The Caring Leader

Many leadership gurus and experts say that in order to truly lead people you must care about them. While I would never claim the mantle of leadership expert or guru I would certainly agree that caring for people is an essential quality of leadership. 

You either care about people or you don’t. There is no in between. You don’t have to like someone personally to care about them, it certainly is easier but for an Authentic Servant Leader “liking” someone is not required to care about them.

You can’t really teach someone to care but you can help them see value in other people and seeing value in someone is where caring begins. I’m not talking about “value” in terms of what they can do for you, the value I’m taking about is the value that a human being brings to the table just by being themselves. 

A great measure of authenticity in a leader is how they treat people who can absolutely nothing for them. If they are still willing to help, support and guide that individual when they know there will be no personal return on that time investment then it’s highly likely they actually care about other people. 

An early step on the road to becoming an Authentic Servant Leader is to understand that every person has value, even the ones who are different than you and even the ones who hide their value deep inside. If your prerequisite for caring about someone is that they think and act just like you then you may be a boss but you are most certainly not an Authentic Servant Leader. 

Authentic Servant Leaders understand the value of diverse opinions and thoughts and they work to learn from people different than themselves. If you’re surrounding yourself with like-minded people then you will struggle to grow as a leader. It is by allowing other people to be who they are that you become a better person and a better leader.

Your leadership is about the people you lead, it is not about you. People will not truly follow you until they know that you truly care about them and if they don’t follow then you cannot lead. It’s a pretty simple equation. 

The challenge for Authentic Servant Leaders is not just caring for people that they don’t like, the ultimate challenge is caring for people they actually dislike. President Abraham Lincoln once said, “I don’t like that man, I must get to know him better.” 

Do you have the courage of Lincoln to invest time with those you truly dislike in order to discover the unique value they bring into the world? If you do then you will create the opportunity for yourself to really care about them. 

It’s truly a challenge to care for someone you would rather avoid when you see them coming down the hall. It’s a challenge that Authentic Servant Leaders are willing to accept.

Are you willing to accept it? 

When Silence is Golden…and When It’s Not

One of the greatest freedoms in the United States is the freedom of speech. Or is it?

In this age of political correctness Americans are still free to say whatever we want. That’s in the Constitution of the United States. But just because you can say it doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences. It’s unlikely the consequences will be criminal but there can be consequences none the less. 

The fact that you can say almost anything also doesn’t mean that you should. Some things truly are better left unsaid. The thing is, sometimes it takes even more courage to let it remain unsaid then it takes to actually say it. 

Which brings me to one Mr. Donald Trump. As an American, Mr. Trump is free to say whatever he would like. That doesn’t mean he should. He may very well be right (he may very well be wrong) that a judge of Mexican heritage could have some bias against him. It might even be a subconscious bias. That doesn’t make the judge a bad person or even a bad judge, it makes him human. 

We all have biases and we have them for a huge variety of reasons. If Mr. Trump found himself a different judge that judge too would have some sort of bias. Such is life.

None of that however means Mr. Trump needs to say anything about a biased judge. It was dumb to say, not because it might not be true but because even if it were true there was nothing to be gained by saying it. He would have been better off just being silent on the issue. 

One can only conclude that Mr. Trump simply doesn’t have the courage to remain silent…about anything. He seems to lack the courage all true leaders have to risk looking disconnected by remaining silent when they would really rather say something. This lack of courage puts him in an untenable position when it comes to earning the trust of those he would lead. 

A leader who lacks the courage to remain silent when silence is called for is a very limited leader.

On the other hand there are times when a leader really needs the courage to speak up, to admit a failing and simply accept the consequences that come with it. 

Like maybe when, for whatever reason, you violated standard practices and written guidelines that come with a very trusted position. Instead of just admitting that you messed up royally, and maybe even criminally, and saying you will accept the consequences and try to do much better next time, you pretend it’s no big deal. 

I’m writing of course of Mrs. Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee for the presidency. Her denials, twisted words and revisionist history in the face of a scathing report from her own State Department shows a complete lack of courage to share the full story with those she would lead. Withholding information is a much of a lie as is providing the wrong information.

