Fake Leadership

There certainly seems to be a lot of news lately about fake stuff. There’s fake news, fake websites, and even fake, or at least disingenuous, people.

 

While much of the “fake stuff” is new and can be mostly attributed to the rise of the internet there is one fake thing that has seemingly always been around. That one fake thing is Fake Leadership.

 

Fake Leadership happens when someone gives the appearance of leadership without really leading. They may have a title or position that indicates they are a leader, they may make big decisions, say big things and even have great success in their careers. But they are missing one necessary characteristic of nearly all Authentic Leaders and absolutely all Authentic Servant Leaders.

 

They do not build people and they do not develop more leaders.

 

Fake Leaders may have tremendous business success but that only proves they were great managers. As I have written on numerous occasions there is a singular distinction between managing and leading….you manage stuff, buildings, inventories, budgets, and plans but you lead people. 

 

Leadership is about people and only people. Many people are blessed with both management and leadership skills but many, many more are not. Frequently when people possess only one of those skill sets the one they possess is management. 

 

A manager builds a successful organization mostly on their own efforts. They outwork and out-think most everyone around them. They are successful albeit a bit selfishly so. But here’s the thing, there’s really not all that much wrong with that, I’d rather be a very successful great manager than a not so successful mediocre leader. 

 

What is wrong with it is when that person claims the mantle of leadership. I don’t know if they are trying to fool themselves or the people they try to manage but either way, if they are not building people they are not a true leader.

 

While a manger builds a successful organization a leader builds people who then build the successful organization. In the case of an Authentic Leader they truly care about the people they build; in the case of an Authentic Servant Leader they may very well care more about the success of their people than they care about their own.

 

A strong manager’s organization will have success as long as the manager is present to ensure it. A leader’s organization will outlast their leadership so long as the leaders they built continue to build people who become leaders themselves. The success of an Authentic Leader can go on virtually forever, the success of an Authentic Servant Leader does go on forever.

 

If you want to know if someone is a leader don’t look at the leader, look at the people around them. If those people are not growing, if they aren’t involved in the decision making process, if they aren’t responsible for at least part of the success, then it’s safe to say that the person above them isn’t really leading. 


If a person isn’t leading, regardless of the title or position they hold then they are simply not a leader. If they say they are then you’ll know they are a fake.


The One True Prerequisite of Leading

You must have a follower!

 

No matter what your title happens to be, no matter how lofty your position may be within your organization if no one is following you then you are not leading. Period!

 

It’s probably the number one leadership mistake I see and I see it often, very very often. People believe that it’s their title or position that makes them a leader. This misnomer is especially common with people new to a position of leadership. 

 

But here is the absolute fact: titles and positions on an organizational chart do not make you a leader. The people following you make you a leader. 

 

You can be promoted to a position with a fancy title that makes it sound like you are a leader but you must earn the right to truly lead. No one, absolutely no one can promote you to the position of Leader, that can only come from the people you would lead and you must constantly demonstrate that you’re worthy of it.

 

The fastest way to demonstrate that is by showing your people that you care about them. Bringing donuts to the meeting is nice but a drone could do that. 

 

Showing you care requires that you connect with your people in a meaningful way. If you’re in a leadership position then I have some questions for you… How much do you REALLY know about the people you claim to lead? Do you know their goals, their needs, their hopes and desires for their future?

 

Do you know what their life struggles are outside of work? Did you ever consider those struggles may affect their work performance? Did you ever consider that maybe, just maybe you could help them, coach them or perhaps just offer them someone to talk to?

 

Leadership is about people and to earn the right to lead you’re going to have to be willing to SHOW you care. You must be willing to invest a piece of yourself in someone else’s life. You see, when you make a difference in your business you’re a manager and that’s great but when you make a difference in the life of someone else you’re a leader and that’s better, much much better.


If you’re in a leadership position it’s a good idea to turn around once in a while to see if anyone is really following. If they are not then it’s possible, actually likely that the people who could be following you have decided that you simply don’t care enough to truly lead.


Dear President Trump

Dear President Trump,


First let me apologize for not writing sooner. It’s just one of those things where the best of intentions just doesn’t get it done. While important, this letter never seemed vital…until perhaps now. 

 

I was a big fan of your show The Apprentice. I didn’t always agree with your decisions on who should stay and who should go and the tasks could at times be a bit lame but the whole concept was like a Science Lab of what to do and what not to do when it comes to leadership. For that reason I found it fascinating.

 

I know it’s easy to say after the fact but I wasn’t the least bit surprised (well maybe a little) by your victory in November, winners win. That’s how it works in all walks of life, even in politics it appears. Clearly there are wide swaths of the American people who do not view you in a favorable light but however you’ve done it no one should continue to be surprised by your success. 

