Are You a Manager or a Leader?

Not a single person reading this has ever successfully managed people. That’s because it can’t be done. Human beings resist being managed to the point of being impossible to manage. 

People insist on being led. If you think managing and leading are one and the same then you may be a manager but you’re most certainly not a leader. 

I’ve written about this before but since it’s been awhile here’s a refresher. 

Managing and leading are two different things. You manage things. Things like a budget, buildings, inventory, property and the like. If it’s an “it” you can manage it. If “it” is not capable of expressing emotion go ahead and manage away. 

But if you’re dealing with a flesh and blood person then attempting to manage them creates nearly every problem the typical manager complains about. 

Leadership is about people and only people. When you attempt to manage people you risk treating them like things…at least they feel that way. That highlights one critical difference between managing and leading. Things don’t “feel” but people always do. 

That makes leading far more challenging than managing. Dealing with our own emotions is tough enough, trying to make sense of other people’s emotions can be more than a little daunting. That’s likely why so many people in leadership positions don’t try. They try to manage their people instead.

Another reason that happens is that over 70% of the people in leadership positions have no formal leadership training. None. Zippo. Zero. They also have had no mentoring from a successful leader. They are put into a leadership position and then expected to fend for themselves. It’s almost as if people think leadership just happens.

Make no mistake about this absolute fact…leaders are not born, they are trained. The training can take on different forms but absent some type of training it is exceptionally rare for Authentic Leadership to emerge. 

That makes for a difficult leadership experience, for both the leader and those they try to lead. 

I wish I could tell you that every company that promotes someone to a leadership position also provides them with the training to succeed as a leader. Unfortunately very few actually do. So be aware that just as it is in much of life, if success as a leader is meant to be then it’s likely up to you to make it happen.

So find yourself a leadership development program to enroll in. Maybe even more important, find yourself a leadership mentor. Someone you trust and admire as a leader and ask them to show you how they do it. 

If you’ve chosen the right person will be thrilled to invest their time to share their insights with you. 

One last point. I don’t want anyone to think that I’m diminishing the importance of solid management within every organization. Poor management is in fact the cause of many business failures. If you’re a great manager then your impact on an organization can be substantial. You are vital to the success of any organization. 

It’s important to understand however that being a great manager does not make you a great leader anymore than being a great leader makes you a great manager. Some people are blessed with both skillsets. Many are not and it’s incumbent upon you to know the difference. 

People, Your Most Appreciable Asset

First I should acknowledge that I struggle with calling people an asset. I tend to think of assets as things. Most people think like me. When we think of our people as things it is all too possible that we deal with them that way too. 

This may sound beyond basic for a leader but all leaders MUST keep in mind at ALL TIMES that their people are not things, they are HUMAN BEINGS. Leaders who forget that most basic fact even for a moment risk demotivating their people to the point of losing them. 

Every, yes every, person begins their employment with an organization or business as a very valuable part of the team. Very valuable. More than anything else what will determine if that value depreciates or appreciates is the quality of the leadership the person is exposed to. 

If the leadership of the organization understands that one of their primary responsibilities is to develop their people then they are likely to lead them. That gives them a chance to increase their value. If they don’t understand that then they are likely to try to manage their people as a asset, or thing. The supposed “leader” will be responsible for a decrease in the value of the employee to the organization. 

It’s is important to note the words I have chosen to use here… The supposed “leader” will be responsible for a decrease in the value of the employee. No leader, no matter how poor a leader they are, can ever diminish the value of a person. They can however make them less effective as a contributing member of the organization. They can also make them feel less valuable as a person.

Authentic Leaders work hard to make certain every member of their organization feels valuable, both as a person and as an employee. 

They know that every single human being who works in their organization has a basic human need to feel worthwhile. To feel as if they matter. Many of the people projected to leave their current jobs in the next 12 months as part of “The Great Resignation” say they will do so precisely because they do not feel they matter to their current organizations. 

