People or Policy?

Businesses must have policies! They need a set of procedures that help their employees know what to do in any given circumstance. Those policies and procedures also help provide a consistent experience to their customers. Until it doesn’t.

I’m all for policies and procedures when it comes to “things” like how to do the books, how to mix some exotic coffee drink (it’s all exotic to me) or how to answer the phone. “Things” are best done with some consistency.

There should also be policies when it comes to people. My preferred “people policy” is to not have a policy. The last thing I want to hear from a customer service representative is the policy of whatever place they are working at. That’s bad business.

What’s worse is when someone in a leadership position attempts to “lead by policy.” Every single person is unique and the only policy that fits everyone is to have no policy. I’ve never met anyone who was smart enough to develop a policy that “fit” every individual they might encounter. Trying to squeeze every person into a “one size fits all” policy is demoralizing to the people who don’t fit.

A leader can certainly benefit from some guidelines. They can use past history to help determine their actions but leadership is about people and every person is different. Policies and procedures tend to lock a leader into a decision. People who lead by policy look at a situation and apply the logical procedure in the same way they did the last time they faced a similar situation. They will apply the same procedure the next time they face the situation.

That would be fine except for one little problem. Leadership is about people. People are far more emotional and far less logical than those “things” that work better with consistent policies and procedures.

That is one of the major challenges of leading.

Authentic Leaders care for the people of their organization more than they care about the policies of their organization. They apply the “rules” of the organization unfairly but they apply them equally unfairly to everyone. They think and act with unquestioned integrity. They know that the best thing they can do for the organization is to take care of it’s people. They show their understanding that not a single policy or procedure is more important than the people who implement them.

They know that what is right is sometimes unfair. The do the right thing anyway. They take each individual person’s circumstances into consideration. If there is no policy or procedure that fits then they make a new one that will.

Before all the HR professionals and lawyers reading this go nuts on me let me say this. I understand the need for employee handbooks and policies. I get that rules matter. I’m not advocating for anarchy in the workplace. I understand the danger of making up policy on the fly. I can only hope you understand the danger of not.

People, both employees of a business and the customers of that business are individuals. Believing that you can precisely fit all of them into some predetermined policy with a “close enough” attitude is a recipe for failure.

When it comes to building, engaging and motivating your people “close enough” isn’t enough. Authentic Leaders put their people before their policies to ensure a perfect fit.

Do you?

Are You a Person of Influence?

People without much leadership experience often overestimate the importance of a leadership title or a leadership position. They believe that they must have a high level position or fancy sounding title in order to influence other people.

But influence doesn’t come with a position or a title. Influence cannot be given, it must be earned.

A position gives you a chance and it can make it somewhat easier to earn influence but it still requires some time to earn your level of influence. Authentic Leaders will gain influence over time while lesser leaders will lose influence. Authentic Leaders understand that a position doesn’t make them a leader. They also understand that as a leader they can make the position whatever they want it to be.

While an inexperienced leader may have a mindset that says, “I want a position that people will have to follow,” an Authentic Leader has a mindset of, “I want to develop myself into the type of person that people will want to follow.”

Those Authentic Leaders know that people can only follow people who care about them. They demonstrate that they care for their people at every opportunity. They work hard at knowing and understanding the people they would lead. They see them as people first and employees second.

Authentic Leaders know that the deeper their concern for their people, the wider and more long-lasting their influence will be.

Authentic Leaders also grow their influence by making certain that their actions match their words. They do what they say they will do. They honor their commitments and help their people honor theirs. They coach, support and encourage their people on a consistent basis.

If you’re interested in being a person of influence then you should know that influence can’t go over, through or under walls. If walls exist between you and the people you’re hoping to lead then influence will not exist.

Relationships bring down walls. Invest a part of every day to know and better understand your people. It’s one of the fastest ways to build a relationship. Your level of influence will grow along with the strength of those relationships.

Lesser leaders can fool themselves into believing that they have more influence than they actually do. Authentic Leaders know that without a doubt their level of influence will be determined not by what it says on their business card but by who they are as a person.

Authentic Leaders are people of influence. Are you a person of influence?

The Need to Lead

Ever hear of the term “great world manager?” Me neither. The term we hear is “great world leader.” It seems that people almost instinctively understand that while a manager can steer the ship it takes a leader to set the course. It’s clear we have enough good managers, what we need is more leaders.

It’s Football season in the United States. The time of year when you hear football analysts describing the difference between an “ok” quarterback and an outstanding one. The “ok” quarterback is said to be a good “game manager” and the outstanding quarterback is described as an excellent “on-field leader.”

The difference is the “game manager” wins most of the games they are supposed to win and few of the games against the better teams. The “on-field leader” very rarely loses games they are supposed to win and frequently beats the better teams. One other notable difference, and this is my observation, the “on-field leader” also makes the players around them better.

