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.

The Line Between Respect and Fear

A leader needs the respect of their people. But do they also need their people to fear them? At least a little? 


It wasn’t too many years ago that one of the world’s largest manufacturing companies sent all of their new managers through what they called “Fear School.” It was designed to teach the new managers methods for instilling fear into their employees. