Weak Leaders – Part Five

Strong Authentic Leaders were at one time committed followers. Many of them still are, at least sometimes. 

If you have always struggled to follow someone else then you will most likely always struggle to earn the right to have someone else follow you. Leading someone requires their commitment. Weak leaders have no idea what is required to earn that commitment. Thus the best they can do is create more weak leaders. It is very uncommon for a weak leader to develop someone into a strong leader. 

I could write for days on what causes a lack of commitment but I can sum up it’s result in one word…insubordination. The act of insubordination can take many forms. It could be completely ignoring the requests of the leader. It might be doing the opposite or nearly the opposite, of what is needed for the organization to succeed. Often it is simply talking poorly about the leader behind their back.  

Talking behind a leaders back results in one of the most productivity killing activities an insubordinate follower can undertake. That activity is known as circular communication. Let’s say the leader directs follower number one to perform a particular task. Follower number one thinks it’s a ridiculous request. So follower number one needs to find someone to complain to, we’ll call that person follower number two. 

Follower number two is never chosen at random. They are carefully selected because they must possess one singular quality above all others. They must agree with follower number one that the leader is making a ridiculous request.

It’s also likely that follower number one finds a follower 3, 4, and 5 to complain to as well. Followers 2, 3, 4, and 5 may also tell several other people until finally word gets back to the leader that follower number one thinks the leader is making ridiculous requests. Then the messy circle is complete. 

So now there are multiple people involved, discussing an issue that only two people have the ability to solve. Only the leader and follower number one. By not going directly to the leader follower number one has impacted the productivity, and likely the morale, of many people in the organization. That’s circular communication.

Follower number one may find themselves in a leadership position one day but they will almost certainly be a weak leader.

If you’re in a middle leadership position today and you’re participating in circular communication then you will be seen as a weak leader. Because you probably are. 

Strong Authentic Leaders do not try to communicate to someone through others. They communicate directly with the person who they need to speak with. Indirect, circular communication is a trust killer. When you lose the trust of the people around you then you’ve lost the ability to earn the level of commitment required to lead. 

The five characteristics of weak leaders I have written about in this series are fairly common. The good news is that each of them can be overcome. It requires a weak leader to make a commitment to improve their leadership skills. 

People who convert themselves from weak leaders to strong leaders often do so with the help of a coach or a mentor. It’s tough to do on your because one of the things that make people a weak leader is their inability to see themselves as they really are. 

The eyes and the objectivity of a mentor can make a big difference…if you’re willing to listen to them and act on their recommendations. 

Most weak leaders are satisfied with holding a leadership position. Strong Authentic Leaders made the choice to make a difference in the lives of others. 

Your position of leadership can make a difference for you or you can make a difference with your leadership position. That choice is completely up to you! 

Weak Leaders – Part Four

Weak Leaders lack humility. They mistakenly believe that their title or position makes them a leader. They all too often also believe it makes them a better person than someone without that title or position. 

That causes all kind of behaviors that negatively impact their ability to lead. It makes it very challenging for them to share credit or provide recognition to their people. They take credit for the good work of their people. That’s bad enough but as we talked about in an earlier post, they also heap blame upon their people when something goes wrong. That combination is an absolute morale killer. 

Weak Leaders believe a leadership position provides them with certain privileges that others are not entitled to. Scheduling flexibility, work attire, special parking places, more lenient policies, and a host of other perks. 

What weak leaders don’t understand is that those “privileges” build a wall between themselves and their people. That wall makes it very difficult to develop the relationships required to truly lead. It causes a lack of trust and even open hostility. It’s creates an “us vs them” culture which hamstrings every initiative the leader may attempt, whether it’s a worthwhile initiative or not.

One of the biggest challenges to bringing down those walls is that they are seldom seen from the weak leaders side of the wall. But on the followers side they are noticeable for miles. 

Strong Authentic Leaders don’t have to concern themselves with bringing down walls because they don’t allow them to be erected in the first place. They work tirelessly to connect, often one-on-one with as many members of their team as possible. They don’t see leadership as providing them with privileges, they see leading others as a privilege to be earned.

Strong Authentic Leaders not only give recognition to their people they thank them for their efforts. They realize something weak leaders often don’t…that thanking people doesn’t make you look weak, it helps make you an Authentic Leader. 

Weak Leaders have little or no communication with the majority of their followers. Most of the information they receive about what’s happening in their organization is heavily filtered by those closest to the top of the organization. This further separates them from the people they lead.  It results in an even more detrimental culture within the organization. 

