First Person Leadership

If you can’t lead yourself you can’t lead anyone. 


Too many people in leadership positions focus all their leadership energies on leading other people. They forget about leading the person most responsible for their success… themselves. The problem with that is it often causes someone to hold the people they lead to a higher standard than themselves. 


They know exactly the qualities and characteristics they are looking for in their people but they never stop long enough to see if they possess those qualities and characteristics themselves. They forget that they are the model of successful behavior for their people. 


What about you? Are you leading yourself with the same standards that you apply to your people? 


It’s likely you expect your people to have a positive attitude. Have you checked your attitude lately? Attitudes are contagious and a leader’s attitude is more contagious than most. If your people see you struggling with your attitude then they will struggle with theirs as well. Maintaining a positive attitude is a choice and it’s a vital choice if you hope to lead effectively.


Are you an emotional leader? Emotions are a powerful human force but they are also a twin-edged sword. Too little emotion and leadership dies pretty quickly. Too much emotion and it can die even faster. What kind of emotional model are you for your people? If you can’t lead yourself to control your emotions than it’s almost certain you can’t lead anyone else to control theirs. 


Are you modeling enthusiasm? Leaders want their people engaged in and enthusiastic about their work. It’s not often that you find a leader’s people more enthusiastic than the leader. When was the last timed you evaluated your own level of enthusiasm? It’s hard to stay “pumped” everyday but if you act enthusiastic it doesn’t take very long until you’re actually enthusiastic. You can’t fake enthusiasm but you can make it. Act enthusiastic and you will be enthusiastic!


Can you lead yourself all the way to the finish line? Successful people finish what they start and that applies to leaders as well. Strong starts are important but it’s strong finishes that make people successful. You must push yourself to finish what you start. If you can’t get yourself across the finish line then you won’t be able to pull others across who are following you. 


You can’t start projects and leave them unfinished. When you do that you’re modeling unsuccessful behavior for your people. When that’s what you model that’s what you get.


When I want to know how well someone in a leadership position leads themselves I don’t invest too much time evaluating the leader. I evaluate their people, that tells me far more about the qualities and characteristics of the leader. Your people are a reflection of you. When they aren’t performing look first in the mirror for potential causes and solutions.


You can occasionally find that gem of a person who excels past the level of their leader. They find a way to make their own model of success. But generally speaking you as the leader are that model so it’s a good idea to stop occasionally to determine what it is that you’re modeling for your people. 

Always remember, before you can effectively lead others you must lead yourself exceptionally well. So… how you doin’?

The Case for Micro-Leading

It seems as if I’m always learning something more about leadership. If there is one thing about leadership that I learn almost everyday it’s that I have a lot to learn when it comes to leading.


If you’ve read this blog for any length of time you’ll know my thoughts on micro-managing. It does great harm, to the person being micro-managed, to their organization, and even at times to the micro-manager


People resist being managed and they super resist being micro-managed. Micro-managing causes the micro-managed person to feel that they are not trusted even though that’s often not the case. Many times a micro-manager trusts their people and believes they are actually helping them. It’s not meant to be hurtful, it is in fact meant to be helpful. 


Regardless of their motives micro-managers are not helpful in the long-run. 


I am a firm believer in delegating tasks and empowering your people to take the reins. Let them work through the details and learn more than they ever would by being micro-managed. In the long-run it could be better for the organization. 




You can delegate a task but as a leader you cannot delegate the responsibility for it being successfully accomplished


Which brings us to what I’ve learned lately. Given the choice between a well meaning leader who micro-manages their people, or a well meaning leader who empowers their people with little or no supervision, I’m going with the micro-manager every time


Despite my recent discovery I still refuse to acknowledge that micro-managing may have a place in the development of people. So I’m going to coin a new term and call it micro-leading. Here is the difference between micro-managing and micro-leading. 


