How to Lead When There is No Crisis

This will likely be my last blog post that has anything to do with challenging times, new normals, old normals, viruses, leading in times of crisis or any other current events you might be seeing in the news.

There’s two reasons for that. One, I’m just tired of the virus. I’m tired of what might happen stealing the joy out of what is happening. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in on the social distancing guidelines and washing my hands until the skin falls off. I will be responsible and respectful to all my fellow humans on the planet. So I intend to wear a mask when I’m around other people, not for me but for them.

But all those things will be “additive” to the things I normally do. I’ll stop doing only the things that conflict with keeping other people safe. As it turns out, that is likely the very best way to keep myself safe as well.

So, what about all this “leading in challenging times” and “leading in times of crisis” stuff that’s currently flooding blogs and podcasts? (Yep, I’ve written a couple too) My thinking on this has evolved.

It’s evolved because I’ve come to the realization that if you were a poor leader when there was no crisis you will be a poor leader when there is a crisis. If you were an effective leader when there was no crisis then you will be an effective leader when there is a crisis.

That’s because leadership is about people. People’s basic need for leadership does not change one iota in times of crisis. Authentic Leaders may be a bit more intentional with their leadership in times of crisis but the fundamental characteristics of leadership remain the same.

Poor leaders will not suddenly develop leadership skills when circumstances attempt to force the need to truly lead upon them. Contrary to what many people want to believe a crisis doesn’t turn a non-leader or terrible leader into some kind of Churchill.

In difficult times great leadership becomes more visible. That’s only because Authentic Leaders lead almost exclusively from the front in times of crisis. In times with less headwinds they will sometimes lead form the middle of the pack or even the back of it. The fact that some people might not have recognized their leadership skills does not mean that they were not present.

The leadership characteristics that Authentic Leaders possess every day become more apparent when they move themselves to lead from out front. They will make some adjustments like communicating more frequently. They make themselves more accessible to their people in order to coach and counsel. The fact that those characteristics are more exposed in difficult times does not mean that they didn’t exist in the absence of challenges.

People who believe leading in difficult times is vastly different are trying to wrestle with “unknowns.” That is completely unnecessary so long as you’re a leader who is willing to dance your very best dance with the “knowns” of difficult times.

The value of Authentic Leadership is more appreciated in tough times…and that is a shame. It should be valued in both good times and bad. If you are fortunate enough to experience Authentic Leadership be it in good times or bad, let that leader know you recognize their efforts. Let them you you appreciate them for taking the lead.

They deserve your support and will welcome your recognition.

A Self Leadership Checkup

Everybody says we need Authentic Leadership right now, perhaps more than ever before. Well it must be true since everybody can’t be wrong. But it seems to me most people talking and writing about leadership these days are missing an important point.

Before you can lead others authentically you must effectively lead yourself.

If you’re an Authentic Leader then you know the people you lead really need you now. That’s because especially in challenging times people need to be led, not managed. But you’re people too. You need leadership as much as anyone. The difference is you may well have to lead yourself.

So let’s do a quick checkup on your self-leadership skills.

You know that your people need some extra inspiration right now. They look to their leaders to provide it. But it’s pretty tough to inspire others if you’re not inspired yourself. In those quiet moments (perhaps few and far between right now) how are you staying inspired? What does your “self-talk” sound like? Are you aggressively looking for positives to keep your mindset where it needs to be.

It’s as easy for a leader’s attitude to go south as it is for anyone else. If you’re going to keep other people’s spirits up them you’ll have to keep yours up first. Find the possibilities in every challenge. Problems are an opportunity to learn and grow. They provide the chance to become better and more nimble.

Coach yourself to see obstacles as growth opportunities. Remember, your people will do what you do far faster than they will do what you say. Model the attitude and mindset that you want your people to possess.

You are the master of your emotions, no one else. If you do not make the conscious choice of a positive attitude every single day then a subconscious choice will be made for you by events and circumstances. It will not be a choice that serves you well.

Positive attitudes do not happen by chance, they happen by choice.

