Leading With Integrity

So let’s get this out of the way right up front. If you’re not leading with integrity then you’re simply not leading.

You’re not leading because leading requires that someone is following you. A true follower will have some level of commitment to their leader. People can be forced to comply with someone in a leadership position but they cannot be forced to commit.

In fact, they cannot commit. It is not possible for one human being to truly commit to another human being that they do not trust. Integrity is the foundation upon which trust is built. Where there is no integrity there can be no trust.

Having integrity is a choice. It’s a choice to do what you said you would do, even if you no longer feel like doing it. You may have never thought of it like this but you have an “Integrity Bank.” Every time you do exactly what you committed to do you’ll receive a small deposit into that Credibility Bank. When you fail to honor a commitment, any commitment, you suffer a substantial withdrawal from your Credibility Bank.

That may not seem fair but that’s the way it works. You don’t need to have too many withdrawals to reach a zero balance in your bank. That means zero credibility and that means zero committed followers.

Authentic Leaders know that their most valuable “currency” is their credibility. They know that without it that can not have a positive influence on those they hope to lead. So they honor their commitments. They follow through. They keep their word. They don’t say yes when they need to say no.

Their people know that they can trust their leader. Their people know that their leader is committed to them so they can commit to their leader.

Every committed relationship is built on a foundation of integrity. It’s the single most important foundation in any relationship. What Authentic Leaders understand that many lesser leaders don’t is this one irrefutable fact….you either have integrity 100% of the time or you do not have integrity.

Integrity is a full-time gig. It’s not something you do at work. It’s not something you do at home. It’s not something you do with people who matter to you. It’s just something you do because it’s who you are. It’s part of your DNA.

Or it’s not. The great thing is that it’s a part of your DNA that you get to control. The only question is, will you choose to control it.

The Power of Questions

Many people have the belief that leaders give orders. They think leaders tell people what to do and how to do it. Sadly, that is true for far too many people in leadership positions.

Authentic Leaders however give few orders. They don’t bark out directions at people telling them exactly what to do. What Authentic Leaders actually do is ask questions. They ask questions to help their people grow. They ask questions to help their people learn. They ask questions to challenge their people’s thinking. More importantly, they ask questions to teach their people to challenge their own thinking.

They ask questions to help their people become and stay engaged. They ask questions to help their people feel like they are part of the team. And they ask questions to learn from their people.

Asking questions to help someone see how their thinking might be flawed is far more effective than telling someone they are wrong. Asking someone how they came to a particular conclusion is far more people valuing then telling them they don’t know what they are talking about.

Asking for input before making a big decision helps people be more supportive of the decision even if it wasn’t the decision they would have made.

Asking people for their ideas before dumping a change on them helps them feel as if they matter. It frequently makes the change more beneficial for everyone.

Authentic Leaders ask questions and they know the better the question the better the answer. The more questions they ask the more engaged their people become. Authentic Leaders know they can never stop learning. They also know they can’t learn anything by telling, they can only learn when asking.

Asking questions is a far more powerful way to lead then telling. But to real key to asking effective questions is listening well.

Authentic Leaders listen. They linger on the words of the person speaking until they are certain of what was said AND what was meant. They listen with the intent to understand instead of listening only to respond. They listen with focus and without distractions.

Glancing at your cell phone to make certain you’re not missing anything important guarantees you’ll miss something important from the person you’re speaking with. And you’ll make them feel anything but important. Your cell phone doesn’t help you listen more effectively and you’re only fooling yourself if you think it does.

Ask questions and listen. Listen to the exclusion of any other noise. You will learn far more than you think you will. You might even learn that your team is far more effective than you thought they were.

Are You Asking the Right Questions?

When you ask the right questions you receive much better answers in return. I mention that because it’s very challenging to lead people that you do not know. Knowing them requires consistent communication with them and questions are one of the most effective communication tools a leader has.

If.

If they are asking the right questions. As a leader one of your primary responsibilities is to help your people grow. To grow into their potential, to grow into their goals, and to grow into a leader, if that is one of their goals.

Most leaders would agree with all that but here’s the problem. Too few leaders have asked the people they lead any of the questions that would help them understand the goals of their people. Too few leaders ask their people how they can help them stay motivated long enough to reach their potential.

As Clarence the Angel learned in “It’s a Wonderful Life” you have to know something about someone if you’re going to help them. That “something” goes way beyond their hire date, their employee number and their job description.

Leadership is about people. Failing to know your people can cause you to treat them as if they were just another thing in your organization, like a computer or lift truck. They are not things! They are PEOPLE, with wants, needs, issues, hopes and dreams…just like you.

As a leader you must make judgments about your people. As as leader you cannot be judgmental about your people. (If you’re an Authentic Leader you understand the difference) You cannot exercise good judgment about your people without information about them. The best way to get that information is to ask them directly.

That is why I recommend you conduct a periodic innerview with as many of your people as possible. No, I didn’t misspell that. I don’t mean interview. An interview is what you do when you’re trying to hire someone. An innerview is what you do when you’re trying to help someone grow.