A leader who lacks the courage to speak up and tell the truth is a very limited leader. 

Sometimes it takes courage to speak and sometimes it takes courage to remain silent. Effective leaders have the courage to do both. One thing seems certain, when Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump say their opponent is not qualified as a leader to be President of the United States they are both correct. 

The First Test of Leadership

Do you follow you? The ability to lead yourself is the first test of leadership. If you can’t lead yourself then it is beyond silly to believe that you could possibly lead anyone else. 

Even though it might sound easy, leading yourself can be a real challenge. When you slow down long enough to even ponder whether or not you would follow you then you’ll discover there is a lot to consider. 

Such as…

How well do you manage your emotions? Are you an emotional wreck? Do you wear your emotions on your sleeve? No one wants to follow someone whose emotions swing from hot to cold in a nano-second. You don’t want to follow that person either, even if that person is you. I could write several posts on the importance of understanding and controlling your emotions but that ability is where you’re ability to lead yourself, and others, begins.

Do you know your priorities? Do you have a plan, goals, and objectives for your life? In short, do you have a vision of where you eventually want to be? If not then I have a question for you… where exactly are you leading yourself? Leading yourself requires that you know yourself. It also requires that you know AND LIVE your core values and principles. Living your principles makes you a pretty attractive leader that others will want to follow as well.

Do you control your thoughts? Your thoughts tend to become your reality so the better your thoughts the better your reality. In those quiet times when there is no one to talk to but yourself you must be very careful about what you’re saying. When it comes to credibility your subconscious believes you’re the most credible person you know. If you talk negatively about yourself then you are going to absolutely believe it. If you think well of yourself then that will be reflected in your actions too. Just a word of caution here… to lead yourself exceptionally well requires that you fully understand the difference between loving yourself and being in love with yourself. One is beneficial, the other… not so much.

Do you manage your time or does your time manage you? I have a very low tolerance for people who tell me that they don’t have enough time. I have that low tolerance because when someone says “don’t have time” what I hear is “I’m too damn lazy to prioritize.” 

No one is the entire world has even one more minute in a day then you do. You do not have a shortage of time. If you think you do then please tell me about your core values, your principles, and the priorities that come from them. 

I’d bet a bunch of money that you can’t do that. Don’t try to do everything, just do everything that truly matters. When you do things in order of their importance many, many seemingly urgent things just fall away because you discover just how unimportant they really are. To lead yourself exceptionally well you must keep in mind the absolute unimportance of almost everything you do. That becomes much easier when you know what actually is important in your life. 

When you’re confident that you’re leading yourself to the life that you want then you’ve passed the first test of leadership. So…can you pass?

Are You Leading by Example?

Okay, that’s actually kind of a trick question because there is really only one answer. The answer is of course yes! If you’re actually leading then you’re leading by example, whether you intend to or not.

You’re leading by example because your followers are always watching. They are watching to see if your words match your actions. If your words and actions don’t match then your people will be required to make a choice. Should they do what you say or should they do what you do? In virtually every instance they will do what you do far, far faster than they will do what you say. 

The reality is that most of your people, regardless of their skill, desire, and natural abilities simply don’t know how to succeed, especially early in their careers. They can be told how to succeed but the most effective method by far to help them succeed is to show them. 

 That makes you their model of successful behavior.

So, here’s a few questions to think about as you go about “modeling” for your people….

Are you the type of leader who models a consistently positive attitude for your people?  You probably won’t like this and likely might choose not to believe it but in fact your people’s attitudes are most often a reflection of your own. Don’t criticize others for reflecting the attitude that they see in you. Check your own attitude before you check the attitude of your people.

Are you the type of leader who models the work ethic that you expect from your people? This one gets more challenging as the workforce gets younger. One of the more common expectations of the millennial workforce is a flexible work schedule. Just to be clear, they don’t expect to do less work than their more experienced co-workers, they just expect to be able to do more of the work in the hours they choose. 

