Fake Leadership

There certainly seems to be a lot of news lately about fake stuff. There’s fake news, fake websites, and even fake, or at least disingenuous, people.

 

While much of the “fake stuff” is new and can be mostly attributed to the rise of the internet there is one fake thing that has seemingly always been around. That one fake thing is Fake Leadership.

 

Fake Leadership happens when someone gives the appearance of leadership without really leading. They may have a title or position that indicates they are a leader, they may make big decisions, say big things and even have great success in their careers. But they are missing one necessary characteristic of nearly all Authentic Leaders and absolutely all Authentic Servant Leaders.

 

They do not build people and they do not develop more leaders.

 

Fake Leaders may have tremendous business success but that only proves they were great managers. As I have written on numerous occasions there is a singular distinction between managing and leading….you manage stuff, buildings, inventories, budgets, and plans but you lead people. 

 

Leadership is about people and only people. Many people are blessed with both management and leadership skills but many, many more are not. Frequently when people possess only one of those skill sets the one they possess is management. 

 

A manager builds a successful organization mostly on their own efforts. They outwork and out-think most everyone around them. They are successful albeit a bit selfishly so. But here’s the thing, there’s really not all that much wrong with that, I’d rather be a very successful great manager than a not so successful mediocre leader. 

 

What is wrong with it is when that person claims the mantle of leadership. I don’t know if they are trying to fool themselves or the people they try to manage but either way, if they are not building people they are not a true leader.

 

While a manger builds a successful organization a leader builds people who then build the successful organization. In the case of an Authentic Leader they truly care about the people they build; in the case of an Authentic Servant Leader they may very well care more about the success of their people than they care about their own.

 

A strong manager’s organization will have success as long as the manager is present to ensure it. A leader’s organization will outlast their leadership so long as the leaders they built continue to build people who become leaders themselves. The success of an Authentic Leader can go on virtually forever, the success of an Authentic Servant Leader does go on forever.

 

If you want to know if someone is a leader don’t look at the leader, look at the people around them. If those people are not growing, if they aren’t involved in the decision making process, if they aren’t responsible for at least part of the success, then it’s safe to say that the person above them isn’t really leading. 


If a person isn’t leading, regardless of the title or position they hold then they are simply not a leader. If they say they are then you’ll know they are a fake.


One Way to Grow a Leader

It sounds odd but one of the best methods a leader has for growing future leaders is to not lead. Well at least not lead the way most people think of leading which is to be out front showing the way. 

 

What I really mean is to lead from the rear. Push your future leaders out front and see what they can do. 

 

If your goal as a leader is to grow more leaders (that should most certainly be one of your goals as a leader) then you must first understand that leadership can’t really be taught, it must be experienced. You can tell your followers what leadership characteristics are important, you can talk about making good decisions and the sacrifices that Authentic Leaders make but you can’t build a leader with words alone. 

 

So from time to time you must allow your future leaders to lead today. Right now, ready or not here they come! They may make mistakes along the way but you’ll be there to help them fix it. Notice, and this is key, I didn’t say you’ll be there to fix it for them, I said you’ll be there to help them fix it. 

 

Sometimes you may even see the mistake coming but you’ll let it happen anyway, just so your future leader can learn from it. I wouldn’t suggest sitting back and watching a serious mistake just happen but if the mistake involves only minor consequences then use it as a teaching opportunity. 

 

Your future leaders are far more likely to learn from a mistake they had to fix than they are to learn from a mistake you didn’t let happen. 

 

Not allowing your future leaders to take the helm from time to time is like planting grass seed with no intention of ever watering it. It may always have potential but everyone knows it will never be a yard the kids can play in.


Sometimes, maybe even often, the best thing a leader can do to grow future leaders is to simply get the heck out of their way. Give ‘em a push and stand back, lead from the rear and watch your leaders of tomorrow grow.

 

The Challenge of Frustration

Recently I had the opportunity to discuss leadership with a group of mid-level managers. At the end of my presentation I was approached by a significant number of the attendees who all had the same question.

 

The questions, while asked differently all had the same theme: what do I do when my “leader” isn’t a real leader at all?

 

The answer to that question is simple and complicated all at once. I’m assuming (I know that’s dangerous) that the people asking the question are truly leaders. That means they care about the people they lead, they understand that their own success is completely dependent upon the success of the people they lead and that they get as much pleasure from their people’s success as they do their own. 

 

If that is the case then the answer to the question is this: Lead Up.

 

Lead your leader the same way you lead your followers. Realize that your leader is a person too, realize that they, like every other human being on the planet, have their faults and limitations. 

