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!

How to Lead When There is No Crisis

This will likely be my last blog post that has anything to do with challenging times, new normals, old normals, viruses, leading in times of crisis or any other current events you might be seeing in the news.

There’s two reasons for that. One, I’m just tired of the virus. I’m tired of what might happen stealing the joy out of what is happening. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in on the social distancing guidelines and washing my hands until the skin falls off. I will be responsible and respectful to all my fellow humans on the planet. So I intend to wear a mask when I’m around other people, not for me but for them.

But all those things will be “additive” to the things I normally do. I’ll stop doing only the things that conflict with keeping other people safe. As it turns out, that is likely the very best way to keep myself safe as well.

So, what about all this “leading in challenging times” and “leading in times of crisis” stuff that’s currently flooding blogs and podcasts? (Yep, I’ve written a couple too) My thinking on this has evolved.

It’s evolved because I’ve come to the realization that if you were a poor leader when there was no crisis you will be a poor leader when there is a crisis. If you were an effective leader when there was no crisis then you will be an effective leader when there is a crisis.

That’s because leadership is about people. People’s basic need for leadership does not change one iota in times of crisis. Authentic Leaders may be a bit more intentional with their leadership in times of crisis but the fundamental characteristics of leadership remain the same.

Poor leaders will not suddenly develop leadership skills when circumstances attempt to force the need to truly lead upon them. Contrary to what many people want to believe a crisis doesn’t turn a non-leader or terrible leader into some kind of Churchill.

In difficult times great leadership becomes more visible. That’s only because Authentic Leaders lead almost exclusively from the front in times of crisis. In times with less headwinds they will sometimes lead form the middle of the pack or even the back of it. The fact that some people might not have recognized their leadership skills does not mean that they were not present.

The leadership characteristics that Authentic Leaders possess every day become more apparent when they move themselves to lead from out front. They will make some adjustments like communicating more frequently. They make themselves more accessible to their people in order to coach and counsel. The fact that those characteristics are more exposed in difficult times does not mean that they didn’t exist in the absence of challenges.

People who believe leading in difficult times is vastly different are trying to wrestle with “unknowns.” That is completely unnecessary so long as you’re a leader who is willing to dance your very best dance with the “knowns” of difficult times.

The value of Authentic Leadership is more appreciated in tough times…and that is a shame. It should be valued in both good times and bad. If you are fortunate enough to experience Authentic Leadership be it in good times or bad, let that leader know you recognize their efforts. Let them you you appreciate them for taking the lead.

They deserve your support and will welcome your recognition.

Proven Leadership Truths

Many years ago I worked for a fantastic organization called Dale Carnegie Training. I began as a sales rep selling their courses to businesses and individuals. One of the key selling points we were taught to use was the many benefits of being effective at speaking in front of groups.

I told many many people of the career advantages of being able to deliver an impactful message to an audience either large or small. I said the advantages were huge.

I learned an enormous amount about sales, leadership, and people in general while I was with the Dale Carnegie Organization. But after a bunch of successful years I wanted even more of a challenge so I moved into Corporate America.

After telling people for years what an advantage it was to be able to comfortably and effectively present in front of groups I was still amazed at what a huge advantage it actually was. It is not an absolute “must have” skill for advancement but if you do have it you will move up faster and have much greater impact on those around you.

Communication skills like presenting to groups are especially critical in difficult times. If there was any doubt about that those doubts are quickly being erased. We are discovering how important all communication skills are in times of trouble.

But many other “truths” of leadership are also being proven true in our current environment. Here’s a few of those.

As a leader you really really do set the tone for your team. If you’re convinced “it” can’t be done then rest assured it won’t be done…no matter what you say to your people. You can be the Rah-Rah guy in front of your people but if you don’t believe what you’re saying they will see right through you.

You must understand this pure fact. Your people’s attitude will NOT be better than yours. If you can’t be sincerely positive around your people then do your people a favor and don’t be around them.

Your people, with rare exceptions, will not out perform you. As a leader YOU are the model for successful behavior. If you’re putting out a 50% effort then don’t expect your people to put out a 51% effort.

If you’re blessed as a leader you may have the occasional superstar who is upwardly mobile and willing to outwork you. But for the most part your people will follow your example in all things, including how much effort any task or assignment is worth. If you have the audacity to call yourself a leader then you must authentically lead. That means demonstrating exceptional effort in everything you do.

You can be assured that if your effort is mediocre the effort of your people will be mediocre too.

