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Uncommon Leadership

I’ve had the opportunity to spend several days recently with a person recently promoted to a leadership position. He was very good at what he did and earned his promotion. His promotion came with a new title and higher income, unfortunately what it didn’t come with was any hint of how to actually lead. So he doesn’t lead, he just tries to get by managing his new team.

I’ve seen the same scenario play out literally hundreds of times through the years. A person is good at what they do so they are promoted into a leadership role even through they have little, or more commonly, no leadership experience or skills at all.

I call them common leaders. I don’t mean to be disparaging here but it is what it is… common leadership really isn’t leadership at all. At its best it’s just managing and and at it’s worst it’s something much worse. That something involves fear, coercion and sometimes even outright abuse. 

Absent any real leadership skills people in leadership positions too often tend to use intimidation, coercion, threats and punishment to force the compliance of their people. 99.9% of the people in leadership positions who use those tactics are not bad people, it’s just that in many cases that’s how they were taught to “lead.” Sadly, they were likely taught to lead by people who themselves had few if any leadership skills. So the cycle of common leadership simply repeats itself. 

Individuals who do manage to break the cycle of common leadership and become uncommon leaders don’t do so on their own. They most often have a mentor or are led by someone who has broken through the common cycle themselves. 

Here’s one of the most interesting aspects of leadership: it can’t actually be taught but it can be learned. It is learned not so much by listening to a true leader but by watching them. 

Authentic leaders lead by example. They show the way to true uncommon leadership. I can tell people what to look for in a leader, I can share with them the characteristics that make a good leader, and I can even help them judge whether or not someone in a leadership position truly processes those characteristics but a person must teach themselves to lead. 

Let me give you one example. 

Caring for people, truly caring and investing yourself in another person’s success and well-being is an absolute characteristic of an uncommon, authentic leader. I can tell someone that, I can point out a person who has that characteristic but I know of no way to teach someone how to care. They must develop that caring nature on their own. The quickest way to do that is to see someone else display their own caring nature and decide if the results they see are something they want in their own life.

If you were taught to lead by someone who did not develop those uncommon leadership skills then my very best advice to you would be to find a mentor who has. Find a coach or hire a coach who will help you break that cycle of common leadership and become a leader who can actually make a positive difference in the lives of those they would lead. 

Never assume that a leadership position makes you a leader. A leadership position doesn’t come with the right to lead, that must be earned by demonstrating consistent leadership skills. 

Develop those skills and people will naturally follow you. 

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Leading with Influence

If you had no title of consequence, if you had zero power to punish and reward people – would they still follow you? Would you still get positive results from them? 

The answer to that question is yes if, IF, you are actually a true leader. 

At it’s core leadership is about influence. If you have the ability to influence others then you have the ability to lead. It is not your title or lofty position within an organization that makes you a leader, it’s your level of influence. 

If you’re truly leading people they will commit to you. People don’t commit to companies, they don’t commit to positions and they certainly don’t commit to titles. People commit to other people, period.

If your people are not committed to you then they are not truly following you. They may comply with your requests because you have the power to punish and reward but that simply makes you a boss not a leader. (Just to be clear here I do not use “boss” in a negative sense, I use it just to distinguish the difference between leading and not leading. I have worked for bosses with no leadership ability at all and for bosses who were outstanding leaders.)

The foundations that support influence are perception and visibility. Influence doesn’t happen unless you have improved others’ perception of you and increased your visibility. Once you’ve established the appropriate level of perception, you will have gained a solid reputation and foundation of respect. After you’ve increased your visibility, you’ll become known and valued in your organization. Influence now becomes possible.

So, how do you improve other people’s perception of you while increasing your visibility? Here are four ideas…

Intentionally plan your day. Most people sadly just let their day happen to them. People of influence happen to their day. They focus on the outcome they need from their day and not all the small events that may happen to them during it. They leverage the events that get them closer to their desired outcome while minimizing the impact of the events that don’t. 

Choose to help. My better days are the days I help others be better. My best days are the days when almost no one knows I did it. If you have to tell people that you’re helping others you’re still missing the influence mark; help enough people and you won’t have to tell anyone because lots of people will notice the difference that you make.

Accept responsibility for the outcome. Don’t blame others for your mistakes. You will never learn from a mistake that you won’t admit and when you don’t accept responsibility for your mistakes you at least inadvertently shift the blame to someone else; that does not improve other people’s perception of you. Mistakes happen, they are a part, an important part, of growing. I wouldn’t recommend highlighting your mistakes but don’t try to hide them either.

Recognize others….for their success and yours. People crave recognition! Even people who say that don’t need any recognition literally crave it. It’s a basic human need. So fill that need for others, praise them early and often. Be intentional about looking for good things other people do and be lavish in your recognition. Also remember that it’s very likely that others contributed to your success, don’t forget to share your success with them through public recognition. No one, I mean no one, succeeds completely on their own. So don’t behave as though you did.