Innerviews are quick. 5 minutes or so to ask how someone is doing. Ask about their goals, both personal and professional. Ask about how you can help them. Ask how the organization is doing for them. Ask what you could do to make their job more efficient. Ask about their family and life outside of the workplace. Ask any or all of those questions as time permits. The purpose of those questions is to get an inner view of your people so you’ll know how to help them.

Ask those questions even if your people are a little confused or surprised by them. Once they realize that you are sincerely interested in them as people their answers will improve. So will your ability to help them grow.

Now, here’s why most “leaders” tell me they can’t ask these questions….they say they don’t have time. They often say that immediately after telling me that their people are their greatest asset.

All I can conclude from that is that they intentionally invest their time in less important things than their “greatest asset.”

That does not sound like an effective leadership strategy.

Can you slow down enough to invest critically important time with your people to ask the right questions? If you’re in a leadership position and you truly want to lead then your answer to that question must be a resounding YES!

Proven Leadership Truths

Many years ago I worked for a fantastic organization called Dale Carnegie Training. I began as a sales rep selling their courses to businesses and individuals. One of the key selling points we were taught to use was the many benefits of being effective at speaking in front of groups.

I told many many people of the career advantages of being able to deliver an impactful message to an audience either large or small. I said the advantages were huge.

I learned an enormous amount about sales, leadership, and people in general while I was with the Dale Carnegie Organization. But after a bunch of successful years I wanted even more of a challenge so I moved into Corporate America.

After telling people for years what an advantage it was to be able to comfortably and effectively present in front of groups I was still amazed at what a huge advantage it actually was. It is not an absolute “must have” skill for advancement but if you do have it you will move up faster and have much greater impact on those around you.

Communication skills like presenting to groups are especially critical in difficult times. If there was any doubt about that those doubts are quickly being erased. We are discovering how important all communication skills are in times of trouble.

But many other “truths” of leadership are also being proven true in our current environment. Here’s a few of those.

As a leader you really really do set the tone for your team. If you’re convinced “it” can’t be done then rest assured it won’t be done…no matter what you say to your people. You can be the Rah-Rah guy in front of your people but if you don’t believe what you’re saying they will see right through you.

You must understand this pure fact. Your people’s attitude will NOT be better than yours. If you can’t be sincerely positive around your people then do your people a favor and don’t be around them.

Your people, with rare exceptions, will not out perform you. As a leader YOU are the model for successful behavior. If you’re putting out a 50% effort then don’t expect your people to put out a 51% effort.

If you’re blessed as a leader you may have the occasional superstar who is upwardly mobile and willing to outwork you. But for the most part your people will follow your example in all things, including how much effort any task or assignment is worth. If you have the audacity to call yourself a leader then you must authentically lead. That means demonstrating exceptional effort in everything you do.

You can be assured that if your effort is mediocre the effort of your people will be mediocre too.

Leaders who vision cast effectively have a higher percentage of engaged followers. “Leading” isn’t a title or position. “Leading” is a set of activities and characteristics. People will only follow someone if they have some idea where that person is leading them to.

Do you have a vision of where you’re leading your people to? Can you communicate or “cast” that vision out to your people? Is it a vision that includes them and somehow rewards them for helping to achieve that vision?

People will not follow you to Nowheresville. People don’t only want to know where they are following you to, they NEED to know. Which brings us right back to effective communication skills.

Have you shared your vision for the future with your people. Many many people are both wondering what they future holds and worried if they have a place in that future. DO NOT let them worry and wonder.

You’re most expensive employee is not the person you pay the most. Your most expensive employee it the one who is least engaged. Give all of your people a vision of the future that they will want to engage with.

Communication, modeling successful behavior and demonstrating the power of positive attitudes are characteristics of successful leaders. That is being proven out every hour of every day during these challenging times.

Are you a leader who is up for the challenge?

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!

Your People Are Watching

Leaders lead by example, whether they intend to or not. Their people are always watching them and they will do what the leader does far faster than they will do what the leader says.

That means that if you’re in a leadership position and your words and actions do not match then your people will follow your actions, not your words.

In times of difficulty, and these times are certainly that, it is imperative that you realize that you are the model for the behavior you want and need from your people. Very few people will outperform their leader in a time of crisis.

It’s also important for leaders to keep in mind that every person has this area in both their heart and head that NEEDS information. It doesn’t need accurate information, it just needs information. That area will get the information it needs come hell or high water. If it can’t find the information then it will make the information up. That type of information is called rumor.

I have never met a leader who thought that rumors were helpful. So keep this in mind…information, accurate, timely information is the archenemy of rumor. Rumor finds it much harder to exist in a sea of accurate and timely information.

So keep your people informed. You’ll be much better off with your people complaining about the ton of communication then you will be if your people are filling their information areas with fear filled rumors. Even bad and difficult information to hear is better than wrong information.

When times get challenging you simply cannot over communicate. If you’re wondering how much communication is too much I encourage you to risk what you may feel is too much information.

If you’re running a business in these uncharted waters you must remember to not lose focus on what is most important. No matter what you sell or what service you offer you are in the people business. The businesses that best take care of their people, both their employees and their customers will be the businesses that come out of the other side of this in the best shape.

The most important part of your business is people because we are all in the people business.

Now, wash your hands!