 

The most Authentic Leaders lead in every direction, down, across and up. That means that instead of criticizing the person above you, which accomplishes nothing, you should be trying to help them overcome their faults and limitations. You can coach them the same way you coach others, you can demonstrate that you care about them the same way you demonstrate that you care about others. You can invest yourself in their success as if their success was your own…because for an Authentic Leader it is.

 

But…and this is what makes it complicated, before you can do any of that you must earn the right to lead up. 

 

Earning the right to lead up requires that you lead yourself exceptionally well. You must have the trust of the person above you to lead up. You earn that trust by being completely transparent with your leader. You don’t say one thing to them and then something else to your followers. You do what you say you will do 100% of the time. You display the same integrity upwards as you do across and down. (just an aside here, you either have integrity all the time or you don’t have integrity any time)

 

You must lead yourself in such a way that the person above you does not feel as if you require much help from them. You control your own attitude and keep it positive as much as humanly possible. You choose your words well and seldom just spout off the first thing that comes to mind. 

 

And then there’s this…you let them devour your ego food!

 

You allow them to sometimes, often, or even frequently take your success as their own. (I told you this was complicated) You take on assignments that your leader may receive credit for doing, you do more than you are required to do knowing full well that “others” may never know it was you who accomplished so much. 

 

I know from personal experience how truly challenging and frustrating that can be but here’s a question for you: are you leading to lead or are you leading for some type of personal glory?

 

If you’re leading to lead that means you lead because you want to make a difference; your motives are not selfish they are selfless. That’s a huge difference that allows you to feed your own ego even after giving much of your ego food to someone else. 

 

YOU know what you did and if you’re truly leading to lead, if you’re truly leading for the benefit of others and not yourself, then that is enough. More than enough actually. 


Leadership comes from many levels within an organization, it also goes in many directions. If you’re experiencing the frustration that comes with following a leader who doesn’t lead then do what real leaders do, stop complaining and start leading…today.


The One True Prerequisite of Leading

You must have a follower!

 

No matter what your title happens to be, no matter how lofty your position may be within your organization if no one is following you then you are not leading. Period!

 

It’s probably the number one leadership mistake I see and I see it often, very very often. People believe that it’s their title or position that makes them a leader. This misnomer is especially common with people new to a position of leadership. 

 

But here is the absolute fact: titles and positions on an organizational chart do not make you a leader. The people following you make you a leader. 

 

You can be promoted to a position with a fancy title that makes it sound like you are a leader but you must earn the right to truly lead. No one, absolutely no one can promote you to the position of Leader, that can only come from the people you would lead and you must constantly demonstrate that you’re worthy of it.

 

The fastest way to demonstrate that is by showing your people that you care about them. Bringing donuts to the meeting is nice but a drone could do that. 

 

Showing you care requires that you connect with your people in a meaningful way. If you’re in a leadership position then I have some questions for you… How much do you REALLY know about the people you claim to lead? Do you know their goals, their needs, their hopes and desires for their future?

 

Do you know what their life struggles are outside of work? Did you ever consider those struggles may affect their work performance? Did you ever consider that maybe, just maybe you could help them, coach them or perhaps just offer them someone to talk to?

 

Leadership is about people and to earn the right to lead you’re going to have to be willing to SHOW you care. You must be willing to invest a piece of yourself in someone else’s life. You see, when you make a difference in your business you’re a manager and that’s great but when you make a difference in the life of someone else you’re a leader and that’s better, much much better.


If you’re in a leadership position it’s a good idea to turn around once in a while to see if anyone is really following. If they are not then it’s possible, actually likely that the people who could be following you have decided that you simply don’t care enough to truly lead.


Dear President Trump

Dear President Trump,


First let me apologize for not writing sooner. It’s just one of those things where the best of intentions just doesn’t get it done. While important, this letter never seemed vital…until perhaps now. 

 

I was a big fan of your show The Apprentice. I didn’t always agree with your decisions on who should stay and who should go and the tasks could at times be a bit lame but the whole concept was like a Science Lab of what to do and what not to do when it comes to leadership. For that reason I found it fascinating.

 

I know it’s easy to say after the fact but I wasn’t the least bit surprised (well maybe a little) by your victory in November, winners win. That’s how it works in all walks of life, even in politics it appears. Clearly there are wide swaths of the American people who do not view you in a favorable light but however you’ve done it no one should continue to be surprised by your success. 