How are you doing with time management? If you’re suddenly finding yourself leading from home you may find that you don’t have the same level of discipline that comes with working in an office environment.

Setting daily goals can help with this. Goals create discipline. Discipline is simply choosing between what you want now and what you want most. Your goals should be what you want most. Holding yourself accountable to do the same amount of work at home that you would do in the office requires that you keep in mind what you want most.

The “work things” that you may be less accountable to accomplish right now are the means to the things you want most. When my daily work goals are achieved I allow myself what I want most. That would be ice cream! If the work isn’t crossed off my list then the ice cream doesn’t cross my lips.

It is important to remember that no one on earth has more time than you do. No matter how pressured you may feel you do not, I repeat, you do not have a shortage of time. What you most likely do have is a lack of prioritization skills.

Pursue those daily goals with the zeal of a crazy person and you’ll discover you have all the time you need to accomplish every one of your goals.

Are you carefully choosing your words? A leader’s words carry more weight. In challenging times they weigh even more. Choose your words to convey the exact message you’re trying to get across. Remember how you say something can be even more important than the something you say. Are you being mindful of your tone? It is likely you’re doing more communication over the phone than normal. People can’t read your body language so they use the tone of your voice to decipher the meaning of what they are hearing.

It is your responsibility to make sure they are hearing what you intend for them to hear.

Leading others begins with leading yourself exceptionally well. These three areas are not the only leadership skills to focus on for exceptional self-leadership but they will get you on the right path to being a leader who is prepared to lead others in turbulent times.

Business as Usual

The current state of the world absolutely does not allow business to be conducted as usual. Perhaps no time in history have businesses, and every person alive for that matter, been faced with so many unknowns.

No one likes unknowns.

In you’re in a leadership position then one of the things you should be doing right now is providing the people you lead with as many “knowns” as possible. Few things will be business as usual so find as many usual things as you possible can and put them in front of your people.

Many readers of this blog are not aware that in addition to writing this blog I also have a full time job. I do a ton of speaking each year. While I also speak outside of my industry the majority of my speaking opportunities are in support of my employer and our customers.

I never write about my “day job.” But the current crisis around the Coronavirus has provided me the opportunity to witness firsthand some truly outstanding leadership. But this week I would say I saw nothing less than brilliant leadership.

Those who know me also know that I am a harsh judge of leaders and leadership. I believe that if you have the audacity to call yourself a leader then you darn well better lead, really really lead. Lately I’ve seen a ton of what can only be described as Authentic Leadership.

In a company-wide meeting this week, conducted for the first time virtually for obvious reasons, the organization’s leadership made the decision to make the meeting as normal as possible.

There was a needed update on preparedness for and steps taken against the virus. But it did not dominate the meeting. It would have been easy, and expected, that the doom and gloom over-taking many organizations would have been the focus, but it was not. The focus was on business as usual.

That was the brilliant part.

It almost didn’t matter what was discussed. What mattered was what wasn’t. The current situation was appropriately covered and then it was on to business. Instead of sucking life out of the organization the leadership team literally pumped life along with enthusiasm into the organization. The calming effect of even a bit of normalcy could almost be felt over the Internet.

Brilliant is the only word I can think of to describe it.

It showed me the absolute importance of leading by example. If you’re in a position of leadership don’t merely tell your people that everything will be okay, show them. Show them by demonstrating as much normalcy in these highly unusual times as you possible can.

Business as usual will be challenging for the foreseeable future but I had a glimpse this week of just how much people are craving even a bit of normalcy. I’ve never written this before but for at least a while one of the best leadership actions you can take is to be so normal that you risk boring your team.

Now, as much as ever in history people need leadership. If you’re a leader who can provide the people you lead with even a bit of stability then you are a leader who was made for these times.

One last thought, I know business as usual will be nearly impossible for many people. You must understand that “nearly impossible” and “impossible” are two very different things. If you can’t keep business “usual” then figure out a way to provide your people a bit of normalcy in their personal lives. Leadership, at least Authentic Leadership isn’t easy and it doesn’t stop at the end of the work day. So don’t assume anything is impossible, just figure it out. That’s what great leaders do!