I could write for hours about the difference between managing and leading. I’ll just say this, if you’re making your business better it’s likely managing, if you’re making your people better it’s most certainly leading.

Authentic Servant Leaders know something that other leaders, even effective Authentic Leaders often miss. They know that the fastest way to build their business is to build their people.

That’s why Authentic Servant Leaders spare no effort in developing their people. They don’t lead their people when they have the time, the lead their people ALL the time. People are their top priority. They recognize that every interaction with their people is a learning experience and that they can learn as much as their people.

Authentic Servant Leaders grow their organization by growing their people. People are their top priority in every situation. They will not sacrifice the long-term growth of their people for short-term profits. They know that they surest way to sustain their success is to work with their people, not on them.

Authentic Servant Leaders grow more leaders and those leaders grow the business. They make the people around them better. They help ordinary people achieve extraordinary results. They know that their own success is completely dependent upon the success of their people.

So where’s your focus? Are you focused only on the bottom line or are you focused on the people you need to help you grow it?

The Courage to Lead

You can find lots of articles on leadership that talk about the characteristics required to lead. I’ve written several myself. The two I most often write about are integrity and judgment. Asking which one is more important is a lot like asking which came first the chicken or the egg.

I personally think much of the poor judgment we see and hear about stems from a lack of integrity. People try to hide their lack of integrity and make very poor judgments in the attempt. Rather than be honest about a potential skill gap they try hiding it and once again, that attempt to deceive causes a ton of poor judgment.

Whatever leadership characteristic you think is most important I believe there is one characteristic that all effective leaders possess. That characteristic is courage.

Leading is hard. It’s hard because leadership is about people. You can manage stuff but people must be led. People, all people, are emotional. They have hopes, dreams, challenges, and worries.

If you’re leading them, truly leading, you’re dealing with your emotions, your dreams, your challenges, and your worries, PLUS theirs. That is not easy.

Sometimes conflicts will arise. Authentic Leaders have the courage to confront those conflicts head on. Authentic Servant Leaders have the courage to confront those conflicts head on with a healthy dose of compassion added in.

One of the most serious failings I see from people in leadership positions is lacking the courage to deal with conflicts or even potential conflicts. They will go to great lengths to ignore the situation. They will tell themselves that time will “fix” the problem. They will tell themselves and sometimes other people that “they aren’t baby sitters” and people just have to work these things out on their own. That’s NOT leading.

Making decisions is another area that often requires courageous leadership. When a person in a leadership decision lacks courage they often simply don’t make the decisions required of a leader. What they fail to realize is that not making a decision IS a decision and it’s very often a wrong decision.

Sometimes people in leadership positions lack the courage to say no. When asked for something they know isn’t possible they answer with a “we’ll see” or a “let me think about it.” They know that “no” will be an unpopular answer and they lack the courage to make unpopular decisions. That’s NOT leading either.

Some days leading requires a huge amount of courage. Some days not so much. But courage is a constant in all Authentic Leaders. Possessing the courage to lead is a leadership characteristic not considered often enough. But I’d put it in my top three most important characteristics for a leader.

What about you…do you believe a leader should possess courage?

Surprise, You’re Fired!

Being fired from a job is one of the most traumatic events a person can experience in life. It’s right up there with the death of a loved one or divorce.

When a person is fired from their job the usual thought process says it’s the person’s own responsibility. That is frequently true, more or less.

I say more or less because often there is another person who shares some of the responsibility for the failure of that employee. That person is their boss.

Now if you’re a boss with the mindset of a manager you’re saying that it’s never your fault. You’re saying that you hired an adult and that they are responsible for their performance. They needed to “step up” and get the job done. You say they should have tried harder, worked longer, learned more or “figured it out.” I can’t disagree with any of that.

But if you’re a boss with the mindset of a leader before you say anything about your employee you’re saying YOU should have “stepped up” and led them more effectively. You’re saying YOU should have tried harder, worked longer, learned more about them or figured out what it would have taken to motivate them to perform at a higher level.

If you’re a boss with the mindset of a leader you understand that there are really only two possible reasons your employee failed to perform. You either hired a person with the wrong skill set for the job or you failed to provide them with the tools and motivation they needed to succeed.

Either way, if you have the audacity to label yourself a leader then YOU must accept at least part of the responsibility for the failure of your employee. If it gets to the point of termination then it’s a gigantic failure. The person who was terminated faces tremendous trauma in their life and you as a leader played a part in making that happen.

If the person you terminated was surprised by the termination then the trauma is greater still. If you’re surprised that they were surprised then your failure is even more than gigantic.

Those “surprise” firings most often happen because a reality gap exists between what the boss wants and what the employee has convinced themselves they are delivering. That’s a reality gap and that gap can only be filled through coaching.

