Lead Yourself Before Leading Others

I have known a whole lot of people who, for one reason or another, aspired to lead others. Some struggled with leading others because their motives for wanting to lead others were, shall we say, less than noble. 

But a good many of them with absolutely noble motives still struggled because they forgot step one in the process of leading others. That step involves leading yourself exceptionally well. 

As a leader you are the model of successful behavior for the people you lead. They are far more likely to do what you do than they are to do what you say. You can tell them to have a positive attitude but if your attitude is less than stellar then theirs will be too. You can tell them that punctuality is important but if you show up whenever you want then you can expect much the same out of your people.

And please, don’t tell me you’ve “earned the right” to show up whenever you want. Don’t tell me you’ve worked for the special privileges you’ve given yourself. 

As a leader what you have earned is the right to model successful behavior. You’ve earned the right to think, speak and act in the identical manner that you expect your people to think, speak, and act. 

Here’s a reality of leadership that many people miss. If your people have a bad attitude the first place to look for the source of that bad attitude is the mirror. Your people will often reflect the attitudes they see in you. Don’t kid yourself into thinking you can hide it from them. The only person you’re fooling is yourself. 

If you can’t control your emotions, your attitude, your actions, your feelings, your thoughts, and your interactions with other people, then don’t expect anyone who follows you to control any of those things either. 

Leadership is not about telling people what to do or how to behave. It is about showing them. 

If you have aspirations to lead others well then you must first lead yourself exceptionally well. Forgetting that, or convincing yourself that you can skip that step will cause you, and the people you are trying to lead, nothing but trouble. 

Your people will not follow, in fact, they cannot make the emotional attachment required to actually follow. You will fall into the trap of trying to manage them and then the real problems begin. 

Don’t do that to your people or yourself. Learn to lead yourself and you’ll find leading others to be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. 

A Master Class in How NOT To Lead

There are lots of ways NOT to lead. Most leaders discover them over a period of time. The best leaders actually learn from the mistakes of others and don’t make repeat them on their watch. 

But every now and then we see a “leader” make every possible leadership mistake all at once, or at least in a very short period of time. 

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Mr. Elon Musk. 

The mistakes are too numerous to mention on a short blog like this. It’s also very possible this post gets me kicked off Twitter, Mr. Musk’s new toy, permanently. 

Which brings me to mistake number one. Being so thin skinned that you do not allow a single word of dissent. Authentic Leaders seek out information that can help their people and the organization do better. They even seek out information they don’t want to hear. In fact, that may be the most useful information. They do not seek revenge or retribution against those who offer an opinion. No matter how much they may disagree with that opinion. 

Authentic Leaders consider the consequences of the consequences of the consequences. They know that every action will create a reaction and that those reactions often cause a series of reactions. They think through their decisions and ALL the implications. 

Authentic Leaders work off a plan. They know that no plan is perfect but the act of planning is. They thoughtfully consider goals and objectives. AND the most efficient path to those objectives. That planning provides many “fall back” scenarios when the plan gets off track, as they almost always do. When you see a major decision made and implemented at 11:00am, then rescinded at 1:00pm only to be reimplemented at 2:00pm you have to wonder exactly what the plan looks like. You may even begin to think there is no plan at all. 

Authentic Leaders know that first and foremost leadership is about people. They understand the implications their decisions can have on their people.  They work to minimize any negative impacts those decisions may create. They would never ask their people to swear allegiance to them. Or commit to working hours that make it impossible for them to have a life outside of work. 

Leaders must understand that a balanced employee is a productive employee. Authentic Leaders work to ensure their people have a decent work/life balance. They understand that creativity, dedication and commitment cannot be obtained without it. 

I know a couple of people who work for Twitter and what I hear from them is NOT good. Every, I know every is a very big word so I use it carefully but virtually EVERY leadership principle I know has been thrown aside by Mr. Musk. He’s a smart man, he can put them back in place but only if he’s serious about his $44 billion dollar investment. Or perhaps that’s where I’m wrong, it wasn’t an investment at all. 

Perhaps it’s just a plaything that destroys the livelihood of the thousands of people who built Twitter into what it was. And yes, I of all people know it was not perfect. I’ve been regularly censored there and had tweets mysteriously disappear. 

But this is about leadership. Leadership is about people. People matter. Poor business practices can be fixed without burning down the business with the people still inside. 

Years from now Business Schools will still be using Twitter in case studies. They will look at how bad an acquisition can turn out when the acquiring leadership team has no plan. No long range vision,  and no understanding that it’s the people who are the most important part of the acquisition. 

Twitter appears to be stuck in the quagmire of the quantity of their decisions. Hopefully they can pull themselves into a place where the quality of their decisions become more important than the quantity. 

People are Not Assets 

I can’t even begin to count the number of business leaders who have told me that their people are their organization’s greatest asset. Sometimes they tell me that in response to a question I’ve asked. Many times they volunteer it, in an almost bragging kind of way. 

