Your Leadership Journey

I am always a little surprised when someone refers to me as an “authority” or “expert” on leadership. While I certainly appreciate the respect they are showing me by describing me with those words I know otherwise. 

 

I know some stuff about leadership but I also know that I know a tiny percentage of what it’s possible to know. I know too that neither I nor anyone else can ever come close to knowing more than that small percentage. 

 

Since leadership is about people and only people it’s impossible to truly be an “expert on leadership.” People will always surprise you. You can predict with some accuracy what people will do based on their past performance but never with enough accuracy to be a true expert. 

 

People are unique, they are actually even unique from themselves depending on the circumstances in their life at any given time. 

 

That’s what makes leadership so fascinating. It is what makes leadership so rewarding and it’s what makes leading so challenging. 

 

When someone else tells me that they are a leadership expert I am more than skeptical. I have only heard a couple of people describe themselves as an Authentic Leader. The moment the words came out of their mouth I was pretty certain they were anything but authentic. 

 

It’s kinda like when someone offers a class on humility taught by an “expert” on the subject. As soon as someone accepts the description of themselves as an expert on humility they are no longer humble enough to speak about it. So it is with leadership!

 

Authentic Leaders know that their journey to leadership excellence will never end. Authentic Servant Leaders know that helping the people they lead must always be the purpose of that journey. 

 

If you’re not constantly working on your knowledge of leadership then you run the risk of falling behind other leaders. If you’re not always developing your leadership skills then you run the risk of losing the people you would lead. 


Learning about all things leadership never stops for the best leaders. If you didn’t learn something new about leading others yesterday then you had best double your efforts today because if you’re not learning then you’re not leading.

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. 

What I Learned from a Millennial

I am often, some would say too often, surprised at how much I have to learn. I’m also often surprised at who I learn it from. 

 

Such was the case a couple of weeks ago when I was doing a presentation I called “Selling Through the Generations.” The focus was on the differences of selling to the various generations with a particular focus on selling to millennials. 

 

Usually when I’m presenting to a group I try to know more about my subject than my audience. If that’s not possible I at least try to help the group use what they know if a more effective way. This group was unique in that there were 7 or 8 millennials mixed in and I had no doubt that they knew more, way more in fact, about being millennials than I ever could. 

 

But I was really just presenting information that came from the ton of research done on generational differences so I was comfortable with my material. 

 

Despite everything you may have read and heard there are really more similarities between the generations than there are differences. There are however some things that make millennials different from their parent’s and grandparent’s generations. But those differences are not what I’m writing about today. I’m writing about what I learned. 

 

There are lots of names for the generation born roughly between 1978 and 2000. Most of us know that generation as the millennials, some people call them Gen Y and some people call them somewhat divisively “the trophy generation.” 

 

This term comes from the “fact” that millennials need a constant stream of recognition…or a trophy for coming in 9th place in a 10 person race. (Don’t worry, in today’s world 10th place gets a trophy too)

 

I don’t remember exactly how we began the discussion on millennial’s “need” for recognition but somewhere in that conversation one of the millennials in the room said, “we never asked for a trophy, you just gave it to us.” 

 

He went on to say that IF millennials are indeed the trophy generation then it was the generations that came before them who made them that way. 

 

I have done a lot of research on the differences between the generations and written and spoken on the topic somewhat often and I had NEVER considered that thought for a second. But a second is about all it took to know that this millennial was exactly right!

 

Think about it, a little kid competing in soccer or a baseball game had no idea that everyone was supposed to be a winner. They didn’t know that they “needed” or “deserved” recognition for every little thing….until some well-meaning adult told them. 

 

Boomers and maybe some early Gen Xers made millennials whatever they are and now it’s boomers who complain about the “trophy needing” “over-pampered” “brats.” 

 

Millennials are really more like other generations than many people think. The big thing I learned that day is that they have figured out some things that the older generations seem to have missed. 


I don’t think I’ll ever look at millennials quite the same again. 


Are You a Born Leader?

The question of whether leaders are made or born is about as old as leadership itself. I am firmly on the “made” side. 

While some people do seem to be born with certain traits of leadership; extraversion, self-confidence, and courage are but a few that come to mind, there are many people who have those traits and yet never lead. So traits alone do not make a leader.

There are also readily identifiable qualities and characteristics of leadership but merely possessing those characteristics does not make a person a leader. For instance, I believe that to lead people you must care about them, truly truly care. So caring is a prime leadership characteristic for me. But I know many many caring people who do not seek leadership opportunities. 

