Three Minute Leadership

One of the things I enjoy most about what I do for a living is that I get to meet a lot of people. As someone who enjoys studying people, their characteristics, habits, and attitudes, the more people I meet the better. 

 

It goes without saying that some people are more interesting than others. I recently met one of these “more interesting” people. It was after a leadership presentation that I did and this person came up to me so they could let me know that they agreed with everything I said. They also wanted me to know that I should consider that high praise coming from them. 

 

I knew better but I took the bait anyway and said in a questioning tone, “coming from you?” They proceeded to tell me that they were actually the best leader they knew. I was confused by this for a moment until I figured out that this person actually considered themselves to be the finest leader on the planet, or at least the finest leader they knew of. (Nope, I wasn’t at a big White House)

 

I said something about that being very impressive and thanked them for their comment. Then I immediately began looking for an escape. No such luck!

 

The person began to explain their own “excellent” leadership principles. I could have nodded in assumed agreement until they got to this beauty: if you’re spending more than 3 minutes a day “doing leadership stuff” with any one individual then you’re doing leadership wrong. 

 

If my wife had been with me she would have given me one of her knowing looks telling me to just walk away….but she wasn’t with me. 

 

So I started by violating one of Dale Carnegie’s most important Human Relations Principles and told this gentleman he was wrong. Dead wrong in fact, as in your leadership is DOA!

 

I mentioned that if he considered time with his people as being “spent” then they likely sensed that and were not truly following him. I said that most any Authentic Leader considers time with their people as an “investment.” They also consider that investment to be the most important and profitable investment they can make in their organization. 

 

Then, in the most non-confrontational tone I could muster I said something about having never met an Authentic Leaders who thought they were the best leader ever. He now seemed to be the one looking for an escape. Then, from almost 4000 miles away I could feel my bride looking at me like I was the poor leader in this conversation. I then decided to thank him for his “insights” and let him be on his way. 

 

Here’s why I reacted the way I did.

 

As a leader you have no greater responsibility than your people. Everything else in your organization may be urgent but your people are important, most important in fact. Never allow the merely urgent yet often unimportant tasks to rob you of the time you need to invest in the people who are truly important to your success and the success of your organization.

 

A very wise man once told me to never underestimate the absolute unimportance of nearly everything I do. It’s a sobering thought but it does keep a person from taking themselves too seriously. 


Your people must never fall into that unimportant category. You MUST view your people, every one of them, as worth more, much much much more, than three minutes day. 

The Mistaken Leader

Lots, in fact most, people newly promoted to a position of leadership make the huge mistake of believing that their new position actually makes them a leader. 

 

They are mistaken. 

 

Being promoted to a leadership position and given a fancy title does not make you a leader. No matter what position you hold or title you have you must earn the right to truly lead. Leading others requires at least some level of commitment from them and you cannot force commitment, you can only earn it.

 

Perhaps the fastest and certainly the best way to earn the right to lead is to consistently demonstrate that you care for the people you would lead. The best leaders proactively and intentionally show they care, they show that they understand that they lead human beings with goals, challenges and life circumstances just like every other human being. 

 

They don’t “take” the time to know their people, they don’t “make” the time, and they don’t “find” time to interact with their people. They “invest” time with their people so that they truly know them and that “invest in people” mindset makes all the difference in the world. 

 

When a person in a leadership position sees their people as an investment it changes how they relate to them in every situation. If you as a leader feel forced to “spend” time on your people that too will affect how you relate to them and they will feel as if they are an expense and not an investment. That’s not a feeling that leads to commitment. 


Don’t be a mistaken leader. Regardless of your role, title or position work hard to earn the trust and respect of your people on a daily basis. There really is no other way to authentically lead.

When to Stop Investing in People

I frequently speak with groups on the topic of leadership. Sometimes the groups are just too large to have a real two-way conversation but once in a while they are small enough to allow for a real dialogue to take place. Those are my favorite presentations.

Last week was one of those smaller interactions. One of the questions I received was as serious, challenging and complicated as a question can get. 

The question came during a segment in which I was speaking about the difference between a management mindset and the mindset of a leader. A management mindset thinks “I have a person working for me who isn’t getting the job done. I better spend some time on them.” A leadership mindset thinks, “I have a person working with me who isn’t getting the job done, I better invest some time with them.”

Leaders see people as an investment, not an expense.

Let’s be clear on this, leadership is about people. We don’t lead companies, we don’t lead budgets, we don’t lead buildings or inventories, we manage them. We lead people!

People don’t want to be managed, they want leadership. You’ll hear people complain every single day about being micro-managed but you’ve probably never heard a person say the word, micro-led. 

Leaders invest their time, experience, knowledge and even a piece of themselves in the development of their people. The success of their people is as important to them as their own success. If their people fail they take at least partial ownership in that failure.

But…

There does come a time when a leader has done all that they can do and still one of their people is just not progressing. Investing in people is much more complicated than any other investment, there is much more at stake. But just like any other investment that doesn’t work out, at some point in time you just have to cut your losses. 

The question I was asked was, “When is it time to stop investing in a person and let them go?”

THAT is one big question. I hate failing at anything, I hate failing with people development even more. I’m supposed to be good at it, I’m supposed to help people perform better. When I don’t then I’ve failed. So the decision to stop investing is a big one… but it’s not a hard one.

Here’s how I answered the question.

I stop investing when the good of the one begins to outweigh the good of the many. Simply stated, when the time required to help just one person grow begins to negatively impact and limit the amount of time I can invest with the rest of the team, I have to stop investing in the “one.”

This is particularly true when there seems to be little or no return on that investment. No leader can sacrifice the “many” for the “one.” 

Letting someone go, demoting them or reassigning them is a terrible decision to have to make, but leaders make that decision. Leaders do not let their ego get in the way, they admit, that for whatever reason, this is “one” they just can’t help develop. 

Leaders do what needs to be done, that’s one way, one very big way, that you can tell they are a leader.