Controlling Leadership

One of the biggest leadership myths around is the myth about leadership control. If you buy into the control myth then you likely believe that once you have a position of leadership you will also have substantially more control over people, things, and circumstances than you did before.

You might have a little more but not much and not often.

I see new leaders all the time trying to over control people and situations and it’s almost always a mistake. New leaders try to get their people to think like them, to act like them and to do most everything just like them. They try to exercise their “authority” over their people and they end up with compliant people but not committed ones. 

New leaders (okay, there are a lot of experienced leaders who think this too) believe their people have to do what they are told in the way that they were told to do it. (by the way, they don’t, they merely have to pretend to) They never even try to get their people committed because they are so fascinated with their newfound ability to make people comply. 

They frequently mistake compliance for control. So new leaders tend to make their plans believing that they control much more than they actually do. 

German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke said “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”

I might add that no business plan survives contact with the competition and no personal plan survives contact with other people.

When your plan meets the real world, the real world wins. Very little goes totally as planned. Errors pile up. Mistaken suppositions come back to bite you. The most brilliant plan loses touch with reality. Because complete leadership control is a myth.

The only thing that a leader can truly control is how they react to the uncontrollable. 

When the uncontrollable and unforeseen events happen do you as a leader calm the storm or add to the turbulence? Do you provide hope to the hopeless or are you hopelessly negative? Are you the model of flexibility and perseverance or do you dither in the comfort of your office?

Are you an Authentic Leader or just someone with a fancy title and position? 

If you’re an Authentic Leader then stop trying to boss your way to compliance and start showing that you trust, understand, and care about your people enough to earn their commitment. If you’re an Authentic Leader then stop trying to control your people and start encouraging and influencing them to commit. 

Controlled people get the job done…barely. Committed people get the job done well, quickly, and completely. People resist control and respond to leadership. 

Authentic Leaders don’t buy into the control myth!

Do You Believe the Destination Myth?

Have you arrived? Have you reached the pinnacle of success in your organization or chosen field?  Are you at “the top?” 

It’s been said that “the top” can be a lonely place. I suppose that’s true… for people who are leaders solely by position or title. But for an authentic leader it’s anything but lonely at the top. 

Individuals who are leaders by title or position only are often “lonely at the top” because their lack of true leadership skills makes it very difficult for them to connect with their people. They become victims of their own “ivory tower syndrome” and are isolated from their people and the real world of what’s going on in their company or organization. 

They wear their “loneliness” as a badge of honor and the price that must be paid to lead. There is really no good way to say this so I’ll just put it out here: they are poor leaders. They are so  bad that I almost hate to describe them as leaders at all, but technically, even if by title or position alone they are indeed leaders.

They have no idea what they are missing. They miss the opportunity to make a profound difference in the lives of their people. They miss the opportunity to build future leaders. They miss the opportunity to leave a legacy and extend their leadership past their physical presence in the organization. 

They miss all that and so much more. All because they buy into the Destination Myth. They believe that simply because they are now a leader they no longer have a requirement to learn or grow. They think that they no longer need to sharpen their communication skills or human relations skills.  

What they fail to realize is that the moment they stop pushing themselves, the moment they begin to believe they are “set” and have nothing left to learn they begin to fail. 

They may even have a strong desire to pass on what they know to others which is an outstanding leadership trait. Believing they know it all however makes it very difficult for their people to learn from them.

Authentic leaders on the other hand know that the most effective leaders and the most successful people in general learn something new everyday. They know that learning is a lifelong process and they also know that they will never know it all. They will never be “set”. 

Authentic leaders know that every person on the planet knows something that they don’t and therefore they are open to learning from anyone. Authentic leaders have the courage to expose their “gaps” to their followers and to ask for help from anyone.

Authentic leaders are never lonely at the top because they bring so many people there with them. They bring their supporters and those that they support. They bring those who can help them and those who need their help. They never separate the “top” from the “bottom” and they fully realize that their position or title alone does not elevate their character above that of anyone else in the organization. 

Above all, authentic leaders know that they require trust of their people to truly lead and that trust is built by being “with” the people they would lead.  Without that trust there can be no real following and this much is certain:  A leader without followers is indeed lonely at the top.    