It is ultimately the actions of an individual that makes them a leader. It’s what they do with the qualities and characteristics that they possess they will determine their ability to lead. 

So, if a leader is made then who makes them. Well, certainly not me! Certainly not any of the other gazillion trainers, speakers, coaches and mentors who claim to develop leaders. 

I firmly believe that leaders are made and I even more firmly believe that leaders are self-made. I might be able to help someone develop themselves as a leader but they do the hard work, not me.

Let me explain. I can share with people what leadership qualities and characteristics are important for a leader. I can say caring is important but I can’t “teach” someone to care. I can point out caring people and use them as an example of the behavior to model but a “would be” leader must decide for themselves to actually care. 

Courage is also a key characteristic of effective leadership and it is another characteristic of a leader that can be learned but it can’t be taught. It must be experienced, it must be witnessed, it must be modeled, and then it can be adopted by the would be leader. No one can “teach” another person to be courageous.

It is said, and agreed upon by most, that great leaders build more leaders, not more followers. But great leaders don’t teach leadership, they merely model it for their followers every single day. In other words, great leaders show their followers what they need to learn.

If you are a would be leader yourself then here is a tip: don’t expect someone to teach you how to lead. Follow a great leader, and pay attention to how they lead. Listen intensely, watch closely, adopt their characteristics and then adapt them to who you are. 

Other people can help you become a leader but they can only help. Whether or not you truly lead will depend largely on the decisions you make for yourself. 

So…will you decide to Lead Today?

Always be Learning

Successful people learn something new almost every single day. The most successful people use what they learn. 

Never in the history of humanity has it been easier to learn. Information is everywhere. 

New data suggests that 1.2 Zettabytes of information (1.3 trillion gigabytes) is now stored in cyberspace – which amounts to 339 miles of fully-loaded iPads stacked to the sky.

The information base is growing so quickly that researchers say a state of “persistent uncertainty” exists and that there are no exact numbers, only educated guesses. So I guess it could be 340 miles of iPads. 

Now, there is one tiny little caveat; not everything you find on the internet is true. I know that may come as a shock to some people but the fact that not everything on the internet is true is in fact actually true. But still, there is a ton of valuable information available, more worthwhile information than ever before, all you have to do is click.

Despite the unprecedented explosion of available information there remains one substantial barrier to learning. That barrier is called want. If you don’t want to learn you’ll find it very difficult to learn. You can be required to attend a class, you can even be forced to listen to the instructor but no one can make you learn, no one that is except you.

People decide to learn for a variety of reasons, some need a new skill or additional knowledge for their job. Others simply want to stay up to date on new technology or brush up on changes in their industry. Some people just have a need to grow intellectually and are constantly looking for ways to broaden their horizons. They seek to understand not just “what is” but “why it is.” 

Some people believe it’s their employer’s responsibility to provide them the skill and knowledge they need to succeed. It’s great when you work for a company that offers training and education but successful people understand that their success is up to them, not their employer.

This is somewhat of a generalization but by and large, leaders are learners. If education is provided they take it, if it’s not they make it. They seek out advice, coaches, mentors, and additional training and education. 

Leaders learn for a purpose, they understand how much and how fast they need to learn something. They, as Stephen Covey said, “begin with the end in mind” and envision how they will use their new knowledge or skill. Leaders know their objective for learning and they create for themselves a vivid picture of the benefits of obtaining that additional knowledge.

Successful learners know that they can learn as much or perhaps even more by failing then they can by always succeeding. Whenever you take on a new task or challenge you’ll possibly be tripped up and fall along the way. Don’t look at the fall as failure, look for the lesson in the fall on the way down. Use that lesson to push yourself back up. Ultimately it’s those falls and the ability to get back up that will make you a success. “Successful falls” also encourages more risk taking and more learning in the future. 

A truly successful day should include learning. Don’t let your day end without gaining at least a nugget of new information that you can use to grow your personal knowledge bank.

That stack of iPads is growing this very minute, you might as well get in on the action and learn!

 
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Your Most Expensive Employee

7218CE00-05C5-4C4A-9644-BEAC2B76D45A.pngIf you’re managing a business then keeping track of expenses is probably high on your list of priorities. One of your biggest expenditures is likely to be compensation for your employees. I’m sure you know what you’re paying your people but do you know what they are costing you?