Strong Authentic Leaders communicate with all levels of the organization on a near daily basis. They connect with people directly to show their interest in them. They let them know that their role in the organization matters. They know it’s not possible to over communicate or care to much. 

If you believe your leadership position provides you with privileges that others don’t deserve you may want to think again. The privileges you’re so fond of are limiting your opportunities to be an Authentic Leader.  They are also strengthening that wall between you and your people. Walls are good for many things, building the relationships required for leading is not one of them. 

Weak Leaders – Part Three

I think it’s safe to say that most, likely all, successful people accept full responsibility for their actions and decisions. So then do Strong Authentic Leaders. 

Weak leaders tend to play the blame game. They look for someone else to dump responsibility on when things go wrong. Or they make excuses. My favorite is the combo responsibility dump/excuse of miscommunication. The leader communicated well, the person on the receiving end wasn’t bright enough to understand. 

That “combo” covers both bases. The leader has no responsibility for the mistake and the blame is firmly shifted away from the leader, except it really isn’t. 

Just a side note here…Authentic Leaders accept 100% responsibility for all communication. They know it is their responsibility to make certain the other person completely understood what was said. 

Not accepting responsibility for your actions and decisions leads to an entire set of consequences, whether you’re a leader or not. 

The first, and I think the most serious, is an exaggerated sense of self. If you believe your excuses it makes it difficult to build relationships with others. You are seen as less trustworthy. You likely become more critical of other people. Your feelings of infallibility increases your expectations of others. You become unrealistic, intolerant, and demanding. 

Your attitude becomes a repellent to other people making it nearly impossible to lead. You may not realize it at first and weak leaders may never realize it, but you’re not fun to be around. All because you can’t, or won’t, accept responsibility for your actions and decisions. 

The most common reason for not accepting responsibility is a sense of insecurity. People, especially weak leaders think admitting to a mistake or a poor decision makes them look weak. In reality, having the courage to admit mistakes gives the appearance of strength to a leader’s followers. 

Strong Authentic Leaders see accepting responsibility as a measure of their self-worth. Their strength and self-confidence allows them to do something weak leaders can’t do…learn from their mistakes. 

Ask yourself when was the last time you may have fallen short as a leader by placing blame for your actions on someone else. Ask yourself why you did that. Be honest with yourself. That’s the first step in growing your self-confidence to a level where you’re comfortable owning your actions and decisions. 

If you struggle with accepting responsibility then start paying attention to a leader you respect. You’ll likely see them do it on a regular basis. If you want to move from the weak side of leadership to the strong side do what they do. 

You may not see a difference in yourself right away but you’ll see a difference in how people respond to you. They may even start acting as if you’re a leader! 

They Who Hesitate….Seldom Lead

I used to shoot trap…a lot of trap. For those of you unfamiliar with that particular activity here’s a brief explanation.

Trap shooting (or trapshooting in North America) is one of the three major disciplines of competitive clay pigeon shooting (shooting shotguns at clay targets). The other disciplines are skeet shooting and sporting clays.

It’s only my opinion but for me trapshooting was by far the easiest of the three disciplines. The more I practiced the better I became…and I practiced for hours a day. It was normal for me to shoot at least a case of shotgun shells a day. 

I shot competitively all over the country and it wasn’t unusual to go a long time without a miss. A good shot was measured in the target being turned to dust less than a second after it appeared. Any other kind of hit was better than a miss but not by much.

One day I was invited to go trapshooting with my uncle and a few of his friends. They had never seen me shoot competitively but had heard I shot a lot of trap. So we got to the trap range and I was the 4th shooter out of five. We were on our third round of 25 targets when I finally broke a target into several bigger pieces. All the other targets were what a trap shooter would call “smoked.” I wasn’t even close to missing a shot.

My uncle and one of his friends suggested I was shooting too fast. I asked, “too fast for what?” They said you can’t keep hitting targets if you keep shooting that fast. We were shooting from 16 yards, the shortest distance on the trap range. It was almost inconceivable to me that I could miss from that distance. 

I asked for their reasoning on why I should hold off on pulling the trigger once I had the target lined up. They said something about haste making waste to which I replied “he who hesitates misses the target.” In trap shooting by the way that’s exactly true. The longer it takes you to line up your shot the more likely it will be that you will miss. That’s true for a lot of reasons but one of the main reasons is the pellets in your shotgun shell are more spread out. That makes it easier for the target to fly right through them. 