Gosh I wish that were true. I wish when you watched those business leaders in action you saw that philosophy come to life. That you saw people being cared for, nurtured and developed. That’s what you should do for people. Sadly, most of those business leaders really do treat their people as just another asset. 

But people are not assets. They are people, real life honest to goodness, human beings. 

Back in 2008-2009, during the start of the Great Recession, I had dinner with a friend of mine. He ran one of the best known medical device companies in the world. He often told me that the organization’s people were their greatest asset. He tried at least a half dozen times to hire me, telling me each time what a positive impact I could have on their people. 

The company was formulating a plan to layoff a significant number of people and he seemed genuinely tormented by the idea. I asked if they had considered every alternative to laying people off. He said he thought so. 

I said, “so you’ve ditched the executive perks like company cars, the special section for executives in the cafeteria, fitness club memberships, and the like. His answer belied his “people are our greatest asset” statement. He said those things had indeed been considered but were rejected. He said it didn’t make sense to disrupt the lives of the executive team to save “maybe 10 or 20 jobs.” I’ll bet it would have made sense to the people losing their jobs. 

Somehow I instantly got the feeling that if I had ever taken him up on one of his job offers mine would have been one of those 10 or 20 jobs not worth saving. 

Businesses are predicted to face significant headwinds in 2023. My advice to many business leaders would be to dial back the “people are our greatest asset” line. Because when push comes to shove those assets may be the first thing you decide to do without. That’s not a great look. 

Of course, there may be a chance that your organization is one of the many (thankfully) that still chooses to behave as if your people truly matter more than anything else. Your actions match your words. Not only do your people hear that they matter, they feel it. 

You lead your people rather than manage them. You invest in them. You develop them. You provide them with the best job security of all. You grow them into people who will always be in demand, even if circumstances prevent them from remaining a member of your team. 

As an Authentic Leader you know that words matter. You know that thoughts matter. You know that if you think of your people as an asset, like your building, a computer, or inventory, then that’s how they will be treated. Your thoughts and words shape your actions. That’s how it works for everyone. 

So you see people for what they are. Human beings. That makes a difference in every decision you make. It means that when things get tough you’ll ditch the executive fleet of cars and drive your family Chevy to the levy, even if the levy is dry. 

It means that when you get to the last resort of having to separate with some of your people it will truly be a last resort. Because you know that you don’t actually run a company, you lead people and they run the company. 

YES, There is a Difference Between Managing and Leading

I haven’t written about this topic for a while. Lately I’ve been frustrated by the number of people I’ve come into contact with who think they are the same. So here I go again!

Managing is about stuff, like budgets, buildings, inventories and spreadsheets. We manage stuff. Leading is about people and only people. No one leads a business, they manage the business. They lead the people who work at the business. 

And NO, I’m not playing games with words. There is a huge difference in the mindset of people who foolishly think they can manage another human being and a person who knows they can’t. Most people know that they personally resist being managed. They want to be led. Many of those same people however, don’t realize that the people they are trying to manage feel just like them. 

If you’re in a leadership position you need to understand that most of the issues you would describe as personnel issues, especially attitude issues, stem from YOU trying to manage people rather than lead them. It will be that way until you actually begin to lead. 

A substantial majority of people holding leadership positions in the United States have never had a minute of formal leadership training. If you’re wondering how that can be here are a couple of statistics for you from research conducted earlier this year. It is consistent with other research done in previous years. 

77% of businesses in the US say that leadership is lacking in their organizations. 83% say that leadership development at all levels within their organization is a priority. Yet only 5% of them have implemented formal leadership development at any level. 

That’s why so many people who hold leadership positions think they are leading when they actually are not. They simply don’t know what they don’t know. 

Managing people may seem easier then leading them. When you manage people you most likely tell them what to do. You tell them if, in your opinion, they did what they were told. If they did what they were told that’s pretty much the end of it. If they didn’t do what they were told there will be hell to pay. Sound familiar?

While managing people may seem easier then leading it is actually creating problems at the same time it is damaging culture. Sometimes severely damaging culture. 

Leading people is complicated. It is challenging. There is no end to it. But…it is 1000 times more rewarding than trying to manage them. You may not always succeed in leading people. You will never, never, never succeed at managing people. 

Leading people is complicated because, well because they are people. They are emotional beings. If you’re going to lead people you must be willing, and prepared, to deal with their emotions. The moment I hear someone in a leadership position say “I refuse to deal with the drama” people try to bring to me, I know I’m talking to a manager rather than a leader. 

Leadership at it’s core is helping people deal with what’s happening in their lives. It is about helping ordinary, often “messy” people achieve extraordinary results. In spite of whatever messes and limitations they may have in their lives. You cannot, you absolutely cannot, lead another human being without caring for them. If you don’t care about what’s happening in their lives you won’t be able to care for them in their careers.

