Do You Know the People You Lead?

I suppose the title of this post is silly because of course you know the people you lead. You know their name. You know their job description and you know…?

What more do you know? You make decisions regarding the people you lead on a daily basis and it’s very possible that when you really stop to think about it you don’t actually know that much about them. 

When was the last time you straight up asked the people you lead what they are passionate about? Have you ever asked them what work they would do for free if they could afford it? Have you ever, even once, asked them how you could honor them or recognize them. When was the last time you asked about their family? What about their hobbies and interests outside of work, when was the last time you asked about that?

Most people in leadership positions say they don’t have time to get to know their people at that level. What they actually mean is that it’s not a priority for them. Authentic Leaders make knowing their people, really knowing them, a top priority. 

They invest time each day, each and every day, to conduct an “innerview” with one or more of the people they lead. It might only be 5 or 10 minutes but they would tell you it’s the most important 5 or 10 minutes of their day. 

It is not an “interview,” that’s what you do when you’re hiring someone. An “innerview” is what you do when you want to know your people on a level that truly allows you to lead them. To know what motivates them. To understand their goals in life. To understand their thinking and their actions. 

Most people would say that their people are their organization’s greatest asset. Then they tell you they can’t spare 5 minutes to invest in that asset. Instead they spend their time on something they said was less important…that is not a recipe for successful leadership.

If knowing your people is not a priority then you may be a boss, you may be a manager, but I’m sorry to tell you it’s unlikely that you’re much of a leader. 

Invest time this very day and each day to get to know the people you lead. Until you do they are probably not really following you and this much is certain, if no one is following then you ain’t leading. 

Get to know your people and Lead Today!

Leaders in Name Only

I haven’t written about this topic in a while but it remains timely. Sadly, I’m afraid it will always be a timely topic because there will always be individuals who occupy positions of leadership with no clue as to what actual leadership looks like. 

They are managers who may or may not even be attempting to lead. So, before we go any further let me say loud and clear, with no doubt whatsoever, that managers and effective management are vital to any organization that hopes to grow or even survive in these times. 

However managers and management are vastly different than leaders and leadership. Both are essential for long-term success. The challenge for many managers and management teams is that they make the mistake of thinking that what they are doing is leading. It is often not. 

Sometimes, hopefully most of the time, good managers are good leaders and good leaders are good managers. Being effective at both requires that you understand the difference between the two. 

Managing and management is about a whole host of things. THINGS, as in inanimate objects and stuff. You manage things like property, inventory, buildings, plans, and budgets. If “it” can’t think for itself and is incapable of becoming emotional when you yell at it (a copier comes to mind) then you manage it. 

Leading and leadership is about people. Only people. All people. You lead people. You don’t even lead a company, organization, or team. You lead the people who make up that company, organization, or team. 

No, I’m not splitting hairs here. The difference in mindset between someone attempting to manage people and someone actually leading people is huge. Attempting to manage another human being as if they were an inanimate object is the cause of the vast majority of personnel problems within organizations. 

I’ve known very few managers who thought they were treating their people as inanimate objects. But how the manager feels they are treating their people is of little importance. How the people feel they are being treated will determine whether or not they have a chance to reach their full potential. If you’re not interested in helping people achieve their full potential that’s a sure sign you’re a leader in name only. 

Most people don’t read the owners manual that comes with the “stuff” they buy. That’s kinda how a manager attempts to lead people. “Seen one ya seen ‘em all” is a manager mindset. They manage all their buildings the same and they manage all their people the same too. 

Leaders read the owners manual for everyone of the people they lead. They know that every single person they lead is a unique individual with their own set of goals, objectives, hopes, dreams and yes, problems. 

They get to know their people because they care for them as people. They want them to succeed, they want them to grow. They know that their own success as a leader is completely dependent upon the success of their people. 

So while the manager may “spend time on” their people the leader “invests time with” their people. The difference in how people respond is like night and day. 

