Why Are There so Many Poor Leaders?

Almost every time I write a blog post or post something on Twitter about how to lead effectively, I get a flood of responses. Most are about how people are impacted by poor leadership. 

It’s seems that people believe there are far more poor leaders in the world today than there are good ones. They believe that because sadly, it’s true. 

While it’s true, it’s not a surprise. It’s not a surprise when you realize that the vast majority of people in leadership positions have less than 10 hours of formal leadership development. Even many people at the very top of organizations have learned how to lead through on the job training. Which isn’t necessary bad, unless of course the people showing them how to lead are poor leaders themselves…and that’s very often the case. 

If you’re in a leadership position and have no formal leadership training then it’s most likely that you are leading the same way that you were led. It’s also most likely that the people who have led you throughout your career had no formal leadership training either. They have passed down to you the same poor leadership habits that were passed down to them. 

But here’s the thing about formal leadership training. It can’t actually teach you how to lead. 

It can make you aware of the characteristics that Authentic Leaders possess. It can help you develop some of those characteristics within yourself. Formal leadership training can help prepare you for making difficult decisions by role playing.  Also through case studies of situations previously dealt with by Authentic Leaders. Formal leadership training helps a ton. It helps you learn from the mistakes of others. It helps you understand the huge difference between attempting to manage a person and leading someone in a way that has a positive impact on their life. 

But eventually, your leadership abilities will come down to who you are as a person. Your leadership effectiveness will be determined by how much you care for the people you lead and how willing you are to show it. You need to be honest with yourself to accomplish that. Likely more honest than you’re able to be without some additional help.

That’s why I say again and again successful leaders NEED a mentor. Or mentors. This person, or these people are your “board of directors.” Your “board” can be a group of close friends who you respect as successful people, regardless of their area of expertise. But they must be people who are comfortable telling you uncomfortable truths. They must also be people who you trust enough to listen to and act upon those truths. 

But here’s the one thing that separates great leaders from lesser leaders. The most accomplished leaders didn’t wait until they were placed in a leadership position to develop their leadership skills. They knew that a position or fancy title was not a prerequisite for leading. They formed their “board” early in their careers and followed through on the advice they received. 

When their time came to lead there was no “on the job training” required. They were prepared to make a positive difference in the lives of others because they had been doing it all along.

Do you have a board? If not, it’s never too late to start one. Consider your board member(s) carefully. They don’t have to be your best friends, in fact it might be better if they aren’t. You don’t need to always see eye to eye with them, in fact it’s definitely better if you don’t. 

If you’re given the opportunity to lead then you have the chance to impact future generations that may never know your name. You can have a positive impact by being the leader who stops the legacy of poor leadership. Even if your past “leaders” have been more like Attila the Hun than Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson Mandela you can break the cycle of poor leadership.  You can make the decision that you will lead authentically and not the way you were led. 

Authentic Leadership is hard. You have to really want to do it. It requires real effort but the gratitude of the people you made a difference for is well worth that effort. 

So what do you say? Will you be a difference maker? All it takes to get started is a decision that you will LeadToday!

On a another note… Everyone can use a “nudge” towards success. I’m trying something new 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.

The Trail of an Authentic Leader

I’m sometimes asked how I can tell when someone is an Authentic Leader. People want to know what to look for, what to listen for and what “signs” signify that someone is an Authentic Leader. 

While there are certainly identifiable character traits of Authentic Leadership there is one surefire way to know without a doubt that someone is an Authentic Leader. They leave a trail behind them. The trail is littered with leaders. 

Authentic Leaders invest the time required to develop their people. They begin the process of developing their people with the understanding that people need to be reminded more than they need to be taught. That is particularly true when it comes to leadership. 

Leadership is “modeled” much more than it is taught. That’s why it is so important that leaders always keep in mind that they are the models for successful leadership behaviors. They don’t tell people what to do, they show them. They know that people will do what their leader does 1000 times faster than they will do what their leader says. 

Authentic Leaders grow new leaders through consistency and persistence. They don’t offer drive by coaching. They know that elevating others requires work, patience and a willingness to suffer the occasional setback. Maybe even more than occasional. They don’t coach in their free time, instead they set aside time, often daily, to invest in their people. They don’t provide all the answers for their people, they help their people develop answers on their own. 

One of the reasons Authentic Leaders don’t give all the answers is that they admit they don’t have all the answers to begin with. They are willing to learn from anyone, anytime. They know the best leaders are constant learners. They also are not afraid to admit when they are wrong or have made a mistake. They take ownership of and responsibility for, their actions. 

