not leading with integrity then you’re simply not leading.

You’re not leading because leading requires that someone is following you. A true follower will have some level of commitment to their leader. People can be forced to comply with someone in a leadership position but they cannot be forced to commit.

In fact, they cannot commit. It is not possible for one human being to truly commit to another human being that they do not trust. Integrity is the foundation upon which trust is built. Where there is no integrity there can be no trust.

Having integrity is a choice. It’s a choice to do what you said you would do, even if you no longer feel like doing it. You may have never thought of it like this but you have an “Integrity Bank.” Every time you do exactly what you committed to do you’ll receive a small deposit into that Credibility Bank. When you fail to honor a commitment, any commitment, you suffer a substantial withdrawal from your Credibility Bank.

That may not seem fair but that’s the way it works. You don’t need to have too many withdrawals to reach a zero balance in your bank. That means zero credibility and that means zero committed followers.

Authentic Leaders know that their most valuable “currency” is their credibility. They know that without it that can not have a positive influence on those they hope to lead. So they honor their commitments. They follow through. They keep their word. They don’t say yes when they need to say no.

Their people know that they can trust their leader. Their people know that their leader is committed to them so they can commit to their leader.

Every committed relationship is built on a foundation of integrity. It’s the single most important foundation in any relationship. What Authentic Leaders understand that many lesser leaders don’t is this one irrefutable fact….you either have integrity 100% of the time or you do not have integrity.

Integrity is a full-time gig. It’s not something you do at work. It’s not something you do at home. It’s not something you do with people who matter to you. It’s just something you do because it’s who you are. It’s part of your DNA.

Or it’s not. The great thing is that it’s a part of your DNA that you get to control. The only question is, will you choose to control it.