What Authentic Leadership Looks Like

Authentic Leadership is a hard thing to define. I’ve heard many definitions of it and given more than one myself. But here’s a “definition” I believe works every time: 

Authentic Leadership is like love; it’s hard to define but you know it when you see it.

Which leads us to this post… What Authentic Leadership Looks Like. 

If you are the observant type you’ll see most if not all authentic leaders consistently doing the following things. These are not “natural,” but authentic leaders are intentional about them and they invest the time to do them every chance they get. They get so good at them that others may believe they are natural but an authentic leader never takes these skills for granted.

Authentic leaders are touchy feely. This is personally my biggest hurdle and I use “political correctness” as my excuse for not doing more of this. Authentic leaders reach out and touch people, yes, physically touch people. A pat on the back or a hand on the shoulder “connects” a leader with their people, people normally respond well to simple physical touch.

If you’re like me and too concerned by policies and regulations then just keep your touch to a basic handshake. If you’re leading people and you haven’t found a reason to shake their hand in the last 6 months then find one today. It will show them that you remember they are human and that they still matter. 

Authentic leaders are name droppers. They remember and use their people’s names. People love to hear their name, Dale Carnegie says that a person’s name is to them “the sweetest sound in any language.”  

Before you begin to use the “I’m horrible at remembering names” excuse let me tell you about a gentleman I worked with years ago at Dale Carnegie. I can’t recall his name (okay, that was humor) His name was George and if he met you today he would still remember your name a year from now. If he met you in a group of 99 other people he would remember all their names too. 

I thought that was pretty incredible so I asked him how he did it. His answer was embarrassingly simple; he said it was important to him so he worked at it. I could write a whole blog post on how to remember names but that’s for another day, today I would just suggest doing a little research on name remembering, there are many good techniques to help you in this area, if it’s important to you, and it should be important. 

Authentic leaders Lead Today. Okay, so some people say “lead in the present” or “lead in the moment” but for obvious reasons I prefer Lead Today. Whatever you call it, here’s what it means: Don’t make time to lead only when it’s convenient. Lead when leadership is required, lead when your people need leadership. Don’t hide from a confrontation, don’t try to ignore problems and don’t undervalue your people by leaving them hanging. 

Remember, you lead people and nothing else. Authentic leaders never forget that they lead people and manage stuff. Policies and programs are managed, people are led. People are led by people, not rules and regulations. If every page of your employee handbook has a footnote that says “failure to comply with any of these policies could result in termination” that may well be a sign that you’ve surrendered your leadership to an employee manual. That’s not authentic leadership.

That’s just a small sampling of what Authentic Leadership looks like. Here’s a question for you: If your team members are asked how often they “see” your authentic leadership in action what would they say?

Focus on the actions listed above and their perception of your leadership will be one of authenticity…. and it just so happens that their perception will be reality. 

How to Develop Your People – Part Two

Most, yes, sadly most, organizations get so busy doing the urgent things that they forget to do the truly important ones. Sometimes they even forget to do the most important thing of all – develop their people. 

I believe it’s most important because when it comes right down to it organizations, companies and teams are about the PEOPLE who make them up. Your company can have the best technology, the best systems and the best process but if it is staffed by overwhelmed and under-appreciated people it will struggle to succeed.

Great companies and great leaders are intentional in developing their people. They build the whole developmental concept right into their business plan. They know that success rarely happens by accident and neither does people development. 

Pull out the plan for your business or organization right now. Go to the section on developing your people….can’t find it? Then get yourself a new plan and get it immediately before you waste anymore time struggling in areas that you don’t need to.

Developing your people begins with an understanding that most people simply don’t know how to be successful. A very few people can succeed by being told what to do but almost all people need to be shown. Most people need a model of success. They need to see successful behaviors in action. They need to see that if they put in the effort that they too might succeed.

How conscious are you of your role as a model for your people? How do you make certain that you are the model they need?

Great companies and leaders know that most people are naturally motivated. YES, you read that right. Most people are motivated until somebody comes along and de-motivates them.

Clearly, no leader in their right mind would do that intentionally but they do it all the same. The number one way to de-motivate a member of your team or organization is to micro-manage them. Micro-managing sends the message that they can’t be trusted. It says they just aren’t good enough to do the job on their own. 

