True Leaders Lead Everyone

Most often we tend to think of the term leading as someone “higher up” in an organization leading people at a lower level of the organization. 

 

Too often we would be right.

 

True leadership is multi-directional. True leaders lead down, across, and sometimes up. True leaders even lead themselves at times. Because they know that a title or position doesn’t make them a leader they know that they can lead in every direction.

 

Leadership, at it’s core is influence. If you have the ability to influence others then you have the ability to lead. It doesn’t mean you will be a good leader, it doesn’t mean you will lead with noble intentions, and it doesn’t mean you’ll be successful as a leader. It’s simply means your influence will at least partially shape someone else’s thoughts or actions. 

 

If you’re only leading down it is quite possible that you are counting on your title or position to influence others. Titles and positions may buy you some time to demonstrate your level of influence but sooner or later, most often sooner, you will have to realize that’s it you, your experience, your integrity, your “brand” which will allow you to influence others long-term.

 

If you’re only leading down in your organization, it’s quite possible you’re not really leading at all. If you only have “influence” downwards in your organization then it may not be real influence. It may be fear or intimidation that causes your people to follow your wishes and you should be aware that following your wishes or “orders” and actually following you as a leader are two very different things. 

 

On the other hand, when leading across your organization, that is to lead others at your same level, you likely have very little other than your influence to shape their thoughts or actions. To lead up in your organization, that is to lead those at higher levels than your own, you have nothing but your influence to impact their thoughts and actions. 

 

But true leaders most definitely lead in every direction. They don’t count on titles or positions. They demonstrate solid, consistent leadership characteristics that earn them a high degree of influence. 

 

If you find yourself consistently impacting the behavior of those below you in your organization but never above you then that may be an indication that your leadership is limited to one direction. 

 

To lead in every direction, to lead everyone, forget about levels. Forget about titles and ignore positions. Do what is right, say what you mean, exert honest and professional influence with integrity to everyone around you. Some of those may be lower than you in the organization, some may be above you. 


None of that really matters because you’ll be making a difference in the right direction, no matter which direction it is. 


Middle Leadership

Everyone is familiar with the term “middle management” but the term “middle leadership” is rarely heard. 

But the vast majority of leadership actions come not from the top but from the middle of an organization. That a person needs a high position or important sounding title in order to lead is perhaps the single greatest leadership myth of all. 

The top leaders in an organization may indeed make the biggest decisions but it’s all the daily decisions made by people in the middle leadership roles that make those big decisions possible. 

Top leaders who forget that do so at their own peril. 

Many people in the middle of an organization believe that they can’t lead because they don’t have a position or title of leadership. That’s just not so! 

Not only can you lead, you can lead in all directions. You can of course lead down the organizational chart, you can lead across and you can even lead up. You don’t need anything other than influence and a desire to make a difference from wherever you are in your organization. 

The key to leading from the middle, well really leading from anywhere, is to first lead yourself exceptionally well. To lead yourself you must be able to make your own decisions. You also must be able to complete your work without requiring a ton of help and input from those around you. 

You must be able to manage your emotions and attitude in such a way that your presence adds value to those around you. I understand that no one can do that 100% of the time but putting a  little focus in that attitude control area will make a big difference in creating a positive influence with those individuals you would hope to lead. 

Never never forget, your attitude is your choice and it is one of the most important choices you’ll ever make. 

Integrity is an absolute must for Authentic Servant Leadership and the ability to control your emotions and maintain a positive attitude are not far behind.

So…who controls your attitude?

When Your “Leader” is Really a Manager

I’ve written from time to time about the differences between leading and managing. Basically you lead people and you manage things. Things include budgets, processes, schedules, inventories, etc. People on the other hand actually resist being managed, they truly need leadership to prosper and thrive. 

So, what do you do when the person above you is a manager who happens to occupy a leadership position? What do you do when your boss doesn’t understand the difference between leading and managing? What do you do when your boss treats you like a thing to be managed?

Well, the first thing you do is NOT add to the problem by behaving like somebody who needs to be managed rather than led. Your role is never to point out the weaknesses of the person above you in the organization. Like it or not your role is to actually try and fill whatever “gaps” your boss may have. 

I am fully aware of how difficult that can be on many levels. It’s very tough on your ego because if you do your job well your boss may receive most of the credit. The fact that they are not a leader virtually guarantees that they won’t be sharing any of the credit with you. You must fight through that and continue to perform at the highest level possible because it’s the right thing to do. If that sounds too simplistic do the right thing anyway. Doing the right thing in difficult circumstances can be one of the hardest things you will ever have do, do the right thing anyway.

Never use the fact that the person above you in your organization is a poor leader as an excuse to be a poor leader yourself. 

I normally recommend that leaders in the middle of an organization “lead up” in their organization and try to be a positive influence on those above them in the organization. In short, be a help, not a hindrance. That can be a tremendous challenge when the person in the leadership position above you is a manager and not a leader. 

Here’s why.