Leaders who vision cast effectively have a higher percentage of engaged followers. “Leading” isn’t a title or position. “Leading” is a set of activities and characteristics. People will only follow someone if they have some idea where that person is leading them to.

Do you have a vision of where you’re leading your people to? Can you communicate or “cast” that vision out to your people? Is it a vision that includes them and somehow rewards them for helping to achieve that vision?

People will not follow you to Nowheresville. People don’t only want to know where they are following you to, they NEED to know. Which brings us right back to effective communication skills.

Have you shared your vision for the future with your people. Many many people are both wondering what they future holds and worried if they have a place in that future. DO NOT let them worry and wonder.

You’re most expensive employee is not the person you pay the most. Your most expensive employee it the one who is least engaged. Give all of your people a vision of the future that they will want to engage with.

Communication, modeling successful behavior and demonstrating the power of positive attitudes are characteristics of successful leaders. That is being proven out every hour of every day during these challenging times.

Are you a leader who is up for the challenge?

Managing vs Leading – Part Eight

Managing things is a critical function for any business or organization. It is equally critical for all managers and leaders within any business or organization to understand that they do in fact manage “things” but that the people of that business or organization require leadership.

Some of the things that need managing are capital equipment like copiers and computers. Vehicles, buildings, forklifts, and other similar types of equipment are typical of the type of things that get managed. Part of managing those things is putting them on a depreciation schedule for tax purposes. Each year a business or organization owns those “things” they are worth less. They depreciate in value.

No manager, no matter how bad at managing they may be, can cause the value of a human being as a person to depreciate. They can however cause the productivity and commitment level of that human being to depreciate rather quickly. All they need to do is attempt to manage that person as if they were a “thing” instead of leading them as if they are a person.

We have talked a lot in this series about the difference between managing and leading but here is the bottom line. If you’re in a leadership position and you’re attempting to manage your people as if they are co-equals with your “things” then you are creating the vast majority of the issues that you would describe as “personnel issues.”

Many people in leadership positions would say they have people reporting to them who have poor attitudes. They claim to have people who are often tardy and when they finally show up for work they are disengaged. Leaders in name only complain about low productivity people and people who show no initiative. The list of problems and complaints go on and on.

What these leaders in name only fail to understand is that the root cause of nearly 100% of these problems point directly to them. If you’re in a leadership position and you’re trying to manage your people instead of leading them then YOU are almost certainly the cause of every “people problem” you’re complaining about.

I know that isn’t easy to hear but it is a reality you must come to grips with if you’re ever going to become an Authentic Leader.

The good news is that you don’t need better people. There are no better people in the world than the ones you have now. If you think they need to change then you need to change.

You need to change from a person who merely occupies a position of leadership to an Authentic Leader. You need to treat your people like the emotional human beings they are. You need to tap into their hopes. You need to tap into their dreams. You need to tap into their natural enthusiasm. You need to tap into their goals, their needs and their good ideas.

If you don’t see those things in the people you have in your organization today then I’ll guarantee you that you’re trying to manage them instead of investing the time required to authentically lead them.

The fastest way to change anything is to change how you look at it. Do not look at your people as “human assets” or “Human Resources” or for heavens sake, things. See them as the special human beings that they are. Then treat them that way. Lead them!

Before you know it all those “people problems” will fade away. You’ll be tempted to think that your people have all changed but what they have become was always there. It’s is you who will have changed.

You’ll have changed from a person who merely occupies a position of leadership to someone who actually leads. You’ll have made a difference in the lives of your people and you’ll never attempt to manage your people again.

This is the final installment of the Managing vs Leading series. I hope you will take it to heart. The world has plenty of insightful and incredibly effective managers. What the world needs is more Authentic Leaders. Many many more.

Can you be one of those who decide to make a difference? You can if you make the decision to Lead Today. I hope you will!

Managing vs Leading – Part Seven

People in leadership positions who attempt to manage their people use their head to get good things done. They expect their people to use their head as well. They are more manager than leader.

People in leadership positions who actually lead use their head and their heart to encourage their people to accomplish great things. They are as concerned with their people’s heart as much as their heads. They are more leader than manager but they are often excellent managers as well. However, they do not manage their people, they lead them.

People in leadership positions who attempt to manage people are so focused on what needs to get done that they forget it is people, real life human beings, who will get that work done. That causes them to often treat their people as something rather than someone.

Leaders lead. The need neither a leadership position or title to do it. Their first priority is the people who will do the work, not the work itself. They invest the time required to understand how their people think and why they think that way. They know their hopes, their challenges and their goals.