Authentic Leaders accept the fact that if they have disengaged and non contributing people in their organizations it’s on them as leaders. They find a way to help their people stay engaged and contributing.

If you’re in a leadership position you should be regularly checking yourself to make certain that you are constantly talking with each member of your team to ensure they understand that they matter. That they understand why they matter. That they understand where their role “fits” in the overall organization. You must be showing every member of the organization you lead that they are making a difference. 

Or, you must be willing to lose them. Or worse, you must be willing to have them stay in your organization while disengaged and contributing less value with every passing day. 

Your people are your most appreciable asset…IF you make the decision to lead them that way. 

What will you decide?

Leadership PRIDE

Authentic Leaders take great pride in the results their leadership creates. There is nothing wrong in that because Authentic Leaders also put great PRIDE into their leadership efforts. 

P – Authentic Leaders know that leadership is Personal. It’s about people and they respect their people in a way that demonstrates they care about them. An Authentic Leader knows that their own success is dependent upon the success of their people. They work to help their people accomplish extraordinary things. They don’t see working with their people as an expense, they see developing their people as an investment.

R – Authentic Leaders accept Responsibility for all of their actions and decisions. They do not play the blame game. The results produced by the people they lead are their responsibility. They willingly pass along the recognition that comes with success. They accept more than their fair share of the responsibility for anything that goes wrong. Their people’s individual success means more to them than their own.

I – Authentic Leaders work from the Inside out. Their leadership is powered by their heart and guided by their intelligence and experience. Heart based leadership makes it easy to show that they care because when the heart is involved with leading then caring comes naturally.

D – Authentic Leaders know that leading must happen Daily. There are no “off days” or days when the leader can just let their people fend for themselves. For an Authentic Leader everyday is a leadership day. Everyday is a day to demonstrate integrity and interest in the people they lead. Everyday Authentic Leaders invest the time to truly know the people they lead. They invest the time to understand the goals and priorities of their people and what they can do to help them achieve those goals. 

E – Authentic Leaders know that one of the things they have complete control over is the amount of Effort they put forth to develop their people and help them achieve success. They willingly sacrifice some of their own freedoms and success for the benefit of the people they lead. Authentic Leaders have the ability to motive themselves so the example they set is one that people will want to follow. That example leads people to be committed, to their colleagues, to the organization and to the leader. 

Authentic Leaders don’t work to earn a position that people will have to follow. They put PRIDE into their leadership so people will want to follow. 

Do you put PRIDE into your Leadership?

Are You Asking the Right Questions?

When you ask the right questions you receive much better answers in return. I mention that because it’s very challenging to lead people that you do not know. Knowing them requires consistent communication with them and questions are one of the most effective communication tools a leader has.

If.

If they are asking the right questions. As a leader one of your primary responsibilities is to help your people grow. To grow into their potential, to grow into their goals, and to grow into a leader, if that is one of their goals.

Most leaders would agree with all that but here’s the problem. Too few leaders have asked the people they lead any of the questions that would help them understand the goals of their people. Too few leaders ask their people how they can help them stay motivated long enough to reach their potential.

As Clarence the Angel learned in “It’s a Wonderful Life” you have to know something about someone if you’re going to help them. That “something” goes way beyond their hire date, their employee number and their job description.

Leadership is about people. Failing to know your people can cause you to treat them as if they were just another thing in your organization, like a computer or lift truck. They are not things! They are PEOPLE, with wants, needs, issues, hopes and dreams…just like you.

As a leader you must make judgments about your people. As as leader you cannot be judgmental about your people. (If you’re an Authentic Leader you understand the difference) You cannot exercise good judgment about your people without information about them. The best way to get that information is to ask them directly.

That is why I recommend you conduct a periodic innerview with as many of your people as possible. No, I didn’t misspell that. I don’t mean interview. An interview is what you do when you’re trying to hire someone. An innerview is what you do when you’re trying to help someone grow.