Good leaders either were or still are great followers. They allowed or still allow themselves to be taught, mentored, and developed. If the person in the leadership position above you has somehow gotten there without ever really leading it’s also likely that they were not very good as a follower either. That makes it very challenging for you to be a positive influence on them. They live in a misguided world were they apparently believe they already know everything there is to know. They are not very open to outside influences.

As a leader yourself you need to understand that “challenging” does not mean impossible so “lead up” anyway. Continually try to help the person above you grow as a leader because you just never know and besides, leading up is the right thing to do.

In my first job after college I was managed by someone in a leadership position. I did not respond well. I was most certainly a hindrance and if I must say so myself I was damn good at it. But I was a crummy employee who was almost completely devoid of leadership skills. If only I knew then what I know now…

In the last 30 years of my career I’ve been blessed to never experience being “led” by a manager again. I think I’m unusual in that regard. All too often I see people whose potential is limited by a manager sitting in a position of leadership. But the fact of the matter is, successful people also lead themselves exceptionally well. If your boss isn’t a leader then lead yourself. Find a mentor to help you, but always take it upon yourself to reach your potential. 

It’s YOUR success so ultimately YOU must make it happen!

 

How Easy Are You to Lead?

I speak and write often about the concept of 360 Leadership. The idea of 360 Leadership is simple; you can lead today, right from where you’re at in your organization. It doesn’t require a raise or a promotion or a fancy title, all it requires is a decision that says I will lead today.

360 Leadership means that you lead in all directions – you of course lead those below you on an organizational chart, you lead your peers across from you on an organizational AND you lead above your position on the organizational chart.

It’s the last one, “leading up” in an organization that is tough for many people to grasp. Many people believe it is wrong or even impossible to lead the person above them on an org chart. After all, that person above you is most often your boss and you can’t boss the boss.

Leadership however isn’t about bossing, it is about influencing. You most certainly can influence your boss IF…

I could write for hours on that “IF.” To keep this post from going on forever here’s what it amounts to: to have the opportunity to lead up in your organization two things must happen. You must be a great follower and you must lead yourself very well.

If you want to know how you measure up in those two areas then consider this question: If your company was struggling and needed to let people go would they be looking for ways to keep you or looking for reasons to keep you? If you have the courage to answer truthfully then you’ll know exactly how you’re doing.

There is a world of difference between the two. That difference is almost completely within your control.

When you decide that you want your organization to consider you a “must keep” you’ll see that being a great follower and leading yourself well go hand in hand. You’ll also see why being a 360 leader is the surest way to job security.

360 leaders largely ignore their job descriptions, they do everything listed on it but they also do so much more. They will work alongside their peers to help them succeed. They will “lead up” by helping their leader accomplish more. They will do whatever is asked of them, no matter who asked it. They will do it all with a positive attitude and they will do it because it is the right thing to do.

When you’re a great follower and lead yourself exceptionally well you become easy for leaders above you to lead. When you’re easy to lead your influence grows and it grows in every direction within your organization.

Choose to lead today and your chances for success in your organization and life go way way up!

The Frustration of Being Better

Leading without a formal title or “official” leadership position can be a challenge. It can even be frustrating at times. A big source of that frustration comes from thinking we are somehow “better” than the person we report to. You know who I mean…. “The Boss!”

Being “better” can mean several things, more skilled or more experienced are two examples that come to mind but in most cases being better simply means we think we’re smarter than the person above us.

I used to work for a guy that I knew for certain I was smarter than. His name was Cecil. He didn’t even graduate from High School and I had a brand spanking new degree. He was dumb and I pretty much knew it all…..or so I thought.

I made it my mission to prove how much smarter I was. Every chance I got I pointed out his shortcomings, his weaknesses, to anyone who would listen. Actually, even if they wouldn’t listen, I told them anyway.

It took a long time for me to figure out that I may have learned more than him in school but I certainly wasn’t smarter than he was. I needed a whole lot more “seasoning” to learn the important lessons in life. They were the kind of lessons that you didn’t learn in school, the kind of lessons that made Cecil a success.

Over time I learned that if I wanted to lead from where I was in an organization, without a title or position, I needed to stop pointing out “gaps” in the people above me and start filling them. That’s called “leading up.”

Following a leader with gaps can only cause you frustration if you allow it to. That’s what most people do but you don’t need to be that type of person. If you truly want to lead in your organization, without waiting for a promotion or important sounding title, then following a leader who has gaps should give you a purpose.

As a leader from the middle of your organization you should be working to identify other leader’s gaps and working to fill them. Make it your purpose to help them focus on their strengths by using your strengths to assist them with an area where they may be weaker.

You need to know that you may not always get the recognition you deserve for filling in the gaps. Other people, even the boss, may attempt to take credit for your work. Don’t let any of that matter, just know this: Authentic leaders do what’s right for the simple reason that it is the right thing to do.

Authentic leaders work to strengthen their organization any way they can and they know that pointing out the weaknesses of other leaders in their organization does not strengthen it. If you’ve identified an area where your leader may need some help then by all means, by any means and by every means possible, HELP.

If you keep your focus on helping others be better you’ll never become frustrated because you think you’re better than them. You’ll just be happy you had the ability to help.