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……

The Importance of Leadership

If you’re an Authentic Leader then you know that leadership is about people. You understand that things are managed and people are led. 

 

Not all managers are also tasked with leading people but nearly all, or more likely absolutely all, leaders are also tasked with some management responsibility. 

 

And that’s a problem. 

 

It’s a problem because the management “stuff” almost always comes with deadlines. Quarter end, year-end inventory, budget preparation for the upcoming year, planning, bill paying, payroll, you name it, when it comes to managing it HAS to be done and it has to be done on time.

 

But leading seldom has deadlines. You’ll always have people and it is easy to let people wait. You can always recognize somebody later. “Someday” is the perfect time to coach or mentor a rising star in your organization. There’s always tomorrow in the world of leadership but I challenge you to find later, someday or tomorrow on your calendar. 

 

Virtually every leader I’ve ever asked has told me that their people are their greatest asset but follow them around for a week and you would be certain that statement was false. You’d be certain it was false because all the management stuff seems to be a priority while the leadership responsibilities and activities all seem to be optional.

 

The fact is the management stuff is urgent while the leadership behavior is merely important and in the fast-paced, competitive environment where most of us work urgent almost always trumps important.

 

But here’s the thing, the best, most effective leaders don’t let the urgent win. They literally schedule leadership activities in their calendar. They set aside time to interact with their people. They block out time on their calendars to get out from behind their desks and go into the workplace where their people are. They make it a point to provide frequent and meaningful recognition.

 

Authentic Leaders know that you can’t lead people without being involved and interacting with them. They understand that you can’t lead people you don’t care about and you can’t show you care about them until you know them.  


Be an Authentic Leader. Never let the urgent “things” overtake the absolute importance of truly leading the people who are ultimately responsible for your success and the success of your organization. 

What Makes a Leader

Calling yourself a leader does not make you a leader. Holding a position of leadership in your organization does not make you a leader. Having an important sounding title does not make you a leader. Having someone else describe you as a leader does not make you a leader.

Your promotion to a leadership position does not make you a leader, in fact the managerial skills that likely earned you the promotion are very likely holding you back as a leader.

If you’re trying to manage your people then you will always have people problems. Human beings do not respond to being managed. Actually leading your people will permanently eliminate most of the “people problems” managers face everyday. 

So, here are a handful of traits that contribute to being a leader:

Risking your success being hidden inside the success of someone else makes you a leader. 

Caring as much about the advancement of those around you as you care about your own advancement makes you a leader.

Tackling the assignments no one else will tackle makes you a leader. 

Investing your time where it’s needed rather than where you want to makes you a leader. 

Making right decisions that most people simply won’t makes you a leader.

Finding common ground where only mud previously existed makes you a leader.

Seeing the potential within every person you meet makes you a leader. 

Doing what’s right when everyone around you believes it’s wrong makes you a leader.

Working to build more leaders rather than more followers makes you a leader.

Understanding that your own success is dependent upon the success of your people makes you a leader.

Having the courage to let the best idea win, whether it’s yours or someone else’s makes you a leader.

Understanding that constant collaborative communication with your people will help them succeed makes you a leader.

A willingness to be held accountable, by anyone and everyone makes you a leader.

Being completely honest with yourself makes you a leader.

These are some of the traits that make a leader. To be sure there are more. Few leaders possess every recognized leadership characteristic but they possess more than people who do not lead.

The right to truly lead must be earned. It can’t be earned through what you say, it is earned through what you do. Leader “wannabes” tend to talk leadership, Authentic Leaders tend to do leadership. 

Are you just talking or are you doing? 

Are You Really Leading?

I’m kind of afraid that “leadership” has become something of a buzzword. The actual definition of buzzword is “a word or phrase, often an item of jargon, that is fashionable at a particular time or in a particular context.” 

If we buy that definition then “leadership” has actually been a buzzword for quite some time. I’m not sure when it changed from a meaningful word to a buzzword but my guess would be that it happened slowly over time, so slowly that many of us were slow to realize it happened. 

