Cascading Leadership

I have written many times about the importance of a leadership “down line.” What that means is, as important as leadership is at the top of the organization it is every bit as important at other levels of an organization. 

The leader at the top of an organization can be a very Authentic Servant Leader but in many organizations, especially large organizations, their leadership must be carried to other levels of the organization by their leadership team. If the team is not made up of effective leaders then the message, and likely the culture, of the organization does not reach very far.

That’s what it’s so important to have effective leadership spread out at every level. The vast majority of leadership comes from the middle of the organization, not the top. The top leadership may set the tone but if mid level leaders can’t carry the tune the broader workforce never hears it. 

Leadership cascades down through the organization. Poor mid level leaders act as a dam that stops the flow of Authentic Leadership. It has been said many times by many people that employees quit their managers, not their companies. That is absolutely true. That’s why even organizations with solid leadership at the top continue to lose key employees.  Employees who could be the future of their organizations. 

It has perhaps never been more important that organizations identify their key employees. They must make certain that they are being led by an Authentic Leader and not being managed by someone who merely holds a leadership position. 

Quality employees will no longer settle for being managed. They insist on being led, as well they should. 

If you’re a leader at the top of your organization then you need to ensure that your future “stars” are working under someone who understands the difference between trying to manage someone and actually leading them. 

Your “stars” need to be nurtured, challenged and informed. They need a leader who can mentor them, help them grow and set forth for them, a clear and obtainable career path. 

As a leader, you can stop the Great Resignation or whatever the heck you want to call it in it’s tracks. But to do so you must make certain that you have authentic leadership throughout your organization. You must especially be certain that your stars, who are the future leaders of your organization are being led and not managed. 

The next time you’re considering the effectiveness of your leadership be sure to consider whether you have “dams” that are blocking your leadership from reaching everyone in your organization. 

That’s important because if everyone can’t feel your leadership then your leadership may be more limited than you think. 

Your Ticket In

In all likelihood you were promoted to your first leadership position because you were good at your job. That job most likely didn’t involve leadership responsibilities. 

The challenge for most new leaders is that what earned them a leadership position will almost certainly not help them lead. They may have managed their job exceptionally well. They may understand how the business works, they may even know how to generate revenue for their organization. 

But none of that has anything to do with leading. That’s managing. We manage stuff, we manage things, we may even attempt to manage time but we do not, we cannot, manage people. 

Every business or organization needs excellent management to survive. They need superior leadership to thrive. 

The first step to becoming a superior leader is to understand that the skill sets that make you a good manager will not make you a good leader. While a high IQ can make you an effective manager it requires a decent EQ to help you develop as a leader.

Leadership is about people and only people. If you don’t “get” people you won’t get leadership either. If you can’t demonstrate that you care for people then people won’t care to follow you. 

People cannot follow someone they do not trust. Authentic leaders work to earn the trust of the people they lead on a continuous basis. They know that to be trusted their words must match their actions. Authentic Leaders lead will truth and honesty even when it’s a little painful. 

New leaders who want to become experienced Authentic Leaders understand that they are responsible for their own development. They willingly accept whatever development opportunities come from their organizations but they don’t stop there. 

They invest their own time and often their own money to further develop themselves. They will attend classes, listen to podcasts and seek out coaches who can help them develop their leadership skills.

If you’re in a leadership position, particularly if you’re new to a leadership position, you should know that your management skills are merely your ticket into the leadership world. Being promoted into a leadership position does not make you a leader, it merely provides you with an opportunity to earn the right to lead. 

By the way, while holding a leadership position may make it a bit quicker to earn that right, you do not need a leadership position to lead. You just need to care for people and want to make a difference in their lives.

Authentic Leaders will tell you that leadership development never stops. The most effective leaders continue to learn and develop their own leadership skills. They know that “good enough” never is. 

If you’re new to leadership, or struggling in your current leadership role then the good news is that there is lots of help available to you. You only need to make the decision to develop yourself into the most effective leader possible. 

That’s part of leading yourself, which always comes before attempting to lead someone else. 

Engaged Leadership

I’ve never been a huge fan of companies doing culture surveys. Most companies that use them do the surveys every couple of years to take the “pulse” of the company and determine what the employees are thinking. 

The survey questions typically ask about how the company is treating them. How the leadership of the company is doing. If they “like” working there and on it goes. 

I suppose asking once every couple of years is better than not asking at all but not by much. What I really hope is that no company that conducts a culture survey is surprised by the responses. 

If a company’s leadership team is surprised by the results of a company survey then that company’s leadership team is not engaged with it’s employees. If the survey was about the culture of the company and the leadership team is surprised by the results then it’s very likely the culture is not very good.

I’d much prefer to see an organization’s leadership team doing mini culture surveys on a daily basis. An EVERY SINGLE DAY basis. The easiest way to do that is to have members of a company’s leadership team do five minute “innerviews” with at least one team member a day. Note I did not say “interviews,” I said “innerviews.” An interview is what you do when you hire someone. An “innerview” is what you do when you want to know how they, are the company are doing. 

For an Authentic Leader those five minutes are frequently their most important minutes of the day. First, they discover how they and the people they lead are doing. Are their people engaged and prospering? Do their people have ideas that could help the organization be better? Do that have family and friends who would be a good addition to the organization? What changes would they make if they were in charge? 

The second thing an “innerview” accomplishes is showing that the leadership team is listening. It shows that the leadership team is engaged. It demonstrates that the leadership team cares.

Conducting daily “innerviews” requires the leadership team to be “out there” interacting with every level of their organization. It gives them visibility within the organization and breaks down barriers that are common in companies with poor culture. 

If you hold a leadership position in your organization then you must understand that you need to be seen to be relevant. You need to be IN the organization not merely at the top of it. 