We could go on and on about the differences between managing and leader but I’ll spare you for now. Let me however leave you with a couple of questions to consider. First, do you understand, really understand the difference between the two? What would your people say if I asked them? 

The second question is key because when it comes to leading an Authentic Leader knows it is the followers who make the leader. If your people don’t see you as a leader then you have some work to do cause if you’re not leading they aren’t following. No matter what you tell yourself. 

Exactly Who is the Idiot Here?

Hint…there are no idiots! 

I received a call from someone the other day asking for ideas on how they could build better relationships with their work colleagues. They were really struggling in this area because they don’t like working with people who are idiots. Idiot was their choice of words, not mine. 

I knew this was going to be an interesting conversation because I almost instantly believed I had figured out why this person might be “relationship challenged.” 

I began by asking how committed they were to improving their relationship with co-workers. They said they were very committed. I asked how they came to be “very” committed. They didn’t understand my question so I asked what caused them to become committed enough today to ask for help.  I pointed out that they could have asked yesterday or last week or last month.  

They replied that it had been recommended by their supervisor that they figure out a way to have these “better relationships.” That would be important if they hoped to advance within the company. 

Now that I understood the “motivation” for developing better relationships I asked them to quantify their level of commitment on a scale of one to ten. They immediately said a ten! Then I asked them to quantify their commitment level absent the “recommendation” from their boss. They had to think about that for a bit and eventually settled on a 3. 

When I asked why such a low commitment level they answered that they didn’t believe it was their responsibility to work well with idiots…there’s that word again. 

So then I asked if they could tell when talking with others if the person they were talking with thought they were an idiot. They answered yes. I asked how they could tell and they answered, “you just can.” Then I asked if that was some special gift of insight they possessed or if they thought other people could sense that as well. 

There was a rather lengthy silence on the phone at this point. 

I tried to lighten up the conversation a little bit by saying with a chuckle, “I think we may have discovered the way to better working relationships with your colleagues.”

They said they would stop thinking of others as idiots when they stopped being idiots. So I went back to my questioning. I asked how they interacted with people who treated them with disrespect, almost as if they were say… an idiot.

A bit more silence before I heard “I’ll treat “them” better when they treat me better.” 

I asked again about that commitment level of ten and why it was so high. They said they wanted a leadership position in their company and they knew they needed better relationships to get it. 

I told them that they already have a leadership position they just have to use it. Step one would be treating people, ALL PEOPLE, with respect. I said that would be easier to do if we realize that everyone knows something we don’t and we can learn from anyone. It’s unlikely we’re actually working with idiots. We are working with people who think differently than we do because their life experiences are different. 

They don’t know less than we do, they know different than we do. That means we can learn from them. It means we can learn from anyone. 

When we change our mindset from one of “people are idiots” to one of “I can learn from anyone” our relationships improve dramatically overnight. If you want better relationships with other people then don’t try to change them. Change your thinking about them.

That is what an Authentic Leader would do. If you want a higher position of leadership you should understand that you must lead from where you are before you can lead from somewhere else.

People, Expense or Investment?

There are two distinct mindsets in business today with regards to the people who make up an organization. One mindset, the one I’ll call a managerial mindset says that people are an expense. The other mindset, the one I’ll call a leadership mindset says that people are an investment. 

The difference between those two mindsets is huge!

Let’s say you’re currently occupying a leadership position and you have a team member who isn’t quite getting the job done. If you think to yourself you’re going to have to “spend time on” that person to get them up to speed then you likely have a managerial mindset.

On the other hand let’s say you see that same person. If you think to yourself I’m going to “invest time with” that person to help get them achieve their potential then you have a leadership mindset. 

Your mindset will affect every single interaction you have with your people. 

That’s because we almost instinctively manage expenses. The thought “spend time on” indicates you see people as an expense. Even if only subconsciously. Your people will pick up on that mindset and respond accordingly. They will act as an expense, someone merely hired to be a cog in the wheel. They will resist being the asset that they could be, even if only subconsciously. 