You as a leader must model the drive, the urgency, and the motivation to perform at a high level until the work is complete. As a modern day leader you must also adapt to the reality that not everyone will be willing to perform at that high level with the identical schedule as you. Keep the end result in mind and focus on the goal, it should matter more that a project is completed on time than what time of the day a project is completed.

It will be nearly impossible to motivate your people to do more than you’re willing to do yourself. When you ask for more from your people than you’re willing to give then you’re modeling unsuccessful behavior and your leadership is doomed to fail.

Are you the type of leader who models the importance of caring? You’re people won’t care what you know until they know that you care. An Authentic Leader will do much more than say that they care, they will show it. They will show it by investing time to get to know their people. They will show it by risking a bit of the “aura” of leadership and showing people their true self. When your people know you care they also know it’s okay for them to care.

When your people care for one another, when they truly value different perspectives, when they genuinely value uniqueness as much as similarities then you’ve got yourself a team. 

You are most certainly leading by example. The only question is what kind of example are you. It’s your responsibility as as leader to make certain that the example you set is one that leads your people to the success that they seek. 

So, how will you answer the questions today? 



Today’s Biggest Leadership Challenge – Part Two

Now that you have your mentoring program underway let’s look at the other significant leadership challenge of today. 😀 I joke about already having your mentoring program started but I don’t joke about this: do not delay in getting started with developing tomorrow’s leaders; this workforce issue is going to overwhelm organizations that aren’t prepared to deal with it. Don’t be one of the many who are surprised that this issue overtook them so fast.

The second major challenge facing today’s leaders is micro-managing. Those of you who believe you are micro-managed should not get too excited here. This is not just going to be a recommendation for today’s leaders to stop micro-managing their people. This is about tomorrow’s leaders not allowing themselves to be micro-managed. 

I’ve worked for micro-managers at different points in my career but I’ve never really felt micro-managed. I always listened to my micro-manager (they deserve that respect) and then I always tried to do the right thing. When the right thing worked and it was different from what I was told to do I either heard nothing or I heard I was lucky or if I was working for a leader (yes, even good leaders can fall into the trap of micro-managing) I might have heard “good job.”  When what I thought was the right thing to do didn’t work I heard how I had screwed up. I got yelled at, I felt bad. I might have even embarrassed myself, but I survived. And I learned, I grew, and I discovered why my boss might have felt the need to micro-manage me. 

Here’s my point, the real problem with micro-managing is not only with today’s leaders who micro-manage, it is with tomorrow’s leaders who use it as an excuse to NOT make decisions and an excuse to not begin leading today. They say they “are not allowed” to make decisions and once they convince themselves of that it is certain that they won’t be making meaningful  decisions anytime soon.

The reality is that even in the most micro-managed organizations 85% of all decisions are made below the top levels of an organization. If you’re a true future leader you have ample opportunity to practice your decision making skills no matter where you work. You only have to risk getting yelled at. Okay, so maybe you have to risk losing your job but if you can’t truly thrive in the role you’re in then maybe you don’t want that job anyway. 

If you have the courage required to lead then you also have the courage to make decisions, whether you work for a micro-manager or not. You may not have the authority to move on major decisions but you can still learn effective decision making by making every lower level decision possible.

If you work for a leader who micro-manages they might be limiting their own leadership potential but they can only limit yours if you let them. Don’t let them!

A couple of final thoughts for the leader of today who is sincerely interested in developing the leaders of tomorrow.

If you’re a micro-manager then stop. If you can’t completely stop (and if it was my behind on the line I might find it hard to stop too) then stop a little. If you’ve never had a serious disagreement in your team meetings then you should recognize that as a warning sign that your future leaders are just sitting back and silently letting you decide everything. You cannot develop future leaders that way. 

Encourage debate, encourage the airing of different viewpoints, be quiet, force the opinions out of your people. If you have the right people in the room they most certainly have opinions and many of those opinions will be different than yours; it’s the job of the leader to make them feel safe enough to share them.

This much is certain, you will not find your organization’s next generation of leaders by watching them listen to you.