Managing vs Leading – Part Seven

People in leadership positions who attempt to manage their people use their head to get good things done. They expect their people to use their head as well. They are more manager than leader.

People in leadership positions who actually lead use their head and their heart to encourage their people to accomplish great things. They are as concerned with their people’s heart as much as their heads. They are more leader than manager but they are often excellent managers as well. However, they do not manage their people, they lead them.

People in leadership positions who attempt to manage people are so focused on what needs to get done that they forget it is people, real life human beings, who will get that work done. That causes them to often treat their people as something rather than someone.

Leaders lead. The need neither a leadership position or title to do it. Their first priority is the people who will do the work, not the work itself. They invest the time required to understand how their people think and why they think that way. They know their hopes, their challenges and their goals.

They help them in any area they possibly can. They will compassionately confront them when that is what is needed for them to succeed. They coach them. They mentor them. They care for them.

They do not tell them what to do, they show them. They model successful behavior. They hold their people to high standards and hold themselves to even higher standards.

Leaders who lead earn the commitment of their people. That commitment leads to increased productivity and extraordinary results.

People have hearts and it’s those hearts that truly need leadership. If you’re in a leadership position and you’re not leading your people then don’t expect them to put their hearts into their work. They may indeed use their heads to do good things but greatness will elude them. It will almost certainly elude you as well.

Managing vs Leading – Part Three

As you gain an understanding of the characteristics of a leader you move from the mindset of managing people to truly leading them. If you’ve been fortunate enough to experience Authentic Leadership from someone else in your organization then your understanding of those characteristics will happen quickly. If you’ve had the misfortune of working only for a boss then your transition from managing to actually leading could be much slower…if it happens at all.

Considering that I make my living “teaching” people how to lead this next sentence might come as a surprise to some. The fact is that leadership cannot be taught. It can only be modeled.

What I can do is teach the characteristics of an Authentic Leader. That tends to speed up the process of transitioning from attempting to manage people to truly leading them.

The characteristics of leadership that I most often speak and write about include Integrity. I list that as the most important characteristic of leadership because if people don’t trust you they cannot follow you.

This is one of the reasons it is so much more challenging to lead people than it is to manage them. Someone who is managing people has less to be concerned about when it comes to trust. They are forcing the compliance of their people and trust is not a requirement for compliance.

A leader however puts forth the effort to earn the commitment of their people. They know that without the trust of their people that commitment is impossible. So they do what they say they will do. Their actions match their words. Trust comes directly from integrity so Authentic Leaders speak, act and even think with integrity.

People in leadership positions who manage people want to be trusted but they hope for the trust of their people. A leader intentionally works for it. A manager expects the commitment of their people. An Authentic Leader understands that commitment is a two-way street. They commit to their people before they expect their people to commit to them.

Another vital characteristic of leadership is judgment. Leaders are required to make decisions both large and small. They don’t get them all right but they get most of the big ones right. They don’t assume and when they need more information to make a sound decision they seek it out. They know that they don’t need to know it all and they don’t think admitting that they don’t is a weakness.

Dante once said that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in a period of moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.

Authentic Leaders display moral courage. Their judgment is informed by that moral courage and they do not shy away from difficult decisions or the conflicts that can result. They don’t need a poll to know what is right. They know what is wrong is wrong, even if everyone else is doing it.

Managers may say they care and indeed they may but Authentic Leaders show they care and they do it with great intentionality. Saying you care leaves room for doubt, showing you care removes that doubt and deepens the commitment level of your people.

Caring for people is an essential leadership characteristic. It has been said by too many people to know who said it first that no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.

Authentic Leaders know that it is not a weakness to demonstrate caring and compassion for people. They genuinely want the best for people in general and especially for the people they lead.

Their caring motives are always on display and it’s that characteristic that initially draws people to them. Where a manager might leave you wondering about their motives an Authentic Leader never will.

