The Sacrifice of Authentic Leadership

Great achievement is usually born of great sacrifice, and is never the result of selfishness. – Napoleon Hill

There is a myth about leadership that many people in leadership positions believe. John Maxwell calls it the Freedom Myth. The freedom myth says that when an individual achieves a position of leadership they are also “freed” from certain rules and responsibilities that encumber their followers.  

When someone in a leadership position says something foolish like “I’m the boss and I’ve earned the right to come and go as I please” then you know they have bought into the freedom myth. 

Total freedom is a leadership myth. Here’s a leadership fact: leaders haven’t earned anything but the right to be the example of success that their people need.

Most ordinary people simply don’t know how to succeed. Some people will learn to succeed just by being told what to do but the vast majority of people need someone to show them. Someone who can and will “model” successful behavior. That someone is most often a leader.

Authentic Leaders help ordinary people produce extraordinary results. 

Authentic Leaders know that leading is a privilege. They also know that it does not make them privileged. In fact, Authentic Leaders sacrifice freedoms and privileges everyday in the pursuit of true leadership. 

They make these sacrifices willingly, they make them to help their people succeed. They sacrifice in order to have the opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of those they would lead.

If you are a leader who somehow believes that their position or title brings with it certain privileges that are not available to their followers then you are a leader who has separated themselves from those same followers. 

Your building a wall between yourself and the people who need you to show them how to succeed. The longer you take or accept those privileges the higher the wall becomes. When it gets high enough you’re not leading anymore because your people will refuse to climb the wall. 

Some leaders see their position as an opportunity to better their OWN life. Authentic Leaders, especially Authentic Servant Leaders see their position as an opportunity to better the lives of OTHERS.

When you buy into the Freedom Myth you develop a mindset of “I’ve arrived, I’m it! Serve me!” When you disavow the concept that your position somehow makes you better or more valuable than your people then your mindset can be one of “I may have arrived but I’m not it, you are and I’m just here to help.” 

Are you willing to sacrifice in order to make a difference in the lives of those you lead? Like everything else in life it is a choice…. will you make it?

Act Like a Leader

If you hope to be a leader someday then start acting like a leader today. – Steve Keating

At one time of my life I sold soda pop. I loved it, I made a lot of friends in my accounts and overall, it was a pretty low stress job.

One day I received a message that the President of the company wanted to see me in his office at the end of the day. It was a Friday and I received the message around noon. I spent the better part of the afternoon wondering what I had done to be summoned on a Friday afternoon; whatever it was I was pretty sure it couldn’t be good.

When I entered his office he asked me to be seated and he got right to the point. He asked me if I was aware that there was a “problem” in the sales department. I had no idea what he was talking about but I didn’t want to look like an idiot so I said yes, I was aware.

He said he had been watching me and as my heart began to sink he added that he thought I could be a solution to the problem.

Suddenly things were looking up for me and I was thinking that perhaps I might be getting a promotion to District Manager. I was wrong about that too…

In keeping with his professional but direct manner he said that he would like me to consider accepting the role of General Sales Manager. I can only imagine the look on my face. He was asking me to skip the district AND regional manager levels and move directly to the top of the sales organization.

I took the weekend to consider, although I didn’t have enough information about the position to consider much, and on Monday morning I accepted the position.

I wonder to this day what the heck he was thinking when he offered me that job.

From the moment I accepted it my sales career with that organized began to go down hill. I made mistake after mistake, there were way too many mistakes to mention them all here. Some of the mistakes were trivial and some were rather gigantic but what they all had in common is that they were frequent.

I was completely, totally, massively unprepared for that position. I had never considered the possibility that in my late twenties I’d be put in charge of anything and my preparations to move into a leadership role reflected that fact.

I didn’t even understand how unprepared I was until I left that company to accept a sales position at Dale Carnegie Training, an organization unparalleled in preparing ordinary people to achieve extraordinary results as a leader.

I had fallen into the destination trap. The destination trap says that there is no need to develop your leadership skills until and unless you are in a leadership position.

I learned the hard way just how dumb that is.
The only way you can avoid the destination trap is to begin preparing yourself to lead before you find yourself in a leadership position. Step one is to act like a leader; lead yourself well, control your emotions, control your attitude and find yourself a mentor or coach.