If you see your people as an expense then you will try to manage them. That will cause YOU enormous issues. Do you understand what that means? It means if you have personnel issues then your mindset towards your people is likely the biggest cause.  

When you have a leadership mindset your thoughts regarding people tend to be much more on the “invest time with” side. You realize people can’t be managed, they must be led. That mindset helps you to care about your people. You realize that your success as a leader is completely dependent upon the success of your people. 

Your people will pick up on that mindset and respond accordingly. They will see themselves as someone who brings value to the organization. They will understand that what they do matters and they will commit to do it to the best of their ability. They will give a 100% effort because they know you are committed to them and they will respond with a commitment of their own. 

There are no documented instances of organizations that saw their people as an expense succeeding long term. There are however well documented instances of companies that were in business a long time “adapting” their thinking to one of “people are an expense.” Their demise soon followed. 

By the way, if you’re wondering why a company would suddenly change to a “people are an expense” philosophy I have a one word explanation for you. Consultant! Actually that’s not fair, most consultants are firmly on the “people are an investment” side. It’s the big consulting firms who promote the “people are an expense” concept. They encourage companies to save money by cutting people expenses. They also encourage you to pay them a substantial percentage of that “savings.” 

If you’re in a leadership position then you should know that your first investment must be in your people. New people, young people, experienced people are all worthy investments. Those investments provide a near guaranteed ROI for your organization. 

If your plan to make money includes cutting expenses by cutting people then you should know that’s very short term thinking. You should also know that short term thinking never leads to long term success.

Look and Listen

One of the primary responsibilities of leadership is to coach the people you lead. We coach to reinforce positive behavior, we coach to motivate, and sometimes we must coach for corrective action. 

Most often that coaching is in the form of talking. We advise, we suggest, and hopefully not very often, we tell. 

So here’s two pieces of advice for the next time you find yourself in a coaching situation. 

First listen to what you’re saying. I’m serious about that…really listen. In fact, record the conversation and when you play it back listen to what YOU said. Listen to the tone of your voice. Were you speaking in positives and possibilities or were you speaking in negatives and consequences? 

Were you specific in why you’re coaching or did you leave the person you were coaching wondering what the conversation was really about. If you were coaching for corrective action were you very very specific in what needs to change and when? Were you crystal clear in how that change would be measured? Did you leave doubt about your expectations? Any doubt leaves a gray area. Coaching for corrective action requires that you “paint” your expectations in black and white as much as possible.

It’s important to know that when you allow gray areas while coaching for corrective action you give people a place to hide from responsibility. Shades of gray make for a mighty comfortable place to hide from change as well. 

More important than listening to yourself is looking at yourself. As a leader your people will do what you DO far faster than they will do what you SAY. If you’re coaching them towards a better attitude and your attitude sucks then all the words in the world aren’t going to change their attitude. 

As their leader YOU are their model for successful behavior. Whether you realize it or not, YOU are leading by example. If your words do not match your actions then your people will have to make a choice.

Do they do what you say or do they do what you do? They may not believe what they hear but they almost always will believe what they see. 

They will do what you do!

If you’re going to help your people trust what you say then your actions MUST match your words. If you force them to make a choice between “say” or “do” they will choose do and your chances of truly leading them will go the way of the dodo bird.

In both cases, listening to yourself and looking at yourself, you need to be completely honest. Authentic Leaders do not lie to themselves. Do not cut yourself an ounce of slack, if you think your tone was too negative then fix it. If you find that your actions are not a mirror image of your words then change your actions or change your words. 

They MUST match. 

Remember, you may hold a leadership position but your journey to Authentic Leadership never stops. You can and should continue to learn and grow, exactly like the people you lead.

So…You Say You Want to be a Leader

Odds are there are a significant number of people reading this who want to be a leader one day. They are waiting for a promotion to “leader” in their organization. Perhaps they are searching for a role with another organization that will “make” them a leader.