People have a built in need to be valued and trusted; micro-managing sends the message that they are neither. If you feel the need to micro-manage your people there can really only be two possibilities: either you hired the wrong people or you’re not giving them the skills they require to succeed. Micro-managing exposes the weakness of the leader, not the weakness of their people.

Great companies and leaders know that developing their people takes time. There are two types of mindsets in business; one says that we “spend time on” our people and the other says we “invest time with” our people. 

If you see your people as a time “expense” you’ll likely never do what it takes to develop them. If you see your people as an “investment” then you have a chance to develop them into your organization’s leaders of tomorrow. 

Let me be clear about this; if you really want your business to thrive, if you want to build a world class organization then you simply MUST develop your people. It really isn’t optional. 

The most current research available shows that less than 25% of employees describe themselves as “fully engaged” and nearly a third say they are “completely disengaged.” Some may even be “actively disengaged” meaning they actually look for ways to damage the organization.  

Employees who believe they don’t matter and employees who believe they are not trusted tend to disengage pretty quickly. 

Do you really think you can grow your business and be successful when 75% of your people are at best just sort of engaged? 

Do you still think developing your people is optional? 

I didn’t think so!

The Truth About Great Leadership

leadershipThere is simply a ton of stuff written about leadership. You can find it all over the web. There are sections in libraries and bookstores dedicated to the topic. I’m not sure we could even count all the blogs with a focus on leadership.

If you can’t find something “new” written on the topic of leadership everyday you just aren’t looking. It’s everywhere!

Much of it is very very good. Much of it is very true. Much of it is very motivational and positive.

This is not a positive post. It’s not very motivational either but it is very very true.

I write lots of very positive and motivational leadership tweets over on my Twitter @leadtoday. I believe in everything I write. Leading others is both fulfilling and rewarding. If it’s not both of those for you then maybe you’re not really leading or you need to change your leadership focus from you to your followers.

I have read (and even Tweeted) that if “it’s lonely at the top” you must be doing something wrong. That’s mostly right. But not always. Sometimes it’s very wrong. Sometimes “the top” is the loneliest place on earth.

I also often say that if you’re going to lead you simply must be able to make decisions. That is always right. The good news is that most of the decisions a leader is required to make are easy. Cut and dried. Black and white. Easy!

Sometimes the decision to be made is so big and important that no matter how much consult or input you receive it’s still you making the ultimate decision on your own. Alone.

Sometimes that big decision isn’t even made at the top. Sometimes it’s made from the middle. That doesn’t make it a smaller decision, that can make it even bigger. It can make it harder too, harder in the sense that there is less “protection” in the middle than there is at the top. Either way, making that decision can put you in a pretty lonely place.

Authentic, experienced leaders know that the toughest decisions are the ones that involve people. Money decisions, decisions about vendors, buildings, processes, and investments can all be dwarfed by decisions that involve the lives of other people.

Some leaders run from those decisions. Some hope they just take care of themselves. Still other leaders become almost paralyzed struggling about what to do. The amazing thing is that in most everyone of those instances the leader knows what needs to be done. They know what’s right, they just can’t make themselves do it.

They struggle because doing what’s right may come at great personal expense. When I say expense I’m not talking about money, if it was about money the struggle would be short-lived. The type of expense I’m talking about is personal, long-lasting and emotional. It is the kind of expense that changes lives forever, maybe even the life of the leader. It’s the kind of expense that hurts people, sometimes good people.

It’s a truly monumental decision.

Authentic leaders, the ones who make a real difference in this world, make it. They may only have a few decisions of that magnitude to make in their lives but they make them. They know that avoiding the decision IS a decision. It’s a decision to do nothing and it frequently leads to disaster. So they make the decision.

Authentic leaders know that it takes courage to make these decisions. That courage comes from rock solid principles and the conviction to stand by them, no matter what. They don’t make these kinds of decisions in the absence of fear, they make them in spite of the fear.

You can make a lot of poor decisions on the smaller things and still succeed. If you’re going to succeed as a leader you must get nearly all the big ones right. Perfectly right.

That’s what great leaders do.