 

I really don’t know anyone, anywhere who wouldn’t describe the Presidency of The United States of America as the pinnacle of success. You sir have arrived! 

 

Which is why I, as a student of people and leadership, am so surprised to see you behave as if you’re an up and coming street fighter looking to get someone, anyone, to recognize their potential. You absolutely, positively, supercalifragilisticexpialidociously do not have to do that anymore.

 

There are clearly people in the media who would prefer to shape your message in such a way as to make you look deplorable. They are pretty good at it too, so good in fact that they certainly do not require your rather skilled assistance. 

 

Social Media in general, and Twitter in particular, was a very valuable tool for you during the election. It indeed allowed you to get your message “out there” in an unfiltered, direct, and unprecedented way. As effective as it can be in helping you stay connected as President to your fellow Americans it can also serve as a valuable weapon for your opponents to use against you. 

 

But they are shooting blanks unless you provide them with real ammunition, and that it seems is what you’ve been doing far too often. When you do that you descend from the pinnacle of success, from the highest office in the land, to the level of your opponents. You do not have to win a fight against the media, in fact you can’t win a fight because there is no fight, it’s over, you’ve already won.

 

The only way, the absolute only way you give credence to the things they say about you, true or not, is to respond to them. You may be hitting back “10 times harder” but half your blows are landing on you. I’ve thought long and hard about this and I just can’t think of a single benefit to you or the nation of you doing that. So don’t! 

 

You simply cannot build America up by tearing down your fellow Americans, it does not work that way. You lead all Americans Mr. President, whether they voted for you or not, whether they like you or not, and whether they want to be led by you or not and disparaging those you lead doesn’t work either. Never has, never will. 

 

Don’t stop tweeting Mr. President, just stop tweeting the trash talk. Tweet about your successes, tweet about your challenges, tweet about where and how the public can help you, just don’t tweet negative stuff about the people you lead. Even if it’s true there is no benefit to anyone in doing it.

 

As we Americans celebrate our freedom this week I urge you to think of all of our fellow Americans who have sacrificed their very life to protect the freedoms we enjoy. It is they who provide us with the continued right of free speech. You sir, as do all Americans, have the right to say pretty much whatever you want but I’d encourage you to consider this: having the right to do something doesn’t make it right to do. 

 

In my humble opinion Mr. President you can best honor those fallen heroes by honoring the office which you now hold. Honor it by being your best self. Honor it by being the role model of American values and ideals. Mr. President there is simply no way to make America great again by damaging the principles by which we have stood for all these years. 

 

Let your protagonists try to provoke you but do not be provoked. Rise above the fray, they cannot fight you if you don’t join the fight. Find the courage to no longer engage them in battle. 

 

Work everyday for every American, even those who today may hate you. Their hate is their problem not yours. The hater always loses more than the hated; do them a favor and be the President who is impossible to hate. 

 

You’ve got a long way to go to make that happen but if you’re up for it then it shouldn’t really be a problem for you. After all, you’re in the business of surprising people. 

 

It’s called leading Mr. President pure and simply. As President of the United States leading is not a part time job. Everything you say and do either adds to or subtracts from your ability to truly lead. That’s everything Mr. President, absolutely positively everything

 

Every American, even those who didn’t vote for you, even those who loathe you, need you to succeed. They may be so filled with hate that they can’t see that today but that doesn’t diminish the fact. The American people need you to lead. Everyday, all day.  

 

Thank you for taking the time to read my letter, I hope you’ll find some guidance in it that will help you as you continue to work for all of us. May God bless you Mr. President and may God bless America. 

 

Your fellow American, 

 

Steve Keating


Leaders Don’t Complain

I’ll never really understand why some people continually complain about the people and circumstances they allow to be part of their lives. 

 

Some people would rather complain than actually do something about their situation. Doing something may require leaving their comfort zones and that’s well, that’s just too uncomfortable. Other people just want to fool themselves into thinking they have no power of decision, often because they have no idea what to do. 

 

Some people are just too lazy to take control over their lives. 

 

I wouldn’t care about any of that if they would just stop complaining about the things they allow to be part of their lives. If by chance there are things, people or circumstances in your life that you don’t like and you have no control over, well that’s a different story. 

 

If that’s the case then you need to change your attitude about it. Either learn to accept it or make a substantial enough change in your life to gain some control over the situation. Understand that complaining alone never solves anything. Change requires action and refusing to take action is acceptance of the situation. Don’t complain about what you accept. 

 

I know there are some circumstances that people can’t change, some situations there may not be a way out of, and those can cause bitterness which often results in complaining. In those cases complaining may be the only relief or outlet a person has. I get that.