There are not many areas of life where hesitation pays dividends. That’s true in leadership as well. One of the five most common characteristics of weak leaders is that they hesitate. They wait for everything to be lined up perfectly before they are willing to pull the trigger. Many times they wait so long that they don’t pull the trigger at all. 

That’s not leadership!

Authentic Leaders possess the courage to “take the shot” when necessary, even without everything being perfectly aligned. They take a risk to chase success knowing full well that they could wait forever for the perfect opportunity to arrive. 

Authentic Leaders recognize windows of opportunities that lessor leaders fail to see. In fact, if Authentic Leaders don’t see an opportunity they create one. What they don’t do is hesitate. 

What they also don’t do is mistake patience for procrastination. One could create a bigger window of opportunity while the other, procrastination, slams the window shut. The most successful leaders, really the most successful people, are careful when using their patience. They know all too well it can easily become procrastination and procrastination is frequently mistaken for hesitation. 

The most effective Authentic Leaders do what needs to be done when it needs to be done. Whether it be dealing with conflict, making a difficult decision, or trying something new they know that delay frequently leads to a missed opportunity.

Don’t wait for the perfect time to lead. Use the information you have today. Use the skills you have today. Use the resources you have today to take action today. The key to success is likely in your hands already, hesitating to use it only makes it less likely that you’ll use it at all. 

Don’t miss your shot, be bold, don’t hesitate, Lead Today!

Exactly Who is the Idiot Here?

Hint…there are no idiots! 

I received a call from someone the other day asking for ideas on how they could build better relationships with their work colleagues. They were really struggling in this area because they don’t like working with people who are idiots. Idiot was their choice of words, not mine. 

I knew this was going to be an interesting conversation because I almost instantly believed I had figured out why this person might be “relationship challenged.” 

I began by asking how committed they were to improving their relationship with co-workers. They said they were very committed. I asked how they came to be “very” committed. They didn’t understand my question so I asked what caused them to become committed enough today to ask for help.  I pointed out that they could have asked yesterday or last week or last month.  

They replied that it had been recommended by their supervisor that they figure out a way to have these “better relationships.” That would be important if they hoped to advance within the company. 

Now that I understood the “motivation” for developing better relationships I asked them to quantify their level of commitment on a scale of one to ten. They immediately said a ten! Then I asked them to quantify their commitment level absent the “recommendation” from their boss. They had to think about that for a bit and eventually settled on a 3. 

When I asked why such a low commitment level they answered that they didn’t believe it was their responsibility to work well with idiots…there’s that word again. 

So then I asked if they could tell when talking with others if the person they were talking with thought they were an idiot. They answered yes. I asked how they could tell and they answered, “you just can.” Then I asked if that was some special gift of insight they possessed or if they thought other people could sense that as well. 

There was a rather lengthy silence on the phone at this point. 

I tried to lighten up the conversation a little bit by saying with a chuckle, “I think we may have discovered the way to better working relationships with your colleagues.”

They said they would stop thinking of others as idiots when they stopped being idiots. So I went back to my questioning. I asked how they interacted with people who treated them with disrespect, almost as if they were say… an idiot.

A bit more silence before I heard “I’ll treat “them” better when they treat me better.” 

I asked again about that commitment level of ten and why it was so high. They said they wanted a leadership position in their company and they knew they needed better relationships to get it. 

I told them that they already have a leadership position they just have to use it. Step one would be treating people, ALL PEOPLE, with respect. I said that would be easier to do if we realize that everyone knows something we don’t and we can learn from anyone. It’s unlikely we’re actually working with idiots. We are working with people who think differently than we do because their life experiences are different. 

They don’t know less than we do, they know different than we do. That means we can learn from them. It means we can learn from anyone. 

When we change our mindset from one of “people are idiots” to one of “I can learn from anyone” our relationships improve dramatically overnight. If you want better relationships with other people then don’t try to change them. Change your thinking about them.

That is what an Authentic Leader would do. If you want a higher position of leadership you should understand that you must lead from where you are before you can lead from somewhere else.

When Leaders Don’t Listen

It’s great to work with a leader who knows a lot. It’s absolutely terrible to work for a leader who knows it all. 

I want you to pay particular to the wording of those two sentences. When a leader knows a lot they work WITH their people to create an environment of growth and success. When a leader knows it all they tend to be far more “boss” like than leader like. They don’t work with their people, they expect their people to work FOR them. 