Telling people to keep their “home life” separate from their work like is another sign you’re trying to manage rather than lead. As an emotional human being YOU have never once been able to completely separate your home life from your work life. Yet you expect the people you’re supposed to be leading to do it every day. And then you wonder why your people have an attitude issue. 

I once worked for a guy, thankfully I didn’t report directly to him, who said it was his job to keep people guessing. If they knew what he expected of them then they wouldn’t be “on their toes.” He was kinda right about that because it’s tough to be on your toes when you’re always looking over your shoulder. 

If your people do not know exactly what you expect from them that’s a sure sign you’re not leading. Authentic Leaders communicate with the people they lead. Very very frequently. If you haven’t talked to each one of your direct reports this week then you’re trying to manage them, you’re not leading them.

Please do not even attempt to tell me you don’t have time to even have a five minute conversation each week with every person you’re supposed to be leading. If that’s the case you either have way too many direct reports or you do not understand the difference between trying to manage people and the privilege of leading them. 

Manage things, lead people. When you do that, you, your people, and your business will truly have the opportunity to experience explosive growth.

On a another subject…I’m trying something new on Twitter. It’s called “Super Followers.” For $5 a month, that’s 17 cents a day, people can follow a part of my Twitter stream that is for subscribers only. It features short videos of me discussing leadership topics, sales tips and ideas for better overall relationships. I’m assuming there will be far fewer Super Followers than the million or so people who regularly follow me on Twitter. That will give me the opportunity to answer questions more throughly than I can on regular Twitter. Most of the answers will come in the evening cause we all have day jobs, right? Think of it as ”mentoring on demand!”

My goal with SuperFollowers is to build a better connection, one where I can perhaps help more and have a greater impact. I’m hoping it gives me a chance to mentor to a wider audience. It’s still new, we’ll see how it works. It’s a $5 dollar investment that may be the extra “push” you need to get to where you want to be. I’d be honored to be able to help get you there. 

You can find more information by clicking the Super Follow button on my Twitter profile page IN THE TWITTER APP. http://twitter.com/leadtoday Give it a try if you’re so inclined, and if you are, be sure to let me know how I’m doing and how I can be of even more help.

Controlling Thoughts

Lots of companies are working hard to “enlighten” their employees about weaknesses they never even knew they had. 

I’m okay with some of that. I think it’s more than okay that people are made aware of whatever unconscious biases they may hold. It‘s good to be aware that you may be “prejudging” someone solely because they have different life experiences than you. 

You miss a whole lot of opportunities to learn and grow when you fall into that trap. 

But some of this “enlightenment” is nothing more than a fool’s errand. Much of the training these organizations are “offering” to their employees require that the employees change their thinking. In some cases, change who they are. In other cases, sacrifice long held principles and even core values. Even at times religious beliefs deeply rooted in Biblical Principle.

Authentic Leaders know that they control very little when it comes to their people. One thing they most certainly don’t control is what their people think. They can, and in some areas should, influence what their people think. 

They do that not by telling people what to think but by being a living example of the manifestation of those thoughts. If I had to describe Leadership in one word that word would be influence. Authentic Leaders know that they are the model for the thoughts, actions, and outcomes that they want their people to have. 

They know the limits of their control and they never try to force their thinking on to anyone. 

Lesser, ineffective leaders, actually seem to believe that they can dictate what their people think. Some of the “training opportunities” people have shared with me, primarily from large companies, state things like, “thinking this or that” will no longer be allowed. Apparently these companies all employ Mr. Spock to use the Vulcan Mind-Meld on their employees. The goal being to ensure their thinking is always pure and wholesome. And most importantly, complying with company policies. 

Authentic Leaders see the foolishness in that approach. They don’t tell people what to think, they show them the benefit of thinking a certain way knowing their people will decide for themselves. 

I feel bad for the companies wasting their money on training that’s supposed to force people to change who they are and what they believe. Especially considering many of “leaders” in those organizations exempt themselves from the training. They also refuse to change anything about themselves. 

They could save themselves a whole lot of time and money by just being the example of what they want their people to be. 

On a completely different subject…I’m trying something new out over on Twitter. It’s called “Super Followers.” For $5 a month people can follow a part of my Twitter steam that is for subscribers only. It features short videos of me talking about the kind of things I tweet and blog about. But the best part is I’m assuming there will be far fewer Super Followers than regular followers. That will give me the opportunity to answer questions more throughly than I can on regular Twitter. Most of the answers will come in the evening cause we all have day jobs, right? Think of it as ”mentoring on demand!”

You can find more information by clicking the Super Follow button on my Twitter profile page. http://twitter.com/leadtoday (You may need to refresh the page to see the Super Follow Button) Give it a try if you’re so inclined, I can’t promise it will last for a long time but I can promise the content will be helpful as long as it does. 

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?