They also give ownership away to help their people grow. They delegate tasks and the responsibility for getting them done. They allow their people to take ownership of the task. The allow them to make decisions and determine the steps to make to ensure successful completion of the task. 

Authentic Leaders know that the best way to help people learn to make decisions is to let them make decisions. That also means allowing them to clean up the messes they make from a poor decision. 

Authentic Leaders make most every decision with an eye towards the future. The full future. That includes who they will leave behind as leaders when their own time in the top spot comes to a close. 

I ask people in leadership positions who they are currently developing to fill future leadership positions. Many of them tell me they are too busy leading to “spend” time on developing people. That tells me without a doubt that while they may hold a leadership position they most certainly are not an Authentic Leader. 

Authentic Leaders consistently “invest” the time to develop the next generation of leaders and they leave a substantial trail of leaders behind them as a result. 

So…who are you developing today for the leadership roles of tomorrow?

Hiring Non Leaders

Only 11% of HR leaders are confident that they have the “bench strength” to fill leadership positions when they open up. That means, if my arithmetic is correct, that 89% of HR leaders are NOT confident that they have a strong group of up and coming leaders. 

Yet they continue to hire people with no leadership potential. Or at best they hire people not knowing if they have leadership potential. 

I think, and it’s just my thinking because I’ve not seen or done any research on this, but I think it’s because HR teams focus on the task at hand today. That task is filling open positions somewhere in the organization. Most of those positions are not considered leadership positions. So there is little or no consideration given to the interviewees leadership potential. 

If someone is hired who turns out to have leadership abilities then that’s great. They will be “discovered” in the course of doing their jobs and perhaps earmarked for further development. If they turn out to actually be able to lead then the organization will have gotten lucky. 

I wonder how many CEOs think it’s a good idea to “luck into” their future leaders? I’m betting not a single one. Yet when an organization hires someone without understanding their leadership potential they are leaving their future to chance. 

Sometimes Hiring Managers intentionally hire people without leadership potential. I remember a conversation with a Director of Marketing some years ago who was looking for a Marketing Communications Manager. He told me he was looking for someone who didn’t know anything about marketing or communications. He wanted someone who would do what they were told. He was tired of people suggesting new ideas or questioning his “orders.” 

Ya might say that person wasn’t exactly forward thinking. You can definitely say he wasn’t a leader.

As I write this post there are a record number of job openings in the United States. The competition for qualified candidates has never been greater. That has caused many organizations to lower their “standards” more than a little. 

I understand the need to fill open positions but that’s a mighty slippery slope. Despite the difficulty finding qualified new employees my recommendation for HR professionals hasn’t changed. I recommend organizations hire ONLY promotable people with leadership potential. 

When you can boldly and honestly tell candidates that you only hire promotable people with leadership potential it becomes a great recruiting statement. Word will get out and the quality of your candidates will go up. 

I’d ask every candidate about their previous leadership experience. An answer indicating they have never had an opportunity to lead would be a red flag. Everyone has opportunities to lead. I would ask for an example of when they chose to lead. I’d ask for an example of when they were forced by circumstances to lead. I’d ask about the outcomes from their leadership. What they learned, what the people who were influenced by their leadership learned. 

I’d ask those types of questions to every single candidate regardless of the position they were applying for. 

If they have no answers but are qualified for the job they are being interviewed for than the HR Professional has a decision to make. Do I hire this person who can help us today or do I hold off until and can find someone I know can help us today AND perhaps even more tomorrow. 

I do not envy HR Professionals and Hiring Managers who have to make that decision. But I encourage them to think about how long their organization can survive if the leadership potential of every new hire is unknown.

Don’t hope to luck into your future. Hire people with leadership potential. Help them develop into the leaders that will move your organization forward for years to come. 

Staggering Leadership Statistics

I can’t find any statistics on this but I’d be willing to bet a few paychecks that the most used word in businesses across the world is leadership. Every organization talks about their leadership. The need for more leadership. The need for better leadership. Their investment in leadership training. And on and on it goes. 

But for 95% of organizations in the US it appears to be merely lip service. 83% of companies say it’s important to develop leaders at all levels of their organization. But only 5% of companies have implemented leadership training across all levels. 

69% of Millennials are concerned that their companies do not help them develop their leadership skills. 59% of those Millennials say they are looking for opportunities at companies that will. 