I can’t be sure who your most expensive employee is but I do know it’s likely one of the types of individuals I describe below.

The first is a “manager” of people. That in itself is a problem because people will not be managed. People resist being managed because they are people, they expect leadership, not management.

A manager was explaining to me the challenges of managing a particular new employee. When I suggested that they try leading this particular individual instead of managing them I was more than a little surprised and disappointed by their response. 

The manager said employees must be managed before they can be led. They must have the “spirit” managed out of them because people with “spirit” won’t follow anyone. Apparently only people with their “spirit” broken can be “tamed” enough to follow. 

I found it almost impossible to believe that anyone could think that way. It was medieval leadership at it’s worst. 

It’s also incredibly expensive these days. Disengaged employees cost organizations a ton of money and one of the fastest ways to cause them to disengage is to break their spirit. Make them feel unimportant and they quickly become unproductive too.

No organization that intends to last can afford medieval leadership or management.

The second type of very expensive employee is the know it all manager. They know everything they need to know and they have nothing left to learn. 

I talked to a manager a while back who had just lost a very talented team member. When I asked if they had learned anything in the exit interview about why the employee left I was again surprised and disappointed by the answer. 

They said that they had nothing to learn from a quitter. They weren’t even interested in looking at the exit interview because “people come and go” and “there is nothing that a manager can do about it.” 

The second part might be right… there is nothing a manger can do about it. 

But a leader can! 

The odds are pretty high that if the employee had felt led they may not have left in the first place. But even if they had decided to go a leader would want to understand why and what they as a leader could have done differently to help the employee want to stay. 

Organizations invest a small fortune in recruiting and training their talent. Then they turn them over to a manager who treats them like a piece of equipment; the same as the copy machine.

If you intend for your organization to stand the test of time then you need to invest as much in developing your leaders as you do in developing the people they lead.

Do not allow your leaders to manage people, teach them to lead and they will be a bargain, no matter how much you pay them. 

Act Like a Leader

If you hope to be a leader someday then start acting like a leader today. – Steve Keating

At one time of my life I sold soda pop. I loved it, I made a lot of friends in my accounts and overall, it was a pretty low stress job.

One day I received a message that the President of the company wanted to see me in his office at the end of the day. It was a Friday and I received the message around noon. I spent the better part of the afternoon wondering what I had done to be summoned on a Friday afternoon; whatever it was I was pretty sure it couldn’t be good.

When I entered his office he asked me to be seated and he got right to the point. He asked me if I was aware that there was a “problem” in the sales department. I had no idea what he was talking about but I didn’t want to look like an idiot so I said yes, I was aware.

He said he had been watching me and as my heart began to sink he added that he thought I could be a solution to the problem.

Suddenly things were looking up for me and I was thinking that perhaps I might be getting a promotion to District Manager. I was wrong about that too…

In keeping with his professional but direct manner he said that he would like me to consider accepting the role of General Sales Manager. I can only imagine the look on my face. He was asking me to skip the district AND regional manager levels and move directly to the top of the sales organization.

I took the weekend to consider, although I didn’t have enough information about the position to consider much, and on Monday morning I accepted the position.

I wonder to this day what the heck he was thinking when he offered me that job.

From the moment I accepted it my sales career with that organized began to go down hill. I made mistake after mistake, there were way too many mistakes to mention them all here. Some of the mistakes were trivial and some were rather gigantic but what they all had in common is that they were frequent.

I was completely, totally, massively unprepared for that position. I had never considered the possibility that in my late twenties I’d be put in charge of anything and my preparations to move into a leadership role reflected that fact.

I didn’t even understand how unprepared I was until I left that company to accept a sales position at Dale Carnegie Training, an organization unparalleled in preparing ordinary people to achieve extraordinary results as a leader.

I had fallen into the destination trap. The destination trap says that there is no need to develop your leadership skills until and unless you are in a leadership position.

I learned the hard way just how dumb that is.
The only way you can avoid the destination trap is to begin preparing yourself to lead before you find yourself in a leadership position. Step one is to act like a leader; lead yourself well, control your emotions, control your attitude and find yourself a mentor or coach.

Study great leaders and their leadership styles. Determine what will work for you “someday” and you’ll be surprised how quickly some day will come. Don’t wait for a leadership position to just come your way, learn to lead before you need to and ensure that you’re prepared to meet the many challenges of leadership when they arrive.