Leading from the Front

Most commonly leaders lead from the front. There is nothing wrong with that, usually. But, if you’re only leading from the front you run the danger of getting too far out in front of your people and when you turn around there’s actually no one there anymore. 

 

Authentic Servant Leaders never outrun their people in their rush to succeed. 

 

Hopefully you’ve found yourself in a leadership position because in some way, or perhaps many ways, you have outrun your competition for the position. If that’s the case then one of the first things you need to do upon becoming a leader is slow your roll. Stop trying to outrun everyone else, the race is over. 

 

If you consistently outrun the people you’re supposed to be leading it won’t be long before you’re leading no one. You may have incredibly high expectations for yourself but it is a mistake to transfer the expectations you have for yourself to everyone else in your organization. 

 

They may not be as committed as you are, they may not have the same skill level as you, they may value “life balance” more than you and there are a hundred other things that could cause them to not keep up with your pace.

 

As a leader it’s your job to help them exceed their expectations for themselves and overcome any artificial limitations they may have. But…. and this is big, setting unrealistic and unreasonable expectations for your people will cause them to fail as surely as having no expectations at all. 

 

Authentic Servant Leaders lead from the front and pull their people to success, they occasionally lead from the rear and push their people further than they thought they could go. Most often however, Authentic Servant Leaders lead from the middle. It’s leading from the middle that allows a leader to come along side of their people and coach them to success. 

 

When a leader coaches their people to success they ensure that their leadership legacy outlasts their leadership. When a leader leads from the front or rear they tend to make more and frankly, better followers. But Authentic Servant Leaders know that true leadership success means making more than just followers, it means making more leaders.

 

That requires being close to your people. It requires that you never get so far out in front of them that they lose sight of you. It would be simple to say that if your people can’t see you then they can’t follow you. But the fact is if they can’t see you, hear you, and even feel you then they can’t learn from you. 

 

You can’t grow your organization without growing your people. You can’t grow your people by separating yourself from them. One of the fastest ways to separate yourself from your people is to outrun them.


Stay close to your people, never think of them as slowing you down. Think of yourself as the leader who helps them move forward as fast, but never faster, than they possible can. 

Do You Know The People You Lead?

One of the more critical responsibilities of leadership is making sure you have the right people in the right positions. Leaders who don’t understand this fail, and they take their people right into the pit of failure with them. 

 

You can have one of the most talented people in the world on your team but if you don’t put them in a position to succeed then their chance at success goes way way down. 

 

Albert Einstein said that “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by it’s ability to climb a tree, it will spend it’s whole life believing that it is stupid.” So it is with people too! 

 

You may not see all of your people as geniuses but each of them indeed has their own set of strengths and as a leader it is incumbent upon you to make certain that those strengths are put to good use. Doing so is good for both your organization AND your people.

 

One of the challenges many leaders face is that they simply do not truly know their people. They don’t know their motivations, they don’t know their goals (or if they even have any) and they don’t know what challenges their people are facing in their own lives. Too many leaders are almost completely unaware of the totality of their people’s strengths and that results in people locked into jobs that are often far below their abilities. 

 

No one wins when that happens. Underutilized people become unmotivated people in the blink of an eye. If you don’t know what you have in your people you’ll likely never get it out of them.

 

If you’re a leader and you’re not conducting regular “strength inventories” with your people then you run the risk of demotivating the very people you need to be as engaged as possible. Conducting these types of inventories requires you to interact with your people. It makes you get out from behind that Great Wall known as a desk and meet your people on their terms. Indeed, the huge side benefit of conducting “strength inventories” is you’re also taking the pulse of your organization. 

 

Do not believe your organization is so big that you as the leader can’t do this. You may leave some of the inventories to your HR group or other leaders but every leader in your organization should be doing at least some inventories of their own people. 


Not providing your people the opportunity to fully utilize their skills is one of the fastest ways to lose them. If you’re lucky once you lose them they will move on to greener pastures, if you’re not lucky then you’ll lose them and they will stay in your organization.


The Value of Differing Opinions

Almost every leader has “The One.” “The One” is their most trusted confidant or advisor. They are trusted above all others and play a key role in most, if not all, major decisions. 

 

That’s pretty normal since leaders are human beings and human beings are naturally closer to some people than others. Humans “click” with some people and keep them close by while distancing themselves (at least emotionally) from those that they simply don’t connect with.

 

While that’s perfectly normal that doesn’t mean it’s perfectly good. It is not!

 

It’s hard not to value the opinions of people who hold the same opinions as you. When a leader has someone who consistently agrees with them the leader feels better about their own thinking and over time values the opinion of that someone even more. 

 

But if you’re a leader you need to understand this absolute truth: if the person or people around you always agree with your thinking then it’s very likely that they are not thinking at all. You must understand that you can sometimes be wrong and that means that someone else could sometimes be right. 

 

While no leader will ever completely eliminate “The One” (nor should they) they do need to hear diverse opinions and different viewpoints in order to make as informed a decision as possible. Even if your “One” occasionally offers an opinion different than your own, a single different opinion is not enough.

 

Every person’s opinions and viewpoints are shaped by the events of their life. Their upbringing, their surroundings, their education, and their experiences all play a role in determining what they think and feel in any given situation. 