I’ve got some disappointing news for anyone who falls into those categories. No one can promote you to “leader.” No position or title in the world can make you a leader. Technically speaking, even you can’t make you a leader.

Only the people who follow you can make you a leader. You can call yourself a leader all day long but if no one is following you then you might be leading yourself (which is good) but you are not leading anyone else.

I don’t know any other way to say this except to say that waiting for a position or title to make you is leader is a mistake. It is a very common mistake so don’t beat yourself up over it too much.

People don’t follow positions or titles, they only follow other people. So instead of working for a position of leadership work to become the type of person other people will want to follow.

That type of person has a clear, realistic vision of their future. They can communicate that vision in a way that excites and inspires other people. They celebrate the success of other people as much as they celebrate their own success. They are outstanding listeners and they listen with the intent to understand rather than merely respond.

But more than anything else they genuinely care about people.

People follow people who care about them. One of the truest things I know about leadership is that you can care for people without leading them but you cannot lead someone without caring for them. Truly caring.

Caring about the person. Caring about their lives and caring about what’s important to them.

If you’re only caring about what they can do for you or your organization then you may be a boss but it’s unlikely that you’re seen as a leader.

If your goal is to be an Authentic Leader then you must put people first. If you want to grow your company then first you must grow your people. If you want your people to take care of your customers then you must first take care of your people.

If you’re in a leadership position and you think your people are nothing more than disposable assets then whatever success you may be experiencing today will not be sustainable.

Leadership is people centric. When you occupy a leadership position and you put “stuff” before your people then you forfeit the right to lead.

When you’re people believe you don’t care about them they won’t care much about actually following you. That is a mistake no organization can survive.

What History Teaches

Whenever I hear of someone heading off to college who is planning to major in History my thoughts always go to “oh boy, taking on a ton of student loan debt for a low paying teaching job.”

I mean, what else do you do with a History Degree.

But then I start to think more and I am so grateful for anyone willing to teach History. It is history that teaches us everything we need to know to be successful.

In High School my least favorite class was Military History. (I attended a Military High School) I had a hard time figuring out why we were studying old battle plans and tactics from lost battles. I eventually came to understand that if we were ever required to lead a group of brave service members into battle the job wasn’t just to win the war. It was to bring the people we were charged with leading home alive.

As General George Patton frequently said, “it’s not the job of the American Solider to die for their country; the job of the American Solider is to make the other SOB die for theirs.”

Small pieces of historical knowledge can make a huge difference. It can prevent history from repeating itself. If Adolf Hitler had studied Napoleon’s battle plans from years earlier he likely would have not opened up a second front in Russia. If he had waited only a handful of months to attack it is very possible the outcome of World War 2 could have been different.

Companies are like countries when it comes to history. Those that are unwilling to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Emphasis on the doomed.

History can teach us what to do as well as what not to do. The problem is, if we don’t learn from history we tend to take the same shortcuts. Use the same level of thinking, say the same things, and do the identical stuff as the people who failed before us.

It’s fine to study successful companies. Following the practices of those who have succeeded before you makes perfect sense. But I also like to learn from companies that were highly successful right up until the time they weren’t.

I want to know what changed. I want to know what it was that caused them to go from great to good to downright bad.

It most often has to do with people. Mostly the people who run the company. History teaches us that the most common mistake they make is assuming that their future is an automatic extension of their past. Those organizations believe that because they are currently successful they will always be successful. They begin to take their success for granted. They begin to believe that their success is solely due to their efforts. They forget about all the people who have helped them along the way.

Successful companies and organizations do not fail the people leading them. The people leading them fail their companies and organizations.

History is full of examples of how organizations create sustainable success. It is also full of examples of what organizations did to kill their success.

Successful people learn from their mistakes, the most successful people, and organizations, learn from the mistakes of others. Those “lessons” are found in history. Are you willing to learn?