 

What I’ll never understand however is someone in a leadership position, especially a senior leadership position, who has complete control, or nearly complete control over their circumstances and yet they complain about those circumstances while doing nothing to change them.

 

That is not leading. 

 

You’re in that position to lead. You’re in the position to build people, to build people who will help you build an organization. You’re not in a leadership position to condemn, criticize or complain. You’re especially not in that position to complain about a member of your team, someone that you likely hired. To complain about the people you’re responsible to build is sheer nonsense.

 

Here’s the deal. If you have someone who reports to you and they are not performing to your standards there are really only two possibilities. The first is that you hired the wrong person. You either were fooled in the interview (hey, it happens) or you missed something, or you “settled” for someone who didn’t meet the requirements. That’s on you, that’s your responsibility.

 

The second possibility is that you’re simply not providing them with the tools and training that they need to succeed. That’s on you too, that also is your responsibility. 

 

You might not like to admit it but that’s what leading is all about. Being responsible for the success of other people. With that in mind, why in the world would an Authentic Leader complain about a circumstance that they created? 

 

Authentic leaders don’t complain, they adjust their thinking, the adjust the plan, they modify their actions until such time as the circumstances change enough to remove the temptation to complain. 


You can complain or you can lead but you can’t do both. If you’re in a leadership position I’d highly recommend actually leading. 

Death by Indecisiveness

I’m not sure if there is anything more useless than a leader who cannot or more likely, will not, make a decision. 

 

I know that sounds harsh but I’ve really held that belief since I was a seventeen year old High School senior. As a Senior Officer in my Military High School I had the responsibility of overseeing the small bore rifle range for a Freshman military class. 

 

One day a student’s rifle misfired and the student turned toward me looking for instructions on what to do. (We had only explained the proper procedure 1000 times) As he turned toward me the barrel of his rifle also tuned toward me and I hesitated to give direction for a split second. That was long enough for the round in the chamber to go off striking me in the foot. 

 

I was fortunate on many levels. I was wearing boots which helped and the round was only a .22 caliber, plus the 14 year old Freshman had kept the barrel of his weapon pointed toward the ground. It was a relatively minor injury and at the time I was more upset about my boot than my foot. 

 

But I was also unfortunate. I was unfortunate (in hindsite also foutunate) in that the active duty military person on the range that day was Sergeant Major Stock. To say that he was mad would be the understatement of my entire four years of High School. 

 

Funny thing was, he wasn’t mad at the kid who shot me; he was furious with me. He was furious because he said my indecision, as brief as it was, could have gotten me killed. 

 

I stood there with blood oozing out of my boot while he screamed at me about the importance of making decisions. I distinctly remember him “explaining” that even a wrong decision was better than no decision. He said that in fact a “no decision” was a decision, it was a decision to not decide and that was a sure way to lose all control over a situation. 

 

He said that even when you make a wrong decision you retain control over changing it, improving it, or fixing it. He said doing something, deciding something, was always better than doing nothing or deciding nothing. ALWAYS! I think he actually said always like a dozen times, each time a little louder than the previous. 

 

Needless to say the whole thing made quite an impression on me and I’ve never forgotten the lesson I learned that day. It’s probably why I have so little patience for people who claim to be leaders and then show little ability or desire to make even small decisions.

 

Perhaps they believe they are playing it “safe” by not making a decision but in fact, they couldn’t be more wrong.

 

The inability to make a decision is as serious a flaw as a leader can have. It has killed as many careers as dishonesty, stupidity and lack of good judgment combined. 

 

I’m not suggesting that anyone make decisions on a whim. I’d highly recommend that a leader get as many facts regarding a particular situation as possible before making a decision. You may not have all the facts you would like to have but once you get all the facts that you’re going to get in a reasonable amount of time then you need to make a decision. DECIDE! It’s what leaders do. 

 

There are a lot of reasons that people in leadership positions hesitate when making decisions, the fear of making a bad decision, the fear of making someone mad or disappointing them and the fear that you just don’t know the right choice to make. I get all of that but none of those are valid reasons for delaying what needs to be done, they are merely excuses for avoiding a major responsibility of leading.

 

If you really don’t have the confidence or ability to make a decision then find a coach or mentor who can help you develop that critical skill. I know as a leader you will be required to make decisions that impact the lives of those you lead. I know that is not easy. Leading, truly leading, is not easy. 


But if you’re going to have the audacity to label yourself a leader then you have to make decisions. You simply must! Always, always, always……