Only 11% of HR leaders feel their organization has a strong “bench” that can take over leadership roles as they open up. 

60% of people currently in leadership positions say they feel beat up and worn out at the end of the day. 44% of those say they plan to explore opportunities at other companies to advance their careers. 26% of those say they will leave their current companies in the next 6-12 months. For many of the people in these leadership positions that beat-up feeling comes from a lack of formal leadership training. They don’t realize that they are managing people people instead of leading them.

55% of CEOs say that developing the next generation of leaders for their organization is a top priority. That’s what the say but that’s not what they show. When a leader’s words do not match their actions their credibility quickly goes south. That creates an entire host of additional problems. 

Every survey and every bit of research in 2021 leads to the same conclusion. There is a vast shortage of Authentic Leadership in business (and government for that matter) today and the shortages are only going to get worse. 

The majority of people elevated to leadership positions have less than 10 hours of formal leadership training during their entire careers. Some studies say that’s true for over 80% of people in leadership positions. 

If you’re running any type of organization and you hope for it to survive in the future you must stop paying lip service to this issue. You need to begin developing the future leaders of your organization. It is also vital that you understand the distinct differences between management training and actual leadership training. 

You may think that you’re investing plenty in leadership development. But are you really? You can invest a bundle in management training. That however will do little to nothing to develop your leadership team. Management training pertains to running a organization. Leadership training pertains to growing the people within the organization. Leadership training and management training are not the same.

The difference is not mere semantics as some would have you believe. You manage things, you lead people. When you attempt to manage people they feel as if they are being treated like a thing, not a person. They do not feel appreciated. 

79% of people who have left a job in the last year stated that not feeling appreciated was their number one reason for leaving. 

Companies that actually invest in training to develop Authentic Leaders do not lose people. They experience very little turnover. They grow their people AND their business. 

Still think you’re doing a great job developing your future leaders? 

The Reward for Growing People

A good manager can grow a business. Most often they do it with very little help. That’s because the people who work for them are not exactly engaged with helping to grow the business. 

The most likely cause of that lack of engagement is the fact that they are managed rather than led. 

That limits how much and how fast even a great manager can grow their business. While they may have the compliance of those who work for them they do not have their commitment. It’s tough to grow anything with a bunch of merely compliant people. 

Managed people will always create problems for a business, for the customers of the business and especially for the manager. I’d say most of them don’t do it intentionally, it’s an offshoot of their lack of engagement. 

That’s why I tell managers that most of the “people problems” in their organization are caused by them, not the people who seem to be the problem. 

I can say that with a high degree of confidence because when those same people are exposed to Authentic Leadership they engage rather quickly. Sooner rather than later they commit to that leader. 

An Authentic Leader’s potential to grow a business is unlimited. It’s unlimited because they lead their people. They grow their people knowing full well that as their people grow those people will grow the business.

An Authentic Leader invests a portion of their time EVERYDAY to grow their people. They invest of part of themselves in their people and they celebrate the success of the individuals they lead…even over their own success. 

Authentic Leaders invest the time to know and understand their people. They know each person’s unique situation. They know their goals. They know their challenges. Most importantly they know how they can help them achieve their goals and overcome their challenges. 

Each day an Authentic Leader takes intentional action to SHOW their people that they care. They SHOW their people that they come first. They SHOW their people that they understand that every leader’s success is completely dependent upon the success of the people they lead.

Their people commit to the leader because of what the leader does for them. Authentic Leaders seldom deal with attitude issues. They don’t have the tardiness and absenteeism concerns that managers have. They have a much easier time recruiting new employees because the employees they already have do the recruiting for them.

All that because their people are led instead of managed. The rewards of growing people are many. One is knowing that as your people are growing your business you’re making a positive difference in their lives. 

As an Authentic Leader that difference is likely to outlast your time as their leader. That may be the biggest reward of all. 

Weak Leaders – Part Five

Strong Authentic Leaders were at one time committed followers. Many of them still are, at least sometimes. 

If you have always struggled to follow someone else then you will most likely always struggle to earn the right to have someone else follow you. Leading someone requires their commitment. Weak leaders have no idea what is required to earn that commitment. Thus the best they can do is create more weak leaders. It is very uncommon for a weak leader to develop someone into a strong leader. 

