Creating Leadership Success

One of the common causes of failure among leaders is assuming that they cannot fail simply because they never have.

They assume that their future, and the future of their organization is just an almost automatic extension of their past. They assume that they will always succeed because they always have. That causes the assumption that because “things” have always been a certain way they will always be that way. 

That assumption has always been wrong but it’s never been more wrong than it is today. “Things” are most certainly changing and they are changing at a breakneck pace. 

This increased pace of change has never been on greater display than in the current United States Presidential Campaign. The Republican Party has completely missed the fact that people don’t want and won’t accept the status quo. The leadership of the party just assumed that despite all evidence to the contrary, “things” would eventually return to normal and everything would be as it was.

The Democratic Party is just as confused. They appear to be in the process of selecting a candidate who proudly says “I am a child of the sixties and I think like a child of the sixties.” Well guess what, as sad as it might make me and a lot of other people, children of the sixties are not the future of the United States or the world.

What once was isn’t anymore and leaders who fail to understand that absolute fact will themselves fall victim to failure. 

To avoid that all too common leadership failure you must know exactly why you do everything thing you do. If you’re doing anything, anything at all, simply because “we’ve always done it that way” then you are putting yourself, and your organization on a potential path to failure. If you assume that anything will be the same in just ten years as it is today then your path to failure is even wider.

Some, maybe even many, leaders from the Baby Boomer generation, when asked by a leader from the Millennial generation, “why do you do it that way?” see the question as a threat or a challenge to their leadership. They need to see it as an opportunity to verify that what they are currently doing is still the best way to do it. They need to see the question as an opportunity to improve. They absolutely need to understand that “the way they have always done it” might not actually be the best way to do it today.

To avoid this common leadership failure leaders must challenge their own thinking everyday and surround themselves with people who will challenge their thinking for them when they can’t or won’t. Then, and this is the real secret to leadership success, then they must allow those people who they have surrounded themselves with to actually challenge them with zero risk of reprisal.

Leaders who assume, hope or believe that “things” are not changing have blinded themselves to the fact that most everything IS changing and they are going to continue to change whether they are ready for it or not.

As President Lincoln said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” Leaders who let the future happen will eventually fail. Leaders who continually create their future will have the best opportunity for continual success. 

Who is creating your future? 

Immediate Leadership Success

New leaders often feel pressure to succeed immediately. Whether they are simply in a new position or truly a new leader they feel the need to “do something.” Their boss may have expectations of immediate improvement in one area or another. “People” are watching to see what changes the new leader will make. Everyone expects “progress.”

Being a new leader or a leader in a new position isn’t easy.

That’s why I never expect a leader to succeed immediately. Besides, I’m not as interested in a quick change as I am in lasting change. Leadership success, lasting leadership success,  requires time. It cannot be accomplished quickly.

Here’s why.

New leaders have a title and a position. Neither make a person a leader. That title and position buys them some time to earn the permission of their people to lead. It gives them a relatively small window of opportunity to show their team that they care about them as people.  

New leaders have to act quickly to demonstrate their understanding that they must earn any respect they are given. New leaders who turn into good leaders know that trust must also be earned and that without it, they simply cannot actually lead.

That’s why it is critical that a new leader’s words match their actions. The fact is, people are watching. They are watching to determine what makes this new leader “different” from the last one. “People” make up their minds pretty quickly. If the new leader appears to believe their position or title will make people follow them then their “leadership brand” becomes that of a “position leader” and they could spend years trying to separate themselves from that brand.    

People do not commit to “position leaders” they merely comply with their demands. Position leaders may have some small successes but their leadership is so limited that they will not, let me repeat, they will not have long-term success.

Compliant team members are not engaged team members. Only committed team members will fully engage and support the leadership. A non committed, unengaged employee will cost an organization far more than the most expensive committed, engaged employee.

Position leaders create unengaged team members. That’s just how it is.

If you’re a leader who creates more leaders don’t expect immediate success from your developing leaders. Leadership development cannot be forced, it must be allowed to grow. 

Leaders who grow more leaders understand that lack of immediate success is not failure, it’s simply part of the process. 

Immediate success is good, long-term success is better, much much better.