Influence is built, little by little, day after day. If you want to earn the commitment of your people then commit to build your influence every single day.

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Proactive Leadership

The Minnesota Timberwolves, the NBA franchise in Minnesota has had numerous head coaches through the years. I think (I hope) all of them had the goal of leading their team to an NBA Championship. I also assume all of them knew a whole lot more about basketball than I do. 

Too many of them however knew far less about leadership. One such coach who shall remain nameless was a basketball genius. He knew exactly what his players needed to do to succeed. He understood the strategies of opposing coaches and the game plans they developed. He was a master at the X’s and O’s of the game.

What he wasn’t able to do was get his players to commit to his style of play. Actually he couldn’t get his players to commit to much of anything.

He was a very reactive coach. 

He would see a player make a mistake in practice but being a strident conflict avoider he didn’t point it out. Not surprisingly the player would make the same mistake in a game and the coach would be doing a slow burn but still he kept quiet.

Here’s the trouble with that slow burn deal; eventually the slow burn turns explosive. So it was with this particular coach; after seeing the same mistake again and again he exploded in a rage that was almost frightening. 

His reaction had the exact opposite effect of what he needed. Not only did it not correct the mistake, he lost the trust and confidence of the player he verbally destroyed and most of the other players on the team as well.

Once his players didn’t trust him it became impossible for them to commit to him as a leader. 

Reactive leaders seldom seem to fair very well, proactive leaders on the other hand often do very very well. 

Proactive leaders do not do the slow burn. They compassionately and quickly confront problems and mistakes before there is a danger of an explosion. They understand that conflict is a necessity of leadership. They don’t shy away from pointing out mistakes and offering suggestions in order to “keep the peace.” 

Proactive leaders would prefer to celebrate a noisy disheveled success rather than mourn a quiet and orderly failure. 

To lead effectively you must be willing to risk upsetting a few people for a short time. The alternative is to upset a whole lotta people for a very long time. One scenario has the chance of leading to eventual success, the other is a pretty darn direct path to failure.

Conflict avoidance doesn’t work, it never works. I don’t often recommend using the word never but in this case I’ll even repeat it. 

Conflict avoidance never works. 

The best time to coach your people is in the moment a coaching opportunity presents itself. If you’re truly a leader you’ll be prepared for that moment and you’ll be proactive in preventing the identical opportunity from presenting itself a second, or third, or fourth time.

Proactive leaders get in front of problems and mistakes before the problems get in front of them. After all, it’s called “leading” for a reason.

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How to Build People

Leadership is about people, and people only.

You manage things; budgets, inventories, and plans but you lead people. The ultimate goal of leading people should be building them and helping them succeed.

One of the biggest obstacles to building people is time. People development requires time, and most people in leadership positions are incredibly busy people. The speed of business is increasing by the day and with that speed comes a bushel of urgent tasks. The problem is, urgent things are very often not the most important thing you can be doing. They also are frequently not the most productive thing you could be doing.

In my perhaps not so humble opinion building people is one of the most productive actions a leader can take. But for too many leaders the urgent stuff gets in the way. It’s called the tyranny of the urgent. It prevents well intentioned leaders from doing the important things that offer a high return on their time investment.

If you’re a leader who sees developing your people as an expense of your time then you likely won’t take or find the time required to build them. However, if you see developing your people as an investment, an investment of your time, then you are likely to find or make the time required to build them.

So how exactly do you invest this time you’ve worked so hard to find?

Well, you invest it in getting to know you’re people, in understanding their motivations and how you can help them stay engaged. You invest time to show them how much you care. You invest time to demonstrate to your people how they make a difference. 

Some leaders say their people are their most important asset, successful leaders don’t waste time saying…. they use their time showing.

Showing your people that they are worth your time is the fastest and most effective way to build your people. Don’t be a “say” leader, be a “show” leader and start building your people today.

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Leadership is About Doing

Leadership is more about what you’re doing today than it is about what you did yesterday.

You may have done lots of great things yesterday that helped you earn your leadership position. Having a leadership position however does not make you a leader. Even being a great leader yesterday does not ensure you’re a great leader today.

You never “arrive” as a leader because the leadership journey never stops. Great leaders know that since their people are always evolving that they must evolve as well. They are constantly learning, always growing and perpetually looking for new ways to help their people succeed. 

No matter how effective you may have been yesterday if you’re not trying to be better today then your ability to lead will quickly fail you…and your people. 

We can talk forever about the characteristics of a leader but merely having some or even all of those characteristics does not make you a leader. It’s putting those characteristics to work, actually DOING something with them that makes you a leader. 

When you demonstrate that you care about your people, that’s doing.

