THE Telltale Sign of Poor Leadership

One of the questions I’m asked most often, particularly after I’ve done a presentation on Leadership, is why I haven’t written a book on Leadership. The simple answer is, I don’t think I have anything new to add to the incredible books already written on the topic. 

I believe any book I could write would at best be a “me too” book. I might have different stories and examples in my book but they would all lead to the same conclusions. Leadership is about people. Leadership is NOT the same as management. And while some people do indeed seem to have more “born in” leadership traits, the reality is that leaders are made, not born.

But there is one very insidious trait that poor leaders have that I don’t see discussed often enough. This trait is not easily identifiable. Unless like me, you intently study leaders to observe what separates Authentic Leaders from those who merely think they are leading. 

People who experience leaders with this trait most often can’t put their finger on exactly what about the person is sending off the bad vibes. They know there’s something “off.” They can’t exactly trust the person but unless they are paying attention it’s more of a feeling than anything else.

Most people with this trait who find themselves in leadership positions struggle to lead. That’s because most of them have not identified this trait within themselves either. They often place the blame for their poor leadership on the people they are supposed to be leading. Turnover in their organizations is high and as long as this trait persists it will remain high. In organizations where one or more leaders possess this trait employee engagement will be too low for obstacles to be overcome. Goals will not be achieved. 

This trait is called the “I trait.” “I” as in “I’m” telling you. Or “I” expect this. Or worse “I” accomplished great things this year. 

“I” is the least inclusive word someone in a leadership position can use. Many people in leadership positions lack awareness of how many times they say “I.” Some unfortunately are very aware and use it intentionally. Sometimes to take credit away from their people and other times to make themselves seem more important to their organizations than they actually are.

“I” is the preferred pronoun of people who think they are leaders when they aren’t. The more a person in a leadership position uses “I” and it’s possessive form, “my” or “mine” the less likely it is that people will commit to following them. Absent that commitment there is no true leadership.

I was on a call not long ago where a person who believes that are a leader used “I,” “my” or mine over 70 times in a one hour call, and they only spoke for a part of it. I wouldn’t normally count how many times a person uses a particular word in conversation. As I became aware of it’s overuse early in the call I starting counting. That’s why I said over 70, it was likely way over because I didn’t start counting right away. 

The more someone in a leadership position uses “I” the more they separate themselves from the team. Whether it is intentional or not. 

Poor leaders use “I” far far more than effective Authentic Leaders. The overuse of the word “I” is the one sure sign of poor leadership. The more a person in a leadership position uses it, the less engagement they can expect from their people. That’s an absolute fact.

If you’re in a leadership position, have someone listen in on your conversations. Ask them to track how often you say “I” when “we” would have been more appropriate. If that isn’t an option then record some of your conversations and listen to them yourself. Practice eliminating “I” from your vocabulary, it can most often, and most effectively, be replaced with “we.”

“We” indicates your leadership is about the people you lead. “I” indicates it is all about you. “I” indicates YOU have a lot to learn about leading people to their full potential. It indicates you’re a long way from reaching yours as well.

On a another subject…I’m trying something new on Twitter. It’s called “Super Followers.” For $5 a month, that’s 17 cents a day, people can follow a part of my Twitter stream that is for subscribers only. It features short videos of me discussing leadership topics, sales tips and ideas for better overall relationships. I’m assuming there will be far fewer Super Followers than the million or so people who regularly follow me on Twitter. That will give me the opportunity to answer questions more throughly than I can on regular Twitter. Most of the answers will come in the evening cause we all have day jobs, right? Think of it as ”mentoring on demand!”

My goal with SuperFollowers is to build a better connection, one where I can perhaps help more and have a greater impact. I’m hoping it gives me a chance to mentor to a wider audience. It’s still new, we’ll see how it works. It’s a $5 dollar investment that may just be the extra “push” you need to get to where you want to be. I’d be honored to be able to help get you there. 

You can find more information by clicking the Super Follow button on my Twitter profile page IN THE TWITTER APP. Give it a try if you’re so inclined, and if you are, be sure to let me know how I’m doing and how I can be of even more help.

Shadow Leadership

Shadow Leaders are leaders in name only. They may have an impressive sounding title or hold a lofty position on an organizational chart but they exhibit few if any leadership characteristics.

They keep their head down, usually do solid work, and are relatively good followers but they stay in the shadows to hide from risk and they do not lead.

Risk involves making decisions, charting a new course, dealing with conflicts, or just trying new things. A Shadow Leader’s first priority is to protect their position and the income that comes with it.

Shadow Leaders focus on what is with little regard for the possibilities of what could be.

Shadow Leaders bring a larger than average expense to their organization for two reasons. First, their good work could be accomplished by someone without the lofty title and compensation. Second and this is worse, far worse actually, because they don’t lead they do nothing to develop the next generation of leaders within their organization.

Their lack of leadership negatively impacts their organization even after they are gone. They leave little behind except a leadership void and perhaps a few other Shadow Leaders who are simply modeling the behavior they saw.

Shadow Leaders aren’t bad people, they just make the all too common mistake of believing that their title or position is what makes them a leader. The fact is that their title or position only gives them a better chance to lead than someone without the fancy title and position.

True Authentic Leadership comes from a person’s disposition not their position. Authentic Leaders know that they can lead from anywhere in their organization, with or without a title and position. They know they can lead down, across and even up.

Authentic Leaders know what is but they see what could be. They limit their time investment in mere “things” so that they can invest the majority of their time in people. Authentic Leaders do not concern themselves with building more followers, they focus on building more leaders including the leader who will one day succeed them. 

While Shadow Leaders are desperate to avoid conflict Authentic Leaders deal with it head-on. They do not let small problems become bigger ones through avoidance. Authentic Leaders do not like conflict more than anyone else but they do understand that when it is dealt with properly growth is almost always the end result.

Authentic Leaders have the courage to operate in broad daylight, with their actions, decisions, mistakes and limitations on display for everyone to see. They willingly risk looking bad in order to do something good.

Here’s the thing, when you’re an Authentic Leader everyone knows you’re leading. If you’re a Shadow Leader the only person who thinks you’re leading is you. 

So if you’re in a leadership position you need to turn around once in a while to see who, if anyone, is following you. If no one is there it just might be that they can’t see you in the shadows.