Leading, Actually Leading

If everyone in a leadership position who wasn’t actually leading were fired there would be a ton of open leadership positions. The sad reality of leadership is that most people in leadership positions merely pose as leaders. They don’t do the hard work that truly leading requires.

Think of it like this. If you’re going someplace in your car and someone asks to tag along because they have nothing better to do then you’re taking them for a ride. That’s like occupying a leadership position without really leading. People might be in the car with you but they have no commitment to any particular destination.

When you’re giving someone a ride to a place they need to go and they might not get there without you, that’s like actually leading. They have a destination in mind and you’re their guide to get them there.

A person in a leadership position who actually leads has the ability to change the world for the good.

Maybe only one person’s world but that is more than most leaders in name only will do.

It’s not a big surprise that most people in leadership positions don’t actually lead. Over 50% of people in leadership positions have never received a minute of formal leadership training. More than 80% have never participated in a leadership development program.

If you’re wondering about the difference between leadership training and leadership development I’d explain it this way. Leadership training focuses on the “as is.” It’s about focusing on past leadership experiences to maintain the status quo. Leadership development aims higher. It is about being a better leader than the leaders that came before.

Leaders who actually lead invest themselves in their people. They celebrate the success of their people as much as their own. They know that as a leader who actually leads their success in completely dependent upon the success of their people.

“Leaders” who merely occupy a leadership position think in terms of “spending time” to correct mistakes made by their people. Leaders who lead think in terms of “investing time” to grow their people to a level where mistakes are virtually eliminated.

Leaders who actually lead understand that budgets, buildings and other “things” are managed. They also understand that people must be led and they have learned the difference between managing and leading.

People who are managed will never reach their potential. That’s the biggest problem with having “leadership posers” in a leadership position. If they are responsible for a budding superstar and they try to manage them rather than lead them that bud will never bloom.

That makes it a huge challenge to grow an organization.

When leaders don’t lead then their people don’t grow, or they grow too slowly to have the impact on the organization that they could. Don’t let that happen to your people. If you’re in a position of leadership and your organization doesn’t offer you Leadership Training or Leadership Development then do what an Authentic Leader would do…seek it out on your own. It’s like an investment in yourself.

Lead yourself to success. Lead yourself to truly lead your people.

The Need to Lead

Ever hear of the term “great world manager?” Me neither. The term we hear is “great world leader.” It seems that people almost instinctively understand that while a manager can steer the ship it takes a leader to set the course. It’s clear we have enough good managers, what we need is more leaders.

It’s Football season in the United States. The time of year when you hear football analysts describing the difference between an “ok” quarterback and an outstanding one. The “ok” quarterback is said to be a good “game manager” and the outstanding quarterback is described as an excellent “on-field leader.”

The difference is the “game manager” wins most of the games they are supposed to win and few of the games against the better teams. The “on-field leader” very rarely loses games they are supposed to win and frequently beats the better teams. One other notable difference, and this is my observation, the “on-field leader” also makes the players around them better.

I could write for hours about the difference between managing and leading. I’ll just say this, if you’re making your business better it’s likely managing, if you’re making your people better it’s most certainly leading.

Authentic Servant Leaders know something that other leaders, even effective Authentic Leaders often miss. They know that the fastest way to build their business is to build their people.

That’s why Authentic Servant Leaders spare no effort in developing their people. They don’t lead their people when they have the time, the lead their people ALL the time. People are their top priority. They recognize that every interaction with their people is a learning experience and that they can learn as much as their people.

Authentic Servant Leaders grow their organization by growing their people. People are their top priority in every situation. They will not sacrifice the long-term growth of their people for short-term profits. They know that they surest way to sustain their success is to work with their people, not on them.

Authentic Servant Leaders grow more leaders and those leaders grow the business. They make the people around them better. They help ordinary people achieve extraordinary results. They know that their own success is completely dependent upon the success of their people.

So where’s your focus? Are you focused only on the bottom line or are you focused on the people you need to help you grow it?