And here’s the thing, bosses with a managerial mindset seldom coach, they tell. Bosses with a leadership mindset seldom tell, they coach and they frequently coach by showing. Bosses with a leadership mindset have no need or time to boss, they are focused on leading. They are focused on developing those they lead. They celebrate the success of their people and share in the pain of any failure they may have.

They help create that success and avoid the pain with near constant communication. Most often that communication comes in the form of providing a model of successful behavior but sometimes they even use words.

Employees who are led instead of bossed are never in doubt as to what is expected of them. They are rarely fired but when they are they are never surprised.

Do your people know exactly what is expected of them? If not then you may be a boss but you’re most likely not a leader.

 

Fast Leadership

Are you a leader in a hurry? Are you rushing to lead? Do you feel urgency to “get your people up to speed?”

 

Those are all normal circumstances for many leaders, particularly new leaders. But here’s a word of caution. If you go too fast, if you get too far out in front of your people, if you’re dragging them along more than pulling them along you might not be leading them at all. 

 

You may want to consider slowing down to speed up your leadership potential. If your people can only see your back it makes it hard for them to hear what you’re saying. If your people are constantly looking at your back it will be hard for you to show them that you care for them. 

 

If you never slow down enough for your people to catch up then when you do eventually turn around you’ll discover there is no one there. You will have lost the opportunity to lead.

 

Inexperienced leaders often feel that leadership requires them to be out front at all times. More experienced and successful leaders would tell you that you lead from the middle at times. Other times you’ll have more success actually leading from the rear. 

 

Living out front all the time makes it harder to connect with your people. It separates you from them and only provides you with a one dimensional view of their capabilities. It doesn’t take long for your people to believe you’re disconnected from their world and they are most likely right about that. 

 

It’s tough to coach from out front. The farther out front you are the tougher it is. You’ll discover it’s far more effective to coach your people when you’re along side of them. Your closeness will indicate you care and make it much harder for your people to claim you don’t understand what they are going through. 

 

Sometimes your people will need a push and they only place you can push them when you’re out front is to the rear. To push them forward you must be leading them from the rear. It takes an Authentic Leader to let their people be out front but out front is where the real growth takes place. 

 

Look around. Are some of your people along side of you? Are some of them in front of you? Are they all behind you? Are some of them way behind you? Are all of them way way behind you?

 

If you don’t like the answers to those questions then perhaps you need to slow down a bit and realize that leading people isn’t a sprint, it’s more like a marathon. It takes perseverance and stamina and heart. 


Do you have what it takes to authentically lead? Slow down a bit and consider your answer to that question before rushing to the front of the pack. 

The Art of Leadership

There is well documented science behind the management of things. You input a set of “ingredients,” follow a known and specific plan and presto, you almost always get the output you were looking for. 

 

It’s not that way with leadership. Managing is about things. Leadership is about people. When you manage a budget you input the numbers with a high degree of certainty that 2 plus 2 will equal 4. (Yes, I understand this may not be true if you work in government) When you lead people you can put 2 people in the same room, give them identical directions on preforming the identical task and get 2 drastically different results. 

 

A stoplight at an intersection demonstrates the difference between managing and leading. The red and green lights mean the same thing to everyone. You stop on red and go on green. 

 

The yellow lights however can mean very different, even opposite things. 

 

To some people yellow lights mean slow down. To other people the yellow light means go real fast. But that depends too. If you’re not in a hurry it may mean slow down but if you are in a hurry it might mean go real fast. 

 

The red and green lights are pretty straightforward, kind of like managing. The yellow lights have lots of variables and even those variables can change depending on the circumstances. That’s a lot like leading. 

 

Authentic Leaders know that while people can have similarities no two people are identical. They develop their people by using those diverse skills, varied knowledge and different experiences to mold a productive team. 

 

They rally those individuals to mutually agreed upon goals and objectives. Authentic Leaders encourage robust discussions to reach high-quality and correct decisions. While working as a team they establish both group and individual accountability. They learn from their successes and learn even more from their failures. Instead of assigning blame they look for solutions. 

 

Developing people is the true art in leadership. 

 

Authentic Leaders invest a significant part of each day practicing that art. They know that their success is completely dependent on the success of their people. They understand that while quarterly profits and short-term metrics are important the development of their people is the only way to truly sustainable success. 

 

They inspire their people to do great things, often things their people never thought possible. Authentic Leaders work tirelessly to help their people stay highly motivated. They motivate them with a combination of rewards and sincere recognition. 

 

People are the priority for Authentic Leaders. They understand that all the growth and success of any organization comes from the efforts of the people who make up the organization. Their words, actions, values, vision, and ethics all reflect that understanding. 


So….do you understand?