 

Now this might be a bit of an over-simplification but in general the greater the variety of opinions a leader receives the better their decision will be. 

 

The world is which business is conducted today is too diverse to consistently value one person’s opinion over all others. It greatly diminishes an organization’s potential and limits a leader’s options.

 

So, if you’re a leader who is relying too heavily on “The One” then begin today to seek out differing viewpoints from a variety of people….before it is too late. 

 

You will know it’s too late when you finally ask for input and receive mostly silence in return. You may be tempted to think that the silence means agreement but that’s a huge mistake. Silence is almost never agreement. 

 

What the silence usually means is that the people who you need to share their insights have determined there is no upside to sharing their opinion. It makes no sense to expose your thinking when you are fairly certain that your thinking will be “out-voted” by “The One.”


When votes don’t count smart people stop voting and it doesn’t take long for smart people to realize their vote doesn’t count. 

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.


Are you in Control? Really?

So, you’re the boss! You’re the one in charge! You’re in Control!  The buck always stops with you! Well…not exactly.

     

When you’re at or near the top of your organization you have lots of influence, but you don’t control all that much. You don’t control your peoples’ attitudes. You can help them motivate themselves but if they don’t want to be motivated then their motivation is beyond your control. You can’t control what they think. You might be able to prevent them from saying something but you cannot prevent them from thinking it.

     

Somewhere along the way to achieving your leadership position someone might have told you that leadership, or being “the boss” is about being in charge and being in control. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that you can’t make much of anything happen by yourself. In fact, all you can control with any certainty is your own behavior.

     

But there is some good news. Your position likely means that you have boatloads of influence. So, use your behavior, your personal example, to influence the behavior and performance of others. Your team will do what you do far sooner than they will do what you say.  You are the model for their successful behavior.

     

You might also want to keep in mind that your influence goes both ways. If you have a negative attitude then your team will also. If you are not motivated then your team won’t be motivated either. The best way to get more from your team is to give more of yourself.

     

Authentic Leaders do not expect more from their people than they expect from themselves. Authentic Leaders know that the best way to lead is to “show” rather than “tell”.  Authentic Leaders are intentional in their effort; they “show” on purpose and often on schedule. They “self-check” their attitudes and use goals as a way of keeping themselves motivated.

     

Authentic Leaders know that their success is completely dependent upon the success of their people. Authentic Leaders are diligent in making certain they do nothing to hold their people back. They do not think in terms of controlling their people, they think in terms of influencing them and influencing them in a positive way.


Remember, control is a manager’s tool, influence is the tool of true leaders. Lead Today!

The Difference Between Managing and Leading

My last post focused on the scourge of micromanaging. In it I noted that there was significant differences between managing and leading. I received a comment from a reader, Michaël Ben-Yosseph that was very kind and had nice things to say about the post. He also suggested that in my next post I discuss not just that there is a difference between managing and leading but exactly what those differences are. 

 

Well, this is my next post. So here we go! 

 

First I would say that the difference is as large as the difference between night and day. We manage stuff and we lead people. Perhaps the biggest single difference is that stuff, budgets, inventories, buildings, etc. don’t have feelings. That alone makes managing a whole lot easier than leading, at least to me.

 

People, at least the ones I know, most definitely have feelings. For many of those people those feelings are easily hurt. 

 

That’s why it’s vital for a leader to care about their people. You can care about people without leading them but you simply cannot lead them without caring for them. An attitude of genuine caring will shape every other interaction and communication you have with your people. So will a care less attitude. If you do not possess a genuine caring nature you will struggle as a leader. 

 

Managing is very much about today. It’s a one day at a time kinda thing. Leadership is of course about today but it’s also about tomorrow, the next day, the next week and the next years. That’s why leading requires vision and managing requires tenacity. 

 

Managing is a very specific business, it’s the art of steering the ship on a well-defined course. Managing requires facts, data, and objectives. Leadership is the art of turning the unlikely, and at times the impossible, into tangible, reachable, realistic objectives. Organizations seldom manage their way to success. Organizational success requires leadership. 

 

Managing is an inside job. Managers utilize their internal resources to make things happen and achieve the goals of the organization. Leaders understand the outside as well as the inside. This provides them with the insights required to see their entire business environment and anticipate needed changes as well as understand potential opportunities. 

 

Leaders influence while managers direct. It’s really not always that black and white but it’s almost always that black and white. While leaders focus on what will matter, and on why it will matter, managers tend to focus on how it will matter. 

 

Said another way, leaders decide what to do and managers decide how to do it. Unless of course the leader is also a micromanager and then all bets are off. 

 

Leaders are really the heart of an organization. They inspire, coach, vision cast, create and nurture the organizational culture. They keep the organization moving forward through communication and motivation. No organization succeeds without solid leadership. 

 

No offense to leaders but managers are more like the brains of the organization. They make the rules, set up policies, programs, etc. Managers are about business, not people. No offense to managers but they usually see people as just another tool or asset they can use to get the task completed. No organization succeeds without diligent management. 

 

Frequently the skill sets and the more important mindset of managers and leaders are so different that it’s challenging for one person to possess both. But “things” tend to work better when managers have a heart and a whole lot better when leaders have a brain.


It’s not that one person can’t be both a good manager and great leader, it’s just that it requires effort and dedication that sadly, too many managers and leaders appear unwilling to make.