Innerviews are quick. 5 minutes or so to ask how someone is doing. Ask about their goals, both personal and professional. Ask about how you can help them. Ask how the organization is doing for them. Ask what you could do to make their job more efficient. Ask about their family and life outside of the workplace. Ask any or all of those questions as time permits. The purpose of those questions is to get an inner view of your people so you’ll know how to help them.

Ask those questions even if your people are a little confused or surprised by them. Once they realize that you are sincerely interested in them as people their answers will improve. So will your ability to help them grow.

Now, here’s why most “leaders” tell me they can’t ask these questions….they say they don’t have time. They often say that immediately after telling me that their people are their greatest asset.

All I can conclude from that is that they intentionally invest their time in less important things than their “greatest asset.”

That does not sound like an effective leadership strategy.

Can you slow down enough to invest critically important time with your people to ask the right questions? If you’re in a leadership position and you truly want to lead then your answer to that question must be a resounding YES!

Managing vs Leading – Part One

Most people who find themselves in a leadership position for the first time got there because they were good at doing whatever they were doing. They were then promoted to lead their former co-workers.

That’s great except for the fact that they are very unlikely to actually lead. They make what is the most common leadership mistake of all. They assume that their new position makes them a leader. It absolutely does not!

Your position or title gives you an opportunity to earn the chance to lead. Nothing more and nothing less.

Most people appointed to a leadership position tend to “lead” the way they were “led” by the people who they worked for. If you had a bad boss then you’ve got a head start on being a bad boss yourself. If you were managed instead of led then you’ll likely attempt to manage your people as well.

The problems associated with trying to manage another human being are too numerous to list here. But here are some of the big ones.

Poor attitude. People resist being managed, they need leadership. So managed people tend to have poor attitudes. They push back against being managed in a ton of ways, some subtle and some not so subtle. They procrastinate when given a directive. They have attendance issues. They seem to require constant attention. They question almost every decision. They resist, sometimes massively, any kind of change.

Research shows they most people are terminated due to some type of attitude issue. What most people in leadership positions fail to understand is that it was their lack of ability to truly lead that caused the poor attitude of the person they just fired.

If you’re tempted to say that you are not responsible for the attitude of your people then please immediately stop thinking of yourself as a leader. Developing an environment and culture that helps nurture a positive attitude is a prime responsibility of Authentic Leadership.

Lack of initiative. Every employer wants “self-starters” or people who can work effectively while unsupervised. But managed people seldom take the initiative….for anything but lunch and break periods. Even people with a “go-getter” mentality don’t go very far when managed instead of led. They do what it says to do in their job description (maybe) and not much more. If someone who works for you refuses to do something that isn’t explicitly spelled out in their job description that’s a sure sign they feel as if they are being managed. People who feel managed do the bare minimum required to keep their job. When you think about it that’s only fair since their manager is doing the bare minimum to help them do it.

High turnover and low morale. When you attempt to use your position or title to force the compliance of your people you cause low morale. You also cause higher turnover. Authentic Leaders earn the commitment of their people by leading them. Leaders in name only try to manage their people and the only real “tools” they have are fear and coercion. That might get them the appearance of compliance but it will not earn them commitment. High turnover and low morale will cause even high performers to disengage. No business can afford even one disengaged employee but some research shows as many as 70% of the employees at an average business are disengaged.

Average businesses and organizations attempt to manage their people rather than lead them.

Are you managing your people to an average performance or are you leading them to excellence?

People or Policy?

Businesses must have policies! They need a set of procedures that help their employees know what to do in any given circumstance. Those policies and procedures also help provide a consistent experience to their customers. Until it doesn’t.

I’m all for policies and procedures when it comes to “things” like how to do the books, how to mix some exotic coffee drink (it’s all exotic to me) or how to answer the phone. “Things” are best done with some consistency.

There should also be policies when it comes to people. My preferred “people policy” is to not have a policy. The last thing I want to hear from a customer service representative is the policy of whatever place they are working at. That’s bad business.