 

I really don’t know anyone, anywhere who wouldn’t describe the Presidency of The United States of America as the pinnacle of success. You sir have arrived! 

 

Which is why I, as a student of people and leadership, am so surprised to see you behave as if you’re an up and coming street fighter looking to get someone, anyone, to recognize their potential. You absolutely, positively, supercalifragilisticexpialidociously do not have to do that anymore.

 

There are clearly people in the media who would prefer to shape your message in such a way as to make you look deplorable. They are pretty good at it too, so good in fact that they certainly do not require your rather skilled assistance. 

 

Social Media in general, and Twitter in particular, was a very valuable tool for you during the election. It indeed allowed you to get your message “out there” in an unfiltered, direct, and unprecedented way. As effective as it can be in helping you stay connected as President to your fellow Americans it can also serve as a valuable weapon for your opponents to use against you. 

 

But they are shooting blanks unless you provide them with real ammunition, and that it seems is what you’ve been doing far too often. When you do that you descend from the pinnacle of success, from the highest office in the land, to the level of your opponents. You do not have to win a fight against the media, in fact you can’t win a fight because there is no fight, it’s over, you’ve already won.

 

The only way, the absolute only way you give credence to the things they say about you, true or not, is to respond to them. You may be hitting back “10 times harder” but half your blows are landing on you. I’ve thought long and hard about this and I just can’t think of a single benefit to you or the nation of you doing that. So don’t! 

 

You simply cannot build America up by tearing down your fellow Americans, it does not work that way. You lead all Americans Mr. President, whether they voted for you or not, whether they like you or not, and whether they want to be led by you or not and disparaging those you lead doesn’t work either. Never has, never will. 

 

Don’t stop tweeting Mr. President, just stop tweeting the trash talk. Tweet about your successes, tweet about your challenges, tweet about where and how the public can help you, just don’t tweet negative stuff about the people you lead. Even if it’s true there is no benefit to anyone in doing it.

 

As we Americans celebrate our freedom this week I urge you to think of all of our fellow Americans who have sacrificed their very life to protect the freedoms we enjoy. It is they who provide us with the continued right of free speech. You sir, as do all Americans, have the right to say pretty much whatever you want but I’d encourage you to consider this: having the right to do something doesn’t make it right to do. 

 

In my humble opinion Mr. President you can best honor those fallen heroes by honoring the office which you now hold. Honor it by being your best self. Honor it by being the role model of American values and ideals. Mr. President there is simply no way to make America great again by damaging the principles by which we have stood for all these years. 

 

Let your protagonists try to provoke you but do not be provoked. Rise above the fray, they cannot fight you if you don’t join the fight. Find the courage to no longer engage them in battle. 

 

Work everyday for every American, even those who today may hate you. Their hate is their problem not yours. The hater always loses more than the hated; do them a favor and be the President who is impossible to hate. 

 

You’ve got a long way to go to make that happen but if you’re up for it then it shouldn’t really be a problem for you. After all, you’re in the business of surprising people. 

 

It’s called leading Mr. President pure and simply. As President of the United States leading is not a part time job. Everything you say and do either adds to or subtracts from your ability to truly lead. That’s everything Mr. President, absolutely positively everything

 

Every American, even those who didn’t vote for you, even those who loathe you, need you to succeed. They may be so filled with hate that they can’t see that today but that doesn’t diminish the fact. The American people need you to lead. Everyday, all day.  

 

Thank you for taking the time to read my letter, I hope you’ll find some guidance in it that will help you as you continue to work for all of us. May God bless you Mr. President and may God bless America. 

 

Your fellow American, 

 

Steve Keating


Death by Indecisiveness

I’m not sure if there is anything more useless than a leader who cannot or more likely, will not, make a decision. 

 

I know that sounds harsh but I’ve really held that belief since I was a seventeen year old High School senior. As a Senior Officer in my Military High School I had the responsibility of overseeing the small bore rifle range for a Freshman military class. 

 

One day a student’s rifle misfired and the student turned toward me looking for instructions on what to do. (We had only explained the proper procedure 1000 times) As he turned toward me the barrel of his rifle also tuned toward me and I hesitated to give direction for a split second. That was long enough for the round in the chamber to go off striking me in the foot. 

 

I was fortunate on many levels. I was wearing boots which helped and the round was only a .22 caliber, plus the 14 year old Freshman had kept the barrel of his weapon pointed toward the ground. It was a relatively minor injury and at the time I was more upset about my boot than my foot. 

 

But I was also unfortunate. I was unfortunate (in hindsite also foutunate) in that the active duty military person on the range that day was Sergeant Major Stock. To say that he was mad would be the understatement of my entire four years of High School. 