Study great leaders and their leadership styles. Determine what will work for you “someday” and you’ll be surprised how quickly some day will come. Don’t wait for a leadership position to just come your way, learn to lead before you need to and ensure that you’re prepared to meet the many challenges of leadership when they arrive.

Are You an Inspirational Leader?

Inspirational leaders don’t try to force their people to drink from the well of success; they inspire them to be thirsty.

Before anyone can achieve their full potential they must be inspired. Some people seem to inspire themselves, many however need someone to inspire them. That “someone” is most often a leader.

Authentic Servant Leaders know that inspiring others requires these specific, intentional action steps:

Inspiring leaders are a model of integrity. They do what they say they will, when they say they will do it. They apply the same rules for everyone yet are not afraid to make exceptions that are fair to all. They create trust at every opportunity. Inspiring leaders know that without integrity there can be no Authentic Leadership.

They set clear, specific, and attainable goals. They give their people a target and they help them reach it. They vision cast and include in the vision a benefit to their people; giving every member of the organization a reason to buy into the vision AND the leader.

To inspire their people these leaders seldom miss an opportunity to provide support and recognition to their people. They spread the recognition around and inspire their people to look past their own self-interests. They coach with a spirit of approval, not criticism and they make mistakes seem easy to correct.

They encourage their people to take well-measured risks. They help them see what’s possible, no matter how improbable it may be. Inspirational leaders don’t just tell the way, they show the way to success.

Inspirational leaders are not afraid of showing their emotions and they regularly stir the emotions of their people. They comfort their people in defeat and praise them in victory. They can show vulnerability and strength at the same time. The hallmark of their leadership is empathy and they are never far from their people’s feelings.

The most inspiring leaders help common people achieve uncommon results. They often see the potential of their people before anyone else, even the individual with the potential. They create hope out of hopelessness and will never ask their people to give more than they can.

Inspirational Leadership gives off a powerfully contagious confidence that builds people and teams into high producing, goal achieving successes.

Leaders who inspire their people will never need their compliance because they will have their commitment. Compliant people do what they must and little more; committed people do more than they ever thought they could.

If you truly want your people to succeed then don’t simply motivate them, inspire them!

Every Leader’s Weakness

I’m pretty careful when using words like always, never, and every. There seems to be an exception for most situations or circumstances. Almost always, almost.

Every leader however has this one flaw. Yes, I’m 100% certain that it is indeed every leader. Every single one. Every single leader who has ever been or ever will be, has or will have this same weakness; they are human.

Before they were ever thought of as a leader they were people, they were, and are, and they always will be, people. Just like you and me. They have the identical human frailties as every other human on earth. They love, they hate, they laugh, they cry. They are emotional, they have regrets, and they make mistakes.

It’s not until you stop to think about it that you realize that it’s those so called human “frailties” or “weaknesses” that also gives them the potential to be a leader. In fact, it’s those very “weaknesses” that provides them with the potential to be a great leader.

It turns out, this “weakness” is also likely their greatest strength.

It’s a leader’s ability to control those “frailties” that allow them to turn the supposed weaknesses into strengths. You see, it’s a leader’s capacity to love, to laugh, to cry and to regret that allows them to care. I imagine it’s possible to be an effective leader without caring for or about the people you lead but if your desire is to be an Authentic Serving Leader then caring is a must.

I don’t know about you but I find it much easier to commit to a leader when I believe they care about me as a human being.

If you follow a leader who has the capacity to care about you then you’re truly fortunate.

It’s too bad that so many people abuse that good fortune by pointing out all the mistakes and shortcomings of their leader. If you ever hope to “lead up” in your organization then you had best understand that the same human frailties that makes a human a good leader will also cause them to have some shortcomings.

If you must have a “perfect” leader then you better hope those experiments with robots work out. Because humans, even humans with the courage to lead, will never be perfect.

If your intention is indeed to “lead up” in your organization then it is not your role to point out the shortcomings of your leader to anyone who will listen. Your role is to discover the gaps of your leader and fill them to the best of your ability. Help them focus on their strengths by using your own strengths to do something they might not be especially good at. It’s very possible that if they are indeed a courageous leader that they may have added you to the team for just that purpose.

Here’s another way to look at it. If you want a leader who cares about people then be a person who cares about their leader.

Authentic Serving Leaders are great people, they are not perfect people. Stop disappointing yourself by expecting something that just isn’t possible.