Leaders who believe they already know it all don’t listen to their people. They don’t need to because the only reason anyone actually listens is to learn something. When you have nothing to learn you have no need to listen. 

It’s bad for anyone not to listen. The most successful people learn something new almost every single day. Much of what they learn they learn by listening. When people in leadership positions don’t listen the results can be disastrous. 

Leaders who don’t listen demoralize their people. Leaders who don’t listen have no way of knowing how to help their people stay motivated. Leaders who don’t listen have no way of showing their people that they care. Leaders who don’t listen will never earn the commitment of their people. 

Leaders who don’t listen have to rely on compliance instead of commitment. They will need to try and force productivity out of their people. They may eventually get some work out of them but the quality and quantity of that work will be less than idea.

Compliance will never take an organization and it’s people to the places where commitment can go. 

It is nearly impossible to become a great leader without being a great communicator. But leaders who don’t listen think communication is only about talking. So they talk and talk and talk. They tell people what to think, they tell them how to think it, and they tell them when to think it. 

Communication is also about listening. In fact, communication is mostly about listening. 

Leaders who do listen give themselves a chance to learn. They give themselves the opportunity to receive information from multiple sources and break it down into actionable tasks. 

Leaders who practice the art of listening receive feedback on their own performance as well as unbiased input about the performance of all members of their team. It allows them to create a truly inclusive organization based on performance not favoritism. 

Leaders who are willing to listen learn exactly how to show their people that they care about them. They know the strengths and weaknesses of their people and they find positions for them where they can succeed. 

Hearing is a gift from God but listening is a choice. Authentic Leaders make the choice to listen to their people, to their customers, to anyone who might help them lead even a little better. 

Have you made the choice to listen? If not it’s a simple choice, just look in the mirror and tell the person looking back that they have a lot to learn. Then start talking less and listening more because when it comes to listening one thing is certain…. if you’re talking then you’re most certainly NOT listening. 

Frustrated Followers

I’ve been fortunate for the vast majority of my career to work for and with leaders who were Authentic Leaders. They cared for their people, they were smart and they knew what they were doing. 

Except maybe for one guy. He was my first boss out of college. He didn’t seem to have a very high EQ and his IQ was virtually nonexistent. (Or so it appeared to me) He was functionally illiterate, his communication skills were subpar to say the least. 

But he was my boss. My boss! I had a brand new Engineering Degree and had been anointed by non other than myself as one of the smartest people on the planet. It was an impossible situation…I was a genius and my boss was not. So I set about fixing that injustice.

I decided, at least subconsciously, to be a “difficult” employee. Difficult might be a bit of an understatement…I was determined to make his life a living hell. I mean how hard could it be for a genius such as myself to chase this knucklehead out of the company. My goal was to do whatever was necessary for this guy to no longer be my boss.

I’ll spare you the ugly details of what I determined “difficult” to be. But he and the company we worked for had incredible staying power. Despite my best efforts they kept trying to find a way for us to work together and it took me two long years to finally reach my goal. 

I quit!

Apparently his 20 plus years at a family run company meant something to the owners. They also valued the skills I bought with me. 

It would be several years after I quit before I’d realize what a terrible employee I was. It would be a few more years before I’d realize what a terrible person I was to that boss. 

I’d made the horrible mistake of not seeing the value in someone different than me. My failure to see the value in another human being caused ME great frustration. I took that out on both my boss and any coworkers who happened to agree with him. 

That the man had certain “gaps” was never in doubt. My mistake was in thinking it was my job to expose those gaps. In reality part of my job was actually to fill those gaps. 

He was not technically proficient, I was. It was my job to help him use his strengths by filling his technical gaps. I failed at that…miserably. 

When your leader isn’t all that you think they should be don’t allow yourself to be frustrated. Don’t focus on their weaknesses, focus on their strengths. I can guarantee you that somebody saw those strengths and that’s why they are in the position that are in. Help them use their strengths by filling whatever gaps you can. 

Whether it’s in your job description or not you should understand that one of your roles is to support the other people in your organization. Especially those above you on the organizational chart. The only exception to that “rule” is if that support would include doing something illegal or unethical.

When you’re feeling frustrated by someone above you in your organization, or even someone at your level, remember this truth: being frustrated prevents you from using YOUR strengths. Being frustrated hurts YOU more than anyone else. 

So don’t focus on the things that frustrate you, focus instead on the things you can control. One of those things is helping the people who frustrate you to not frustrate you. That’s a whole lot more productive than constantly complaining.