So ask yourself these questions: How many different people in your organization did you talk with last week? We’re they the same ones you talked to the week before? And the week before that? Were they all near the top level of leadership in the company?

If you’re only interacting with other senior leaders in your organization then the information you’re receiving is heavily filtered. It is filtered by the experiences and biases of the other senior leaders providing the information. If they got the information second hand or third hand then by the time you hear it you might as well not have heard it at all. 

The culture of an organization is incredibly important. Many would say it’s more important than all the strategies and tactics you’ll ever have. As a leader you don’t evaluate your strategies every couple of years. You should not evaluate the culture in your organization every couple of years either. 

Take the pulse of your organization every single day. Be an engaged leader. Lead by walking around and while you’re walking, stop frequently to talk with people to see how you, and the organization you lead, are doing. 

If you occupy a leadership position and you’re not regularly engaging with people at all levels of your organization then you may be managing the business but you’re not leading it’s people.

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?

Staggering Leadership Statistics

I can’t find any statistics on this but I’d be willing to bet a few paychecks that the most used word in businesses across the world is leadership. Every organization talks about their leadership. The need for more leadership. The need for better leadership. Their investment in leadership training. And on and on it goes. 

But for 95% of organizations in the US it appears to be merely lip service. 83% of companies say it’s important to develop leaders at all levels of their organization. But only 5% of companies have implemented leadership training across all levels. 

69% of Millennials are concerned that their companies do not help them develop their leadership skills. 59% of those Millennials say they are looking for opportunities at companies that will. 

Only 11% of HR leaders feel their organization has a strong “bench” that can take over leadership roles as they open up. 

60% of people currently in leadership positions say they feel beat up and worn out at the end of the day. 44% of those say they plan to explore opportunities at other companies to advance their careers. 26% of those say they will leave their current companies in the next 6-12 months. For many of the people in these leadership positions that beat-up feeling comes from a lack of formal leadership training. They don’t realize that they are managing people people instead of leading them.

55% of CEOs say that developing the next generation of leaders for their organization is a top priority. That’s what the say but that’s not what they show. When a leader’s words do not match their actions their credibility quickly goes south. That creates an entire host of additional problems. 

Every survey and every bit of research in 2021 leads to the same conclusion. There is a vast shortage of Authentic Leadership in business (and government for that matter) today and the shortages are only going to get worse. 

The majority of people elevated to leadership positions have less than 10 hours of formal leadership training during their entire careers. Some studies say that’s true for over 80% of people in leadership positions. 

If you’re running any type of organization and you hope for it to survive in the future you must stop paying lip service to this issue. You need to begin developing the future leaders of your organization. It is also vital that you understand the distinct differences between management training and actual leadership training. 

You may think that you’re investing plenty in leadership development. But are you really? You can invest a bundle in management training. That however will do little to nothing to develop your leadership team. Management training pertains to running a organization. Leadership training pertains to growing the people within the organization. Leadership training and management training are not the same.

The difference is not mere semantics as some would have you believe. You manage things, you lead people. When you attempt to manage people they feel as if they are being treated like a thing, not a person. They do not feel appreciated. 

79% of people who have left a job in the last year stated that not feeling appreciated was their number one reason for leaving. 

Companies that actually invest in training to develop Authentic Leaders do not lose people. They experience very little turnover. They grow their people AND their business. 

Still think you’re doing a great job developing your future leaders? 

People Leadership

Leadership is about people and it’s only about people. No one can lead a company, they can only lead the people who make up the company. There are no “team leaders,” there are only leaders who lead the people on the team. 

Stuff, businesses, buildings and budgets need to be managed, people need to be led.

That’s why interpersonal skills are so critical for effective leadership. If you cannot relate to the people you’re leading then you won’t be leading them for long. Effective leaders know that communication is vital when attempting to relate to others. That’s why their efforts to improve their communication skills is never ending. 

Many people occupy leadership positions but it seems these days as if fewer and fewer of them actually attempt to truly lead. They issue edicts and write policies without so much as a thought of how it may impact the people they supposedly lead. 

Whether intentional or not the actions they take and the statements they make build barriers between them and the people they need to grow their organizations. 

Effective Authentic Leaders don’t merely occupy a leadership position, they actually lead. They build bridges between themselves and their people. They use their interpersonal skills to break through barriers. Once the barriers are down their excellent communication skills come into play. The seek first to understand the people they lead. They talk with them, not to them. They listen twice as much as they talk. They listen with more than their ears, they listen with their heart as well. 

Edicts and policies attempt to force the compliance of people. Interpersonal skills combined with thoughtful communication build the willing commitment of people. 

What amazes me most is how many people in leadership positions don’t even like the people they should be leading. They often refer to them with words and phrases meant to “put them in their place.” Poor leaders want the people who work for them to know that their “leader” is smarter than they will ever be. Poor leaders sentences are laced with I I I, as in I want, I will, I did this and on and on. 

Authentic Leaders not only like the people they lead, they care for them. Immensely. They refer to their people with words and phrases meant to build them up and help them see their full potential. Authentic Leaders want the people who work with them to believe they can accomplish anything, even one day surpassing the leader. Their sentences are full of words such as, we, ours, and us. You’ll seldom hear an “I” come out of their mouth. 

The next time you’re speaking with your team record what you say. Then listen to it with a critical ear. If your message is short on “we” “ours” and “us” then your people may perceive you as a person in a leadership position who doesn’t really lead…or care about them.

If that’s the case you’re costing your organization an opportunity to grow and you’re limiting the potential of the people you could be leading. You might be fine with that but if you’re not then you have work to do. 

That work will begin with a decision to change your thinking. You can reap the many rewards of actually leading people or you can suffer the unending consequences of treating your people like things. 

The choice, as always, is yours to make.