The Lost Art of Punctuality

I’m apparently old. I know this because I can remember when being on time mattered. Punctuality was considered proper and showed manners. When you showed up on time it sent a message that you were considerate of other people’s time. It showed a certain level of professionalism and organizational skills that could help differentiate people.

I attended a Catholic Military High School. One of the very first lessons you learned was to be on time. When you weren’t on time bad things happened. Very bad things. I can count on one hand the number of times I saw the same person be late twice in four years. I never saw the same person be late three times. Never!

It makes me think that being on time is still possible if it’s important enough to you. In high school it was important to me because I didn’t like to bleed. There were absolutely no excuses accepted for being late. Punishment was swift and severe. You quickly learned the value of controlling your schedule and always leaving early enough to ensure that no matter what, you would be on time. You might get some place way early but that was very much preferred over being a second late.

You learned the importance of time management and effective planning. You learned just how bad procrastination can affect your chances at success. You learned that it really is possible to always be on time if you really really want to be on time. It’s just a question of priorities.

Today it seems as if punctuality matters less. Heck, if we’re running a little late we can just call from our cell and tell the person we are meeting with that our time is more important than theirs. I know we wouldn’t actually say that but don’t kid yourself, whether you say it of not, they may well be thinking it.

Being “fashionably” late has become socially acceptably and society is worse off for it. Business is worse off for it and you are worse off for it. 

Live for one week as if being on time was of major importance and you’ll be on time. I’m not talking about just work stuff, I’m talking about family and social events too. People who are chronically late are chronically late for everything. 

You can separate yourself from your professional competition by always being on time and you can show respect for family and friends by never making them wait on you.  

If you need to be somewhere in 60 minutes then give yourself 70. Not only will your punctuality improve, your stress levels from “just making it there” will go way down.

Punctuality is a choice, I encourage you to make it your choice today.

Are You a Role Model?

Well, are you? The short answer, especially if you’re a leader or even just someone in a leadership position, is yes.

Your people watch you. No one is born with an innate knowledge of what it takes to succeed so they must learn it. They learn some of it by listening, some by reading, but mostly they learn from watching. If you are their leader or the person who is above them in a leadership position then it’s you they are watching.

You are absolutely a role model. The only question is do you model behavior that leads to success or do you model behavior that leads to something else.  

You can tell your people what to do and they may do it. You can show them and they will likely do it, you can tell them and show them and if what you said matches what you do they will most certainly do it. 

Therein lies the problem for people who are leaders only because they occupy a leadership position. Their words often don’t match their actions. They have yet to learn that their people will do what they do long before they will do what they say. They are also surprised when they eventually learn just how closely they are watched by those who would follow them. 

Authentic leaders are careful to make certain that their actions match their words. They realize that is the surest way to build trust and credibility and that those two characteristics are vital for leadership. 

If your goal as a leader is to build other leaders then your words and actions must coincide.  

So, watch what you say and remember, someone else is watching what you do.

You’re an Example, Like it or Not

actionsLeaders lead by example, whether they intend to or not. You can tell your team, your employees, your people what to do but what they will actually do is whatever it is you’re doing.

People do what the leader does, not what they leader says to do. You may have some people that will follow your words for a time but after a while they follow what you do and that can last a lifetime.

That’s why it’s so important for an authentic leader’s words to match their actions. Most people simply do not know how to be successful, they need a model of success and that’s what an authentic leader can be for them.

Here’s an idea for you; invest some time developing a personal mission statement for yourself. Be idealistic about yourself, how would the perfect you look and act? How would the perfect you behave, believe, say and do?

Now be more realistic; what can YOU really commit to? How close to that perfect model can you get given the circumstances of your life and environment?

How will you move from where you are to the model you can commit to? What needs to change in order for you to get closer to the “perfect” you?

From those questions you should be able to develop a personal mission statement, so write it out.

ON PAPER!

This isn’t something you hide away in a computer or tablet. This is something you print out and hang in your office. This is something you hand out to your team. This is something you ask people to hold you accountable to follow through with.

Most important, share it with the people who truly care enough about you to be honest with you. Ask for their help in getting closer to the “perfect” you. You’ll never get there but the journey will greatly improve your ability to lead.

The closer you get, the more likely it is that your words match your actions and the closer the match the better example you become for the people you lead.

You DO lead by example, the only questions is; is it the example you want to set for the people you care and lead?