People, including me, have written exhaustively about the difference between managing and leading and yet most people who use the word “leader” when describing themselves still operate more as a manager than a leader. They know enough about leadership to use the buzzwords but when you watch them in action the buzz soon disappears and all your left with is words. 

One area, one critical area, where many of these would be leaders fall short is in developing and sharing their vision.

They effectively develop good strategies and operational plans (management activities) while glossing over or completely ignoring the vision. (Vision-casting is a key component of effective leadership) 

Authentic leaders understand the importance of goals and having everyone in their organization working towards those goals. A vision describes those goals in some detail and also explains how the strategies, tactics and operational plans of the organization ensure those goals are achieved. 

The best leaders endlessly clarify the vision and goals of their organization and explain how even small goals can serve to help ensure the larger goals are achieved. That process helps everyone within the organization understand their own role in helping the vision become reality. 

Here’s the thing; if you’re in a leadership role and you have no vision for the organization then where exactly are you leading your people? If you have a vision and you have not effectively shared it with the people you lead then why would they follow you? People have a need to know where they are going and what will be waiting for them when they arrive. Without that very basic information they are unlikely to actually follow.

Leadership is not just a word, it is an action, more precisely a set of actions. One of the actions is developing and sharing a common vision that comes from common goals. 

If you want to actually practice leadership rather than just talk leadership then share your goals and vision early and often. Repeat it again and again, make it a part of everyday life in your organization. 

People react to management but they respond to leadership, when it’s truly leadership. Reactive people will seldom help a manager achieve organizational goals but responsive people very often engage with their leader to accomplish great things. 

Share your vision and your people will respond. Once that happens anything and everything is possible.

Enduring Leadership

Enduring leadership is a characteristic of a great leader. Truly great leaders, what leadership gurus would call a Pinnacle Level or Level Five leader leave behind their leadership when they are done leading.

They leave it behind in the form of leaders they have helped build. That’s why you can’t truly declare someone a Pinnacle Level leader until they are at or near the end of their leadership career. 

You see, good leaders are judged by what they do; great leaders are judged by what gets done when they are not leading anymore. A truly great leader’s leadership outlasts them.

If you lead any kind of organization and nothing of you or your leadership remains when you leave the building for the last time then your leadership was of the common variety. Pinnacle or Level Five leaders are not at all common, in fact they are the most uncommon leaders of all.

They have not only built a solid follower-ship, they have built outstanding leaders who will carry forth their legacy and very likely build more leaders of their own. It is not a coincidence that Pinnacle Level leaders have almost all been led at some point in their career by another Pinnacle Level leader. 

If your ultimate leadership goal is to become a Pinnacle Level leader then you’re likely to fall short of your goal. Achieving recognition as a top level leader is seldom the goal of a Pinnacle Level leader, their goal is to make a difference in the life of their organization and the lives of the people they lead within it. 

Achieving Pinnacle or Level Five Leadership Status is merely a byproduct of their commitment to their people. 

Motives matter when it comes to leadership. You don’t build more leaders to reach the Pinnacle Level of leadership, you reach the Pinnacle Level of leadership by building more leaders.

Uncommon Leadership

I’ve had the opportunity to spend several days recently with a person recently promoted to a leadership position. He was very good at what he did and earned his promotion. His promotion came with a new title and higher income, unfortunately what it didn’t come with was any hint of how to actually lead. So he doesn’t lead, he just tries to get by managing his new team.

I’ve seen the same scenario play out literally hundreds of times through the years. A person is good at what they do so they are promoted into a leadership role even through they have little, or more commonly, no leadership experience or skills at all.

I call them common leaders. I don’t mean to be disparaging here but it is what it is… common leadership really isn’t leadership at all. At its best it’s just managing and and at it’s worst it’s something much worse. That something involves fear, coercion and sometimes even outright abuse. 

Absent any real leadership skills people in leadership positions too often tend to use intimidation, coercion, threats and punishment to force the compliance of their people. 99.9% of the people in leadership positions who use those tactics are not bad people, it’s just that in many cases that’s how they were taught to “lead.” Sadly, they were likely taught to lead by people who themselves had few if any leadership skills. So the cycle of common leadership simply repeats itself. 