What’s worse is when someone in a leadership position attempts to “lead by policy.” Every single person is unique and the only policy that fits everyone is to have no policy. I’ve never met anyone who was smart enough to develop a policy that “fit” every individual they might encounter. Trying to squeeze every person into a “one size fits all” policy is demoralizing to the people who don’t fit.

A leader can certainly benefit from some guidelines. They can use past history to help determine their actions but leadership is about people and every person is different. Policies and procedures tend to lock a leader into a decision. People who lead by policy look at a situation and apply the logical procedure in the same way they did the last time they faced a similar situation. They will apply the same procedure the next time they face the situation.

That would be fine except for one little problem. Leadership is about people. People are far more emotional and far less logical than those “things” that work better with consistent policies and procedures.

That is one of the major challenges of leading.

Authentic Leaders care for the people of their organization more than they care about the policies of their organization. They apply the “rules” of the organization unfairly but they apply them equally unfairly to everyone. They think and act with unquestioned integrity. They know that the best thing they can do for the organization is to take care of it’s people. They show their understanding that not a single policy or procedure is more important than the people who implement them.

They know that what is right is sometimes unfair. The do the right thing anyway. They take each individual person’s circumstances into consideration. If there is no policy or procedure that fits then they make a new one that will.

Before all the HR professionals and lawyers reading this go nuts on me let me say this. I understand the need for employee handbooks and policies. I get that rules matter. I’m not advocating for anarchy in the workplace. I understand the danger of making up policy on the fly. I can only hope you understand the danger of not.

People, both employees of a business and the customers of that business are individuals. Believing that you can precisely fit all of them into some predetermined policy with a “close enough” attitude is a recipe for failure.

When it comes to building, engaging and motivating your people “close enough” isn’t enough. Authentic Leaders put their people before their policies to ensure a perfect fit.

Do you?

The Myth of Influence

When asked to provide a definition of leadership I most often describe it as influence. I add that if you have the ability to influence others then you have the ability to lead. 

Ken Blanchard, the renowned American Leadership expert and author of “The One Minute Manager” says that “The key to successful leadership is influence, not authority.”

Experienced leaders know that to be true. They also know that whatever influence they have comes from who they are not what they are. They know that their title or position provides no lasting influence. People with little or no leadership experience tend to greatly overestimate the importance of an important sounding title when it comes to influence. 

People with little or no leadership experience assume that if they had a title or a position of leadership then they would have influence too. That’s a myth!

Influence must be earned and a position merely gives you a chance to do that. A position or title gives you the opportunity to earn the respect required to have lasting influence. It gives you a bit of time to demonstrate you deserve to be trusted but in that time you will earn your level of influence whatever level it turns out to be. 

Good leaders earn influence beyond their stated position. They quickly learn that a position doesn’t make a leader but a leader can make a position. 

In order to grow your influence you must first build trust. People who do not trust you will not be open to your influence. To build trust you must do what you say you will do…every time. Consistently following through on your commitments is the fastest way to build your reputation. Being inconsistent when following through with commitments is the fastest way to destroy it. 

Doing something grows influence far faster than saying something. You can be an awesome speaker but words alone will never grow your influence. You need to speak through your actions and when your words and actions are in alignment your level of influence is limitless. 

One often overlooked skill that will quickly grow your level of influence is the skill of listening. You can’t influence people you have zero relationships with. One of the fastest ways to develop a meaningful relationship with someone is to listen to them. REALLY listen. 

Listen as if they are the only person who matters in that moment. Listen to every opinion and acknowledge it as important and valuable. You’ll quickly discover that the fastest way to get people to listen to you is to listen to them. Two-way communication is vital to building influence because if no one is listening to you then you have absolutely no influence.

 

Influence is an exceptional asset in the workplace and in life. It is mandatory if you’re going to lead others. If your goal is to be an Authentic Leader then don’t seek a position of influence, try instead to be a person of influence.