Are you Really Leading?

Most, and yes I definitely mean most, most “leaders” I know are not leaders at all. They have a title or position that fools them, and a few others, into thinking they are a leader but upon a little examination they are not a leader at all.

While a leader in name only can fool some people into believing they are a leader they rarely if ever fool the people they think they are leading. People looking for Authentic Leadership can spot a fake leader from a mile away.

But here’s one of the things I find most interesting about leadership. Leaders in name only often have no idea that they aren’t really leading. Not only can they fool other people, they can even fool themselves. 

So how can someone in a leadership position tell if they are in fact leading? Well take a look around. If no one is following you then you’re not leading. Period. 

No matter how lofty your position or important sounding your title leaders lead people. If people are not following you then you may be managing a business but you’re not leading. 

So let’s say you take a quick look over your shoulder and you see a bunch of people. Even that doesn’t mean you’re an Authentic Leader. Take a closer look. Who is following you? If the people “following” you all have the same favorite word then you may not be a leader. If that word is “yes” then you’re most certainly not a leader. 

Authentic Leaders attract a higher caliber of people than leaders in name only. They are followed by people who are not afraid to speak truth to leadership. Authentic Leaders are a magnet for people with authentic leadership aspirations of their own. 

Authentic Leaders challenge their followers to continuously improve and their followers challenge them back to do the same. 

Authentic Leaders are also great followers. So consider for a moment who it is you’re following. Who do you know? I don’t mean following on Facebook or some other social media platform. I mean who do you really know? Who are your mentors? Who can you have a face to face conversation with? Who can you learn from? Who leads you? Who is pushing you to improve? Who is invested in helping you grow as a leader?

You can learn a lot in a book, blog, or video but leadership is a close personal contact operation. You need to follow and interact with real people who will help you grow. People who will tell you the truth about yourself and who will keep you on the path towards Authentic Leadership. 

If you have short comings in any of those areas then you have opportunity to improve as a leader, or maybe, even become an Authentic Leader for the first time. 

Either way, the self-improvement process for a leader begins with the question… Am I really leading?

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?

Hiring Non Leaders

Only 11% of HR leaders are confident that they have the “bench strength” to fill leadership positions when they open up. That means, if my arithmetic is correct, that 89% of HR leaders are NOT confident that they have a strong group of up and coming leaders. 

Yet they continue to hire people with no leadership potential. Or at best they hire people not knowing if they have leadership potential. 

I think, and it’s just my thinking because I’ve not seen or done any research on this, but I think it’s because HR teams focus on the task at hand today. That task is filling open positions somewhere in the organization. Most of those positions are not considered leadership positions. So there is little or no consideration given to the interviewees leadership potential. 

If someone is hired who turns out to have leadership abilities then that’s great. They will be “discovered” in the course of doing their jobs and perhaps earmarked for further development. If they turn out to actually be able to lead then the organization will have gotten lucky. 

I wonder how many CEOs think it’s a good idea to “luck into” their future leaders? I’m betting not a single one. Yet when an organization hires someone without understanding their leadership potential they are leaving their future to chance. 

Sometimes Hiring Managers intentionally hire people without leadership potential. I remember a conversation with a Director of Marketing some years ago who was looking for a Marketing Communications Manager. He told me he was looking for someone who didn’t know anything about marketing or communications. He wanted someone who would do what they were told. He was tired of people suggesting new ideas or questioning his “orders.” 

Ya might say that person wasn’t exactly forward thinking. You can definitely say he wasn’t a leader.

As I write this post there are a record number of job openings in the United States. The competition for qualified candidates has never been greater. That has caused many organizations to lower their “standards” more than a little. 

I understand the need to fill open positions but that’s a mighty slippery slope. Despite the difficulty finding qualified new employees my recommendation for HR professionals hasn’t changed. I recommend organizations hire ONLY promotable people with leadership potential. 

When you can boldly and honestly tell candidates that you only hire promotable people with leadership potential it becomes a great recruiting statement. Word will get out and the quality of your candidates will go up. 

I’d ask every candidate about their previous leadership experience. An answer indicating they have never had an opportunity to lead would be a red flag. Everyone has opportunities to lead. I would ask for an example of when they chose to lead. I’d ask for an example of when they were forced by circumstances to lead. I’d ask about the outcomes from their leadership. What they learned, what the people who were influenced by their leadership learned. 

I’d ask those types of questions to every single candidate regardless of the position they were applying for. 

If they have no answers but are qualified for the job they are being interviewed for than the HR Professional has a decision to make. Do I hire this person who can help us today or do I hold off until and can find someone I know can help us today AND perhaps even more tomorrow. 

I do not envy HR Professionals and Hiring Managers who have to make that decision. But I encourage them to think about how long their organization can survive if the leadership potential of every new hire is unknown.

Don’t hope to luck into your future. Hire people with leadership potential. Help them develop into the leaders that will move your organization forward for years to come. 

Leadership PRIDE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you put PRIDE into your Leadership?

The Leadership Difference

I’ve met a lot of “leaders” in my lifetime and a few of them actually led. 

If you’re confused by that sentence let me explain. Lots and lots of people hold positions in their organizations that would indicate they are leaders. Many of them have some fancy title that would seem to confirm it. 