Individuals who do manage to break the cycle of common leadership and become uncommon leaders don’t do so on their own. They most often have a mentor or are led by someone who has broken through the common cycle themselves. 

Here’s one of the most interesting aspects of leadership: it can’t actually be taught but it can be learned. It is learned not so much by listening to a true leader but by watching them. 

Authentic leaders lead by example. They show the way to true uncommon leadership. I can tell people what to look for in a leader, I can share with them the characteristics that make a good leader, and I can even help them judge whether or not someone in a leadership position truly processes those characteristics but a person must teach themselves to lead. 

Let me give you one example. 

Caring for people, truly caring and investing yourself in another person’s success and well-being is an absolute characteristic of an uncommon, authentic leader. I can tell someone that, I can point out a person who has that characteristic but I know of no way to teach someone how to care. They must develop that caring nature on their own. The quickest way to do that is to see someone else display their own caring nature and decide if the results they see are something they want in their own life.

If you were taught to lead by someone who did not develop those uncommon leadership skills then my very best advice to you would be to find a mentor who has. Find a coach or hire a coach who will help you break that cycle of common leadership and become a leader who can actually make a positive difference in the lives of those they would lead. 

Never assume that a leadership position makes you a leader. A leadership position doesn’t come with the right to lead, that must be earned by demonstrating consistent leadership skills. 

Develop those skills and people will naturally follow you. 

Leading with Influence

If you had no title of consequence, if you had zero power to punish and reward people – would they still follow you? Would you still get positive results from them? 

The answer to that question is yes if, IF, you are actually a true leader. 

At it’s core leadership is about influence. If you have the ability to influence others then you have the ability to lead. It is not your title or lofty position within an organization that makes you a leader, it’s your level of influence. 

If you’re truly leading people they will commit to you. People don’t commit to companies, they don’t commit to positions and they certainly don’t commit to titles. People commit to other people, period.

If your people are not committed to you then they are not truly following you. They may comply with your requests because you have the power to punish and reward but that simply makes you a boss not a leader. (Just to be clear here I do not use “boss” in a negative sense, I use it just to distinguish the difference between leading and not leading. I have worked for bosses with no leadership ability at all and for bosses who were outstanding leaders.)

The foundations that support influence are perception and visibility. Influence doesn’t happen unless you have improved others’ perception of you and increased your visibility. Once you’ve established the appropriate level of perception, you will have gained a solid reputation and foundation of respect. After you’ve increased your visibility, you’ll become known and valued in your organization. Influence now becomes possible.

So, how do you improve other people’s perception of you while increasing your visibility? Here are four ideas…

Intentionally plan your day. Most people sadly just let their day happen to them. People of influence happen to their day. They focus on the outcome they need from their day and not all the small events that may happen to them during it. They leverage the events that get them closer to their desired outcome while minimizing the impact of the events that don’t. 

Choose to help. My better days are the days I help others be better. My best days are the days when almost no one knows I did it. If you have to tell people that you’re helping others you’re still missing the influence mark; help enough people and you won’t have to tell anyone because lots of people will notice the difference that you make.

Accept responsibility for the outcome. Don’t blame others for your mistakes. You will never learn from a mistake that you won’t admit and when you don’t accept responsibility for your mistakes you at least inadvertently shift the blame to someone else; that does not improve other people’s perception of you. Mistakes happen, they are a part, an important part, of growing. I wouldn’t recommend highlighting your mistakes but don’t try to hide them either.

Recognize others….for their success and yours. People crave recognition! Even people who say that don’t need any recognition literally crave it. It’s a basic human need. So fill that need for others, praise them early and often. Be intentional about looking for good things other people do and be lavish in your recognition. Also remember that it’s very likely that others contributed to your success, don’t forget to share your success with them through public recognition. No one, I mean no one, succeeds completely on their own. So don’t behave as though you did.

Influence is built, little by little, day after day. If you want to earn the commitment of your people then commit to build your influence every single day.