They help them in any area they possibly can. They will compassionately confront them when that is what is needed for them to succeed. They coach them. They mentor them. They care for them.

They do not tell them what to do, they show them. They model successful behavior. They hold their people to high standards and hold themselves to even higher standards.

Leaders who lead earn the commitment of their people. That commitment leads to increased productivity and extraordinary results.

People have hearts and it’s those hearts that truly need leadership. If you’re in a leadership position and you’re not leading your people then don’t expect them to put their hearts into their work. They may indeed use their heads to do good things but greatness will elude them. It will almost certainly elude you as well.

Managing vs Leading – Part Six

There are several key differences between people who hold leadership positions and people who actually lead. As I’ve said frequently in this series people who hold leadership positions often attempt to manage their people. Leaders, whether they hold a leadership position or not, actually lead people.

Leaders who lead develop a Followership. Leaders who attempt to manage people hope to create subordinates. The difference is huge.

Subordinates comply with the demands, directives and requests of the boss. Sometimes they comply willingly and sometimes not. Sometimes they flat out resist the directives. In worse case scenarios they work against their boss and become a cancer to the entire organization. They frequently draw other team members into their sea of discontent.

At best a person in a position of leadership who attempts to manage their people can expect a mediocre level of performance. The development of their people is stunted and their potential is limited. Over time their people become disengaged. Even otherwise excellent people do not give the effort required for long-term success when they are managed.

When a leader leads they first work to create strong followers. Then they raise the bar to turn those followers into future leaders. People who are led don’t see the requests of their leaders as demands or directives. They do not comply with the requests because compliance isn’t needed. They are committed to the leader and they do whatever it takes to make certain they do not disappoint them.

Their level of work is frequently, almost always in fact, superior to managed people. They work with their leader to ensure all requirements for successful outcomes are met. People who are led instead of managed have a positive impact on the team by displaying both a more positive attitude and impressive work habits.

Leaders who lead help their people grow. Their people develop far faster than managed people. They also have a very good shot at reaching their full potential.

If you’re a person in a position of leadership who is attempting to manage your people you’re not going to like this next sentence. If you’re attempting to manage people then you’re causing an overwhelming percentage of the problems you would describe as personnel issues.

Subordinates will seldom help you grow as an organization because you’re not helping them grow as people. It may look as if leading people is harder than managing them and in fact it is…but only in the short term. In the long term the only way to eliminate personnel issues is to realize that your personnel are people. That is forgotten by far too many managers who occupy leadership positions. When you help your people grow, the rewards, both tangible and intangible far outweigh the extra effort required to truly lead.

People resist feeling managed. They respond to feeling led. Are the people you’re responsible for developing resisting you or responding to you?

The answer to that single question may hold the key to your future success and the success of your organization.

Managing vs Leading – Part Five

Solid management is essential for any organization with a desire for stability. Authentic Leadership is even more essential for any organization hoping to grow.

That’s one of the key differences between managing and leading. You can manage an organization to stay the course. You can hold it steady with basic management principles and hope your competitors are satisfied with only managing their organization too.

But if you want to grow your organization or stay ahead of your competition then you’re going to need to lead the people who make up your organization.

Managing is all about the policies and procedures of today. Leading is about the vision and strategies of tomorrow. Policies and procedures matter. They provide the stability that organizations need to accomplish day-to-day tasks. Without those policies and procedures chaos ensues and productivity stops. That’s why great management is every bit as vital as great leadership.

Leaders are responsible to shape, share and sell their vision to the people they lead. Asking someone to follow you and then not giving them any idea of where they are following you to does not work. A leader’s vision should provide a guidepost for decision making. When faced with a decision ask if whatever you’re deciding will move you in the direction of your vision. If the answer is no then your decision is made.

Leaders also determine the strategies used to achieve the goals required to make the vision a reality. The management team will implement the tactics required to achieve the goals but absent those goals there are no tactics that will result in long-term success. That’s why great leadership is every bit as vital as great management.

Now I need to ask the obvious question. Do the people you are supposed to be leading know where you’re going? Have you shared your vision with them and showed them where they fit in the vision? Do you even have a vision? Does that vision include the people who are responsible for the day-to day success of your organization?

If your answers are anything other than a very strong YES then you may be doing far more managing than leading. If that’s the case you’ve just discovered why your organization is struggling to grow.

Provide at least the same level of leadership as you do management and you’ll quickly notice the difference in your people, their productivity and the strength of your entire organization.