Too bad for them that neither a position or title can make them a leader. Even having followers doesn’t actually make someone a leader, at least not an Authentic Leader. People can be coerced into “pretending” to follow. The truth is they are merely complying with orders and directives so they can keep their paychecks coming. 

Authentic Leaders don’t need compliance and they rarely give “orders.” They work to earn the commitment of their people so their people willingly follow them. Enthusiastically follow them. 

The followers of an Authentic Leader follow them because of what the leader has done for them. They follow because the leader makes a positive difference in the lives of the people they lead. 

I’d go so far as to say if you haven’t made a positive difference in the lives of people you think you are leading then you may be their boss but you are not their leader. If you’re not consistently showing the people you lead that you care about them as human beings then you may be their manager but you are not their leader.

If your words do not match your actions then they cannot trust you. If they cannot trust you then they may comply with your demands but they will never be committed to following you. 

If your people believe that you’re using them to advance your own career then you’ll be unable to earn that commitment no matter how high your position or fancy your title. 

So let me ask you this. Can you specifically say how you’ve made a positive difference in the life of someone you’ve led? Can you say how you demonstrate, on a regular basis that your people matter to you and your organization? Can you say when, exactly, was the last time you told them that they matter as an individual? 

If you can’t answer those questions and do so relatively quickly then you have some work to do. You’ll need to invest some time to improve your leadership skills. You likely have to change your thinking as well. Some of all you may even have to develop a heart for leadership. 

The great news is that all that’s possible. To begin all you need to do is make a decision that you will LeadToday!

When Employee Development Stops

Authentic Leaders never have to guess when one of their followers is fully developed. That’s because they know they never are. They know that because they understand that their own development never stops. 

But some leaders and organizations haven’t exactly figured that out. Their “development” programs and training classes are intended for some but not all of their people. Some people are deemed “worth” an investment and some are not. 

Some organizations have what they call their “talent pool” where the people most preferred by the leadership team is invited to swim. The rest of the organization remains beached, figuratively and literally. They are left high and dry when it comes to their professional development. 

But here’s the thing; not every rose blooms on the same day. Not every banana ripens at the same time. Not every person matures, learns, and contributes at the same pace. 

It is normal and in fact necessary that leaders and organizations make judgments about their people. Hopefully, they can do that without being judgmental…but that’s another blog post. 

They need to make judgments about their skill levels, “fit” in the organization, potential for advancement, and the probability of becoming a leader themselves. 

That’s all okay. Where the problems start is when they make that judgement one time and it becomes permanent with no further assessment of the individual. The person is effectively “pigeon holed” as someone who the organization sees as “future less.” 

The reality is that person’s future is limitless IF they are led by a true leader. A leader who invests in all their people. An Authentic Leader who puts their people in a position where they can excel. Sometimes that may mean moving them into a position where they will be uncomfortable for a while and sometimes that may even mean helping them transition to another company entirely. 

Either way it’s done with the best interest of the individual in mind. 

So…when was the last time you invested even a few moments to reevaluate the people you’re responsible for leading. Have their skills changed? Has their attitude changed? Have the job requirements changed. Has your perception of them changed? 

When you periodically evaluate your teams with fresh eyes you may find some budding superstars up on that beach where you parked them. You may also find that some of your previously anointed “talent” are nothing more than clown fish in your talent pool. 

Authentic Leaders do not make permanent judgments about their people based on temporary circumstances. They also understand that all circumstances are temporary. 

Evaluate your people for who, where and what they are today. Your earlier judgment may have been a little too early to see them for who they really are.

Do You Know the People You Lead?

I suppose the title of this post is silly because of course you know the people you lead. You know their name. You know their job description and you know…?

What more do you know? You make decisions regarding the people you lead on a daily basis and it’s very possible that when you really stop to think about it you don’t actually know that much about them. 

When was the last time you straight up asked the people you lead what they are passionate about? Have you ever asked them what work they would do for free if they could afford it? Have you ever, even once, asked them how you could honor them or recognize them. When was the last time you asked about their family? What about their hobbies and interests outside of work, when was the last time you asked about that?

Most people in leadership positions say they don’t have time to get to know their people at that level. What they actually mean is that it’s not a priority for them. Authentic Leaders make knowing their people, really knowing them, a top priority. 

They invest time each day, each and every day, to conduct an “innerview” with one or more of the people they lead. It might only be 5 or 10 minutes but they would tell you it’s the most important 5 or 10 minutes of their day. 

It is not an “interview,” that’s what you do when you’re hiring someone. An “innerview” is what you do when you want to know your people on a level that truly allows you to lead them. To know what motivates them. To understand their goals in life. To understand their thinking and their actions. 

Most people would say that their people are their organization’s greatest asset. Then they tell you they can’t spare 5 minutes to invest in that asset. Instead they spend their time on something they said was less important…that is not a recipe for successful leadership.

If knowing your people is not a priority then you may be a boss, you may be a manager, but I’m sorry to tell you it’s unlikely that you’re much of a leader. 

Invest time this very day and each day to get to know the people you lead. Until you do they are probably not really following you and this much is certain, if no one is following then you ain’t leading. 

Get to know your people and Lead Today!