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. 

The Reward of Leadership

Managing people might be the most difficult, least rewarding thing a person can attempt.

 

On the other hand leading people is actually far easier and way more rewarding. In fact, leading people is one of the most rewarding things anyone can ever do. 

 

I don’t want to give anyone the impressive that leading others is easy, it’s just easier, far easier, than attempting to manage them. It’s easier because managing people is impossible. It’s impossible because people refuse to be managed. 

 

People need and want leadership not management.

 

Leadership is about people while managing is about things. If you’re trying to manage people then you’re treating those people like things and that doesn’t work. 


There are no doubt managers reading this who believe managing and leading are one and the same. I can only wonder how they have time to read anything considering how many problems they create for themselves with that kind of mindset. Could it be they just don’t deal with the problems they create?

 

Most every “people problem” that ends up in an HR Department comes directly from attempting to manage people. The vast majority of turnover comes from managing people. The overwhelming majority of “attitude issues” is directly linked to people feeling managed instead of led. When you keep in mind that over 70% of employee terminations result from some form of attitude issue it seems like it would be a good idea to not create even more. 

 

Managing people may seem easier than investing a part of yourself in leading them but attempting to manage another human being is like attempting to go boating without water. It’s not going to happen. 

 

While leading others requires a greater investment by the leader in the lives of those they would lead the return on that investment can be huge. It can be life altering, for both the leader and the led. It is richly rewarding and it’s a reward that money cannot buy. 

 

Authentic Leaders, and particularly Authentic Servant Leaders, lead because they want to make a positive difference in the lives of those they lead. A simply thank you from their people is worth more than all the tea in China. That thank you is pure gold. Knowing you’ve made a positive difference for someone is why true leaders lead.

 

Okay, time for an aside here….my dad would frequently say something was worth more than “all the tea in China.” Having been to China only once I didn’t notice an unusually large amount of tea. Does anyone know where that saying came from? 

 

Anyway, if you want to make a difference in the life of someone else then try to manage them. It won’t be a difference they will thank you for but it will be a difference they will remember. If you want that difference to be positive then make the effort to authentically lead them. 


Knowing you have made a positive difference in the life of another person is a reward that money will never be able to buy. 


Managing Stuff, Leading People

Generally speaking, people get promoted because they did something good. Salespeople get promoted to Sales Manager because they were good at selling. A marketing associate gets promoted to Marketing Manager because they had proven themselves to be good marketers. An engineer might get promoted to manager because they designed stuff that worked well and was marketable.

All three of those individuals were promoted to leadership positions and none of them were promoted because they were skilled leaders. Now, they may be good leaders…or they may not, only time will tell.

Here’s a reality of leadership: the vast majority of people are promoted into leadership positions without having demonstrated even a slight ability to actually lead. Many are promoted into leadership positions because they have demonstrated some ability to manage but leading and managing are two entirely different things.

You manage stuff like budgets, inventories and buildings but you lead people. The skill sets are different and more importantly the mindsets are different, in fact, they are completely different. Some people can master both skill sets but that’s less common than many people think.

The biggest mistake a person newly promoted to a leadership position can make is to believe that just because they were good at selling, or marketing or even because they were good at managing, is that they are automatically good at leading.

The saddest thing is that even people who have occupied leadership positions for years still sometimes believe that.

Your position or title doesn’t make you a leader. Even being a good manager doesn’t make you a leader. Running a business, effectively managing every detail, and making money at it, doesn’t make you a leader.

Only leading makes you a leader.

Leading requires that you fully understand the value of people. Leading requires that you understand the unique ability of every individual you would lead. Leading requires that you actually care for those individuals.

This is kind of an aside but here’s one way to determine if you’re talking to a manager or a leader: When you’re talking to a manager you get the feeling that they are important; when you’re talking to a leader you get the feeling that you are important. That “feeling” makes all the difference in the world.

Leading requires that you have the vision required to see the consequences of the consequences of the consequences of every decision you make. It can sometimes seem as if a good leader can see into the future but the truth is, they don’t see the future, they create it.

Let’s be clear, I am not minimizing the importance of good management in any organization. Good management is essential to the stability of every kind of business but management does just that, it keeps things as they are, stable. 

Leadership is not about stability, it is about growth. Leadership is about change for the better. While managers can fall into the trap of believing that strong management can improve a business, leaders know that nothing improves without something changing and they drive that change.

Many more businesses fail due to lack of leadership than fail due to poor management. Think about it, do you really think that businesses like Montgomery Wards, Blockbuster Video, Circuit City, Howard Johnson’s and Borders Books, (to name just a few) suddenly lost the ability to manage their business? 

They didn’t lack sound management, they lacked the vision that a true leader brings to an organization. They lacked the ability to rally their people to a cause. Their people couldn’t commit to the leadership because they couldn’t find any leadership.

I could write forever on the differences between managing and leading but for now I’ll just say this: the first step to understanding the difference between managing and leading is to understand that THERE IS A DIFFERENCE. The difference is not just semantics, the differences are real, concrete and definable. 

Once you understand that basic fact then and only then to you have a chance to truly lead.

Leading Doesn’t Make You a Better Person

When most people think of leading they tend to think of leading people “below” themselves in a business or organization. That is a very dangerous way to think because it’s hard to think of people “below” you without also thinking you’re somehow “above” the people you lead.

You also might begin to delude yourself into thinking you are somehow a “better” person than the people you lead. If you’re truly going to lead then you had best understand from your very first day as a leader that no title or position makes you a better person than anyone else. 

It’s not even your title or position that makes you a leader. Your thinking and your actions make you a leader. Even more than that, it’s your people that make you a leader because no matter what you think or do, if no one is following then you’re not leading. 

I am a strong believer in the concept of 360 degree leadership and I understand the reality of different “levels” within any organization. Unless you’re actually at the top of your organizational chart there will likely always be people above and below you on that chart. 

The secret to being an Authentic Servant Leader is to never think for a moment that because someone is below you on an organizational chart that they are somehow below you in life.

People are where they are in their lives for a lot of reasons. Some had more luck than others, some made more luck than others. Some maybe were born with more advantages, some perhaps married into additional advantages. Some people may have earned a higher station in life and then somehow lost it. Our lot in life changes, sometimes because of what we did, sometimes because of what we didn’t do and sometimes it changes for no apparent reason.

The point is we are really pretty much all the same and the moment you start thinking you’re hot stuff is the very moment you begin the lose the empathy and compassion required to actually be an Authentic Servant Leader.

If you’ve been blessed with a leadership title or position, or if you’ve truly been blessed and have been given the ability to lead others without needing a title or position, then accept that blessing with humility. 

No one is better than you and you’re no better than anyone else. It’s life’s perfect balance! 

When we start thinking we’re better, or worse than someone else, then that balance is thrown off. Pretty much every problem, issue and challenge we will ever have is in some way caused by that “off-balance” thinking. 

Every person is in some way special. When you understand that simple fact then and only then do you have the opportunity to be a truly special leader.