If you’re closely managing someone only for your benefit or for the benefit of the organization then it’s micro-managing. If you’re closely supervising someone for their own development and learning then it’s micro-leading


Why you do something matters. Motives matter. 


Now, for those of you who think that the leader who sets their people free to find their own way has terrific motives I would say that you are likely correct. Except that successful leadership requires more, much more, than pure motives. 


Authentic Leaders cannot risk the good of the many for the development of one or even several people. Their first responsibility is to the entire organization. That requires them to find the balance between too much supervision and too little. Because of that awesome responsibility to the many I would have to suggest erring on the side of too much. 


It’s great when a leader can trust the judgment of their people but leaders must also understand that good judgment often comes from experience. If your people lack that experience then it’s not micro-managing to question their judgment, it’s micro-leading


Authentic Leaders “loan” their experience to their people until they have enough experience of their own. It’s only then that an experienced leader will allow them more freedom to use their own informed judgment to make great decisions


The good of the many must be foremost in the mind of a leader. It may cause the development of future leaders to be slower than they would like but if you’re in it for the long haul it’s the only way to go

Leading from a High Horse

I had a nice long “catch-up” conversation with a friend I’ve known a long long time. Since High School actually so it’s kind of a shockingly long time. 🙂


She works for one of the largest manufacturing companies in the world, she started right out of college, and she has done very very well for herself. She runs a very profitable part of the company and has a significant number of people who report either directly to her or to one of her direct reports. 


During our conversation she asked me something that I thought, given her success, was pretty surprising. She asked me how she could get her people to stop giving her their opinion without hurting their feelings.


When I asked her why she wanted them to stop giving their opinions she said it was just a matter of time. She simply didn’t have time to listen to people whose opinion didn’t really matter. 


It was at this point that I had to just stop for a minute (seemed like an hour) and think of how to respond. There was so much wrong with the statement I didn’t really know where to begin. Now this is a person I have great respect for, I remember her when she was so afraid of her own shadow that she couldn’t try out for the cheerleading squad. She has truly grown so much through the years and she is a wonderful person. 


But the statement was so incredibly insulting to her people that I couldn’t hardly believe she had said it. 


I asked her how long she had felt that way and she couldn’t pinpoint when it started but she said the feeling was growing and she was getting more frustrated with her people by the day. 


So I offered her these two ideas. I said that she really didn’t need to do anything, the “problem” would soon take care of itself. I said if her team had any brains at all they would soon realize that she didn’t value their input and the input would simply dry up on it’s own. I told her that hurt feelings would be the least of her problems because her team would simply disengage and be far less valuable employees and that the disengagement would be her responsibility. 


Then I told her that it wasn’t her team’s responsibility to stop offering ideas and suggestions; it was her responsibility to get down off her high horse and learn to value their opinions. I said if she had hired someone, or allowed someone to be hired, that she couldn’t learn from then she had allowed the wrong person to be hired. 


She was pretty quiet. 


I reminded her that when she was moving through the ranks that her leaders DID value her opinions and encouraged her to share them frequently. It was one of the big reasons she advanced in the company. I asked her where she would be today if her former bosses had thought of her opinions that same way she was now feeling about her people’s opinions. 


Here’s the lesson folks; sometimes we “lead” by letting the people we lead teach us. Sometimes we lead by simply listening to our people. We always lead by demonstrating that we value the people we lead. 


If you’re a leader who has gotten so full of yourself that you can’t learn anything from the people you lead then you have gotten to the point that you can no longer actually lead.


If you’ve forgotten that you can learn from anyone and everyone then you’ve forgotten how you became a leader in the first place. Get down off that high horse and retrace your path to becoming a leader, you may just be surprised at how much you don’t remember.

By the way, I’m happy to report that my good friend now keeps time open on her calendar each day just to be available for any member of her organization to drop in to her office with ideas, concerns, opinions, and suggestions. She’s a great leader and she already knew all that stuff I told her, she, like everyone else, just needs a reminder once in a while. 

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……