When you model the behavior you want and need from your people, that’s doing.

When you cast the vision for your organization and people, that’s doing.

When you make the tough decisions that others are afraid to make, that’s doing.

When you’re willing to risk a confrontation to resolve issues and help people grow, that’s doing too!

What you did in the past may have earned you a leadership position but what you do today and tomorrow will determine if you’re really a leader. A leadership position is not someplace you go to rest on your laurels, it’s a place that you go to build upon them. 

If you were to go on trial this week, charged with being a leader, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

If you’re answer is anything other than an absolute yes then perhaps you’re a little short in the area of doing. The good news is, building a case for your leadership ability is completely within your control. 

The only question is, will you DO anything about it?

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One Question, Three Answers

Over the weekend I had a reader of this blog ask me a question. It was one question that asked if I could share three qualities that make a leader successful. I did not respond immediately because I wanted to put some real thought into my answer. I answered his question later in the day but I didn’t stop thinking about my answer. 

Hence this blog post.

The three qualities cited in my answer were integrity, a caring nature, and good judgment. Some people will automatically assume that I believe those three qualities should be “ranked” in that order. The fact is that they don’t have to be ranked at all because they are intrinsically linked. 

Let me explain.

In many cases the lack of integrity comes directly as a result of poor judgment. Someone in a leadership position does something that they expect will turn out well but when it doesn’t they lie to hide their poor judgment. 

Lying destroys credibility. Not sometimes, not usually, lying ALWAYS destroys credibility. Even lying that comes about as a result of poor judgment destroys credibility. The bigger the lie the greater the destruction.

Liars don’t lead, they manipulate, they coerce, they maneuver, they twist and turn, and they disguise. They can even sometimes project the appearance of success but they do not lead, they never never lead. Some people in leadership positions who lack integrity believe that they can force people to follow them…that is the ultimate in poor judgment. 

They may trick people, they may force some level of compliance out of people for their personal gain and to some that may even look like progress but none of it is leading. Leading requires at least a minimal level of commitment on the part of at least a few followers. People cannot commit to people that they do not trust. 

Wondering which comes first, lack of integrity or poor judgment, is like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg. The reality is it doesn’t matter, both the lack of integrity and poor judgment are killers of leadership potential. 

Whether or not to maintain your integrity is of course the ultimate decision that someone in a leadership position must make. Their judgment when making that decision will determine whether or not they truly have an opportunity to be an authentic servant leader. All leaders should know this simply fact: no one can steal your integrity, you can only give it away.

People without integrity AND good judgment might have a leadership position, but that doesn’t mean they are leading.

Which brings us to a caring nature. Leadership is about people and only people. You manage stuff, budgets, plans, and processes but NOT people. People cannot and should not be managed, they must be led.

If you don’t care about people you simply will not make them the priority that they need to be in order to lead them. When you truly care about someone they can see it in your actions and hear it in your words. They will know you care.

When you don’t actually care they will figure that out too. When your people know that you don’t care they will quickly determine that your motives are all about you. They will feel used. This happens even faster when they sense a lack of integrity because when they don’t trust you, they doubt your motives from the very start.

Caring for others is a choice. It’s a choice you must make before you choose to lead. Lying to someone for your own benefit shows not only a lack of integrity, it shows a tremendous lack of caring. 

As a leader your success is completely dependent on the success of your people. Not caring for or about those people shows terribly poor judgment. 

So what’s more important, integrity, caring or judgment? I’d say it’s irrelevant because having two without the third still makes it very challenging to lead.

 
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Leadership Tricks?

I received an email a few days ago offering me free enrollment in a new webinar that promised to share all the latest leadership “tricks and secrets.” It said these tricks and secrets would allow you to get someone to do pretty much anything you wanted them to do, whether they wanted to or not. 

The one thing I can say for sure about the webinar is that it was priced right. There was no cost which was only fair because I’m pretty certain there would be no value either.

Leadership is a serious undertaking. It is not a game. There are no tricks to rig the system or manipulate people, in fact, manipulating people is just the opposite of leading them. Leadership involves caring enough about people that you actually want to help them succeed, however it is that they want to succeed. 

Leadership is not making people do what you want them to do, leadership is about helping them see they right thing to do and then encouraging them to do it. Authentic leaders don’t force people to drink, they help make them thirsty enough to drink on their own. Authentic leaders don’t decide what’s best for their people, they help their people make good decisions for themselves.

Great leaders get people to do great things, not through manipulation but through integrity based influence. They get people to do the right thing for the right reason.

Don’t waste time and maybe even money looking for leadership tricks or secrets. Instead develop a true caring attitude for the people you lead and then demonstrate that caring in everything you say and do. Caring is one absolute ingredient to success as a leader and the fact that it’s a secret to so many is a mystery to me.