7218CE00-05C5-4C4A-9644-BEAC2B76D45A.pngIf you’re managing a business then keeping track of expenses is probably high on your list of priorities. One of your biggest expenditures is likely to be compensation for your employees. I’m sure you know what you’re paying your people but do you know what they are costing you?

I can’t be sure who your most expensive employee is but I do know it’s likely one of the types of individuals I describe below.

The first is a “manager” of people. That in itself is a problem because people will not be managed. People resist being managed because they are people, they expect leadership, not management.

A manager was explaining to me the challenges of managing a particular new employee. When I suggested that they try leading this particular individual instead of managing them I was more than a little surprised and disappointed by their response. 

The manager said employees must be managed before they can be led. They must have the “spirit” managed out of them because people with “spirit” won’t follow anyone. Apparently only people with their “spirit” broken can be “tamed” enough to follow. 

I found it almost impossible to believe that anyone could think that way. It was medieval leadership at it’s worst. 

It’s also incredibly expensive these days. Disengaged employees cost organizations a ton of money and one of the fastest ways to cause them to disengage is to break their spirit. Make them feel unimportant and they quickly become unproductive too.

No organization that intends to last can afford medieval leadership or management.

The second type of very expensive employee is the know it all manager. They know everything they need to know and they have nothing left to learn. 

I talked to a manager a while back who had just lost a very talented team member. When I asked if they had learned anything in the exit interview about why the employee left I was again surprised and disappointed by the answer. 

They said that they had nothing to learn from a quitter. They weren’t even interested in looking at the exit interview because “people come and go” and “there is nothing that a manager can do about it.” 

The second part might be right… there is nothing a manger can do about it. 

But a leader can! 

The odds are pretty high that if the employee had felt led they may not have left in the first place. But even if they had decided to go a leader would want to understand why and what they as a leader could have done differently to help the employee want to stay. 

Organizations invest a small fortune in recruiting and training their talent. Then they turn them over to a manager who treats them like a piece of equipment; the same as the copy machine.

If you intend for your organization to stand the test of time then you need to invest as much in developing your leaders as you do in developing the people they lead.

Do not allow your leaders to manage people, teach them to lead and they will be a bargain, no matter how much you pay them. 

Your Most Expensive Employee

What Your People Need to Know

I’ve been pretty fortunate throughout my career; I’ve never been fired from a job and I’ve had to fire very few people. I don’t like firing people, it is not only a very unpleasant experience it is a failure of my leadership as well.

As bad as firing someone is, being fired is far worse, research says it is one of the most disruptive and stressful events that can happen during a person’s lifetime.

So firing somebody is a VERY big deal. It should only be done as a last resort; considered only after every attempt has been made to help the person become a valuable member of the organization.

If you’ve hired someone who you later are forced to fire there are really only two possibilities; you either hired the wrong person for the job or you failed to provide them with the tools they needed to perform.

I know there are leaders out there who are freaking out at that last paragraph and to you I say this: Step up and accept responsibility for your decisions. It’s okay to screw up, it happens, it shows you’re human. Not accepting your role in the failure of one of your people diminishes your credibility as a leader.

As bad as having to fire someone is here’s what’s worse: firing someone who had no idea it was coming.

That is about as huge a leadership failure as you can find and sadly, it is very common.

As terrible and as stressful as being fired is no one should be surprised when they hear the words, “you’re fired.”

Your people need to know, clearly know, what is expected of them. Research done across a variety of industries and professions indicted that fewer than 35% of employees say they do. If my math is correct that means that over 65% of employees do NOT have a clear understanding of what is expected of them.

Your people also need to know, with as much precision as possible, how their results will be measured. Leaders who leave “gray areas” when measuring results create stress and lower productivity in their workplace.

If you think you’re “covered” because you conduct annual reviews with your people you’re just kidding yourself. Or, you’re like me, and a lot of others, in that you just don’t like those “performance” conversations. Well tough, you accepted your leadership role so start leading.

Effective leadership requires consistent, somewhat frequent “updates” that are two-way conversations where ideas are exchanged and expectations are discussed and managed.

Most people will either try to meet or exceed your expectations of them. If they are not meeting your expectations then you need to carefully consider whether you have clearly communicated those expectations to them… recently. When your people clearly know what you need from them and they see you as a leader they WILL find a way to deliver.

Your success depends on the success of your people, make sure you give them the chance at success that they deserve.