I could write for days on what causes a lack of commitment but I can sum up it’s result in one word…insubordination. The act of insubordination can take many forms. It could be completely ignoring the requests of the leader. It might be doing the opposite or nearly the opposite, of what is needed for the organization to succeed. Often it is simply talking poorly about the leader behind their back.  

Talking behind a leaders back results in one of the most productivity killing activities an insubordinate follower can undertake. That activity is known as circular communication. Let’s say the leader directs follower number one to perform a particular task. Follower number one thinks it’s a ridiculous request. So follower number one needs to find someone to complain to, we’ll call that person follower number two. 

Follower number two is never chosen at random. They are carefully selected because they must possess one singular quality above all others. They must agree with follower number one that the leader is making a ridiculous request.

It’s also likely that follower number one finds a follower 3, 4, and 5 to complain to as well. Followers 2, 3, 4, and 5 may also tell several other people until finally word gets back to the leader that follower number one thinks the leader is making ridiculous requests. Then the messy circle is complete. 

So now there are multiple people involved, discussing an issue that only two people have the ability to solve. Only the leader and follower number one. By not going directly to the leader follower number one has impacted the productivity, and likely the morale, of many people in the organization. That’s circular communication.

Follower number one may find themselves in a leadership position one day but they will almost certainly be a weak leader.

If you’re in a middle leadership position today and you’re participating in circular communication then you will be seen as a weak leader. Because you probably are. 

Strong Authentic Leaders do not try to communicate to someone through others. They communicate directly with the person who they need to speak with. Indirect, circular communication is a trust killer. When you lose the trust of the people around you then you’ve lost the ability to earn the level of commitment required to lead. 

The five characteristics of weak leaders I have written about in this series are fairly common. The good news is that each of them can be overcome. It requires a weak leader to make a commitment to improve their leadership skills. 

People who convert themselves from weak leaders to strong leaders often do so with the help of a coach or a mentor. It’s tough to do on your because one of the things that make people a weak leader is their inability to see themselves as they really are. 

The eyes and the objectivity of a mentor can make a big difference…if you’re willing to listen to them and act on their recommendations. 

Most weak leaders are satisfied with holding a leadership position. Strong Authentic Leaders made the choice to make a difference in the lives of others. 

Your position of leadership can make a difference for you or you can make a difference with your leadership position. That choice is completely up to you! 

Weak Leaders – Part Four

Weak Leaders lack humility. They mistakenly believe that their title or position makes them a leader. They all too often also believe it makes them a better person than someone without that title or position. 

That causes all kind of behaviors that negatively impact their ability to lead. It makes it very challenging for them to share credit or provide recognition to their people. They take credit for the good work of their people. That’s bad enough but as we talked about in an earlier post, they also heap blame upon their people when something goes wrong. That combination is an absolute morale killer. 

Weak Leaders believe a leadership position provides them with certain privileges that others are not entitled to. Scheduling flexibility, work attire, special parking places, more lenient policies, and a host of other perks. 

What weak leaders don’t understand is that those “privileges” build a wall between themselves and their people. That wall makes it very difficult to develop the relationships required to truly lead. It causes a lack of trust and even open hostility. It’s creates an “us vs them” culture which hamstrings every initiative the leader may attempt, whether it’s a worthwhile initiative or not.

One of the biggest challenges to bringing down those walls is that they are seldom seen from the weak leaders side of the wall. But on the followers side they are noticeable for miles. 

Strong Authentic Leaders don’t have to concern themselves with bringing down walls because they don’t allow them to be erected in the first place. They work tirelessly to connect, often one-on-one with as many members of their team as possible. They don’t see leadership as providing them with privileges, they see leading others as a privilege to be earned.

Strong Authentic Leaders not only give recognition to their people they thank them for their efforts. They realize something weak leaders often don’t…that thanking people doesn’t make you look weak, it helps make you an Authentic Leader. 

Weak Leaders have little or no communication with the majority of their followers. Most of the information they receive about what’s happening in their organization is heavily filtered by those closest to the top of the organization. This further separates them from the people they lead.  It results in an even more detrimental culture within the organization. 

Strong Authentic Leaders communicate with all levels of the organization on a near daily basis. They connect with people directly to show their interest in them. They let them know that their role in the organization matters. They know it’s not possible to over communicate or care to much. 

If you believe your leadership position provides you with privileges that others don’t deserve you may want to think again. The privileges you’re so fond of are limiting your opportunities to be an Authentic Leader.  They are also strengthening that wall between you and your people. Walls are good for many things, building the relationships required for leading is not one of them.