 

Funny thing was, he wasn’t mad at the kid who shot me; he was furious with me. He was furious because he said my indecision, as brief as it was, could have gotten me killed. 

 

I stood there with blood oozing out of my boot while he screamed at me about the importance of making decisions. I distinctly remember him “explaining” that even a wrong decision was better than no decision. He said that in fact a “no decision” was a decision, it was a decision to not decide and that was a sure way to lose all control over a situation. 

 

He said that even when you make a wrong decision you retain control over changing it, improving it, or fixing it. He said doing something, deciding something, was always better than doing nothing or deciding nothing. ALWAYS! I think he actually said always like a dozen times, each time a little louder than the previous. 

 

Needless to say the whole thing made quite an impression on me and I’ve never forgotten the lesson I learned that day. It’s probably why I have so little patience for people who claim to be leaders and then show little ability or desire to make even small decisions.

 

Perhaps they believe they are playing it “safe” by not making a decision but in fact, they couldn’t be more wrong.

 

The inability to make a decision is as serious a flaw as a leader can have. It has killed as many careers as dishonesty, stupidity and lack of good judgment combined. 

 

I’m not suggesting that anyone make decisions on a whim. I’d highly recommend that a leader get as many facts regarding a particular situation as possible before making a decision. You may not have all the facts you would like to have but once you get all the facts that you’re going to get in a reasonable amount of time then you need to make a decision. DECIDE! It’s what leaders do. 

 

There are a lot of reasons that people in leadership positions hesitate when making decisions, the fear of making a bad decision, the fear of making someone mad or disappointing them and the fear that you just don’t know the right choice to make. I get all of that but none of those are valid reasons for delaying what needs to be done, they are merely excuses for avoiding a major responsibility of leading.

 

If you really don’t have the confidence or ability to make a decision then find a coach or mentor who can help you develop that critical skill. I know as a leader you will be required to make decisions that impact the lives of those you lead. I know that is not easy. Leading, truly leading, is not easy. 


But if you’re going to have the audacity to label yourself a leader then you have to make decisions. You simply must! Always, always, always……

Are You the “Right” Kind of Leader?

One of the many challenges of leadership is this little gem: doing what’s right and doing what’s popular are very often two different things. 

 

Authentic leaders do what’s right. They do what’s right even when it isn’t easy and they do what’s right even when it isn’t popular.  They lead by principle not by poll. They gather facts and information and then they decide. Once they decide they act. It’s pretty much always in that order.

 

There are many people in leadership positions who don’t actually lead. Instead they put a finger in the air to determine which way the wind is blowing and then they go with the flow. These imitation leaders have a need to be liked and that need is so strong that they refuse to risk upsetting anyone by doing what needs to be done. 

 

So sadly, right often loses out to popular or easy.

 

If you want to be a leader then buck up and trade-up from popular to respected. Do the right thing whether it’s popular or not! 

 

If you’re not sure what’s “right” then consult with trusted resources, ask your mentor, ask other Authentic Leaders what they have done in similar situations. Determine what’s right and once you do then act. 

 

Here’s the thing for those of you who still worry about your popularity: doing the easy thing may make you popular in the short-term but doing the right thing, while it may take some time, will make you a leader in the long-term. 


Leading isn’t always fun, it isn’t always easy and leaders aren’t always popular but true leadership is always rewarding. Reward yourself, always do the right thing.

Enduring Leadership

Enduring leadership is a characteristic of a great leader. Truly great leaders, what leadership gurus would call a Pinnacle Level or Level Five leader leave behind their leadership when they are done leading.

They leave it behind in the form of leaders they have helped build. That’s why you can’t truly declare someone a Pinnacle Level leader until they are at or near the end of their leadership career. 

You see, good leaders are judged by what they do; great leaders are judged by what gets done when they are not leading anymore. A truly great leader’s leadership outlasts them.

If you lead any kind of organization and nothing of you or your leadership remains when you leave the building for the last time then your leadership was of the common variety. Pinnacle or Level Five leaders are not at all common, in fact they are the most uncommon leaders of all.

They have not only built a solid follower-ship, they have built outstanding leaders who will carry forth their legacy and very likely build more leaders of their own. It is not a coincidence that Pinnacle Level leaders have almost all been led at some point in their career by another Pinnacle Level leader. 

If your ultimate leadership goal is to become a Pinnacle Level leader then you’re likely to fall short of your goal. Achieving recognition as a top level leader is seldom the goal of a Pinnacle Level leader, their goal is to make a difference in the life of their organization and the lives of the people they lead within it. 

Achieving Pinnacle or Level Five Leadership Status is merely a byproduct of their commitment to their people. 

Motives matter when it comes to leadership. You don’t build more leaders to reach the Pinnacle Level of leadership, you reach the Pinnacle Level of leadership by building more leaders.

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.