Leadership Myths

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There are a bunch of leadership myths that are constantly floating around. People hoping to get into a leadership position believe them to be true. People new to a leadership position quickly discover they aren’t true and then flounder while they look for actual leadership truths.

From time to time I’ll “myth bust” in this blog and the first myth and want to expose is perhaps the biggest and most damaging too.

It’s the myth of the Leadership Position. Many people think that leading has to do with a position or title. Some, with military experience think it has to do with rank. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Leadership is about influencing others. Good leaders exert positive influence and bad leaders exert negative influence.

Leadership is about caring. If you truly care for others, then and only then do you have a chance to truly lead.

You must earn permission to lead those that would follow.

Let me give you an example of all three wrapped up in one true story. This is going to get long so my apologies up front.

My wife and I taught a college age Sunday School class for many years at our former church. I’m pretty sure we learned as much or more than the kids we were supposedly leading. But one “lesson” in particular has stuck with me for many years now.

There was a young man, just graduated from high school that joined our class. His name was Jeff and he was the poster child for Attention Deficit Disorder. I really wasn’t looking forward to him joining our class because he was a real character and I thought it would be tough to keep him focused on the week’s lesson.

It was. He was all over the place, we never really knew what he might do from week to week. But he clearly loved the Lord and we soon discovered that his antics brought a smile to not only our face but everyone’s in the class.

One day, Jeff told us that he would be leaving in just a couple of weeks because he had joined the United States Marines. I was more than just surprised and it was probably as close to moving to Canada as I’ve ever been. I figured if Jeff was going to be protecting our country we were in big trouble.

In what seemed like no time at all Jeff was back from basic training and preparing to ship out for combat duty in Iraq. I saw him at church just before he left and I really wasn’t sure what to say to him, so I just said something dumb about being careful over there. He responded with a rather loud, “I’m a United Sates Marine, bullets and bombs can’t hurt me. I don’t need to be careful, I just need to protect the guys in my unit.”

Well I figured those Marine trainers had given him a full dose of that marine stuff and that Jeff and his parents would need a lot of prayer.

Jeff’s tour was pretty uneventful, that is until his very last mission “outside the wire,” on his unit’s last patrol before leaving for the U.S., the lead vehicle in their convoy hit a roadside bomb. Their Sargent was killed and several others were wounded. Thankfully, Jeff was not injured.

Not long after that Jeff was back at church while home on leave. I joined a group of guys talking with him in the lobby and asked him how “it” was. His answer shocked me – he said it was no big deal. Except he said for the fact that “the Sargent” got his “fool head blowed off” on the last mission.

It was as if he had ice water in his veins. He had aged years in just those 12 months. His youth was gone and now he was a man.

I had the opportunity later than morning to talk with Jeff again, this time we were alone in the coffee shop. I asked him again how “it” was and with no one else around to “man up” for his answer was very very different.

He said it was terrible, that he had seen things he would never forget. He said that on every mission his Sargent was more concerned for his men then he was the mission. He said that the Sargent willingly took a position in the lead vehicle because that while that was the most dangerous place it was also the best place to be to keep his men safe.

Jeff had tears in his eyes now as he spoke about how every member of the unit wishes it was them that was killed and not their leader.

That Sargent was outranked in the unit, there were others higher up in the chain of command. But he had earned the permission to lead by showing he cared. He didn’t wait for the top leadership position to lead, he assumed leadership because it was the right thing to do and because he truly cared for his Marines.

But what about his influence? Well let me tell you about his influence on Jeff. (and I expect many others) I haven’t seen Jeff in a few years but the last time I talked to him he was getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan for his 4th tour of duty. This time Jeff was the Sargent leading his Marines. I once again told him to be careful but this time his answer was completely different. He said he couldn’t be too careful because it was his job to get the married guys home safe. He would assume his position in the lead vehicle to protect the men he would lead into battle.

This poster child for Attention Deficit Disorder had become a leader. Influenced by a Marine that was killed protecting him. Influenced by a Marine that showed him what true caring looked liked. Influenced by a Marine that earned the right to lead without being in the top leadership position.

Influenced by a Marine that clearly didn’t buy into the “position” leadership myth.

You can lead today if that is what you want. Don’t wait for someone to make you a leader because they can’t. Only you can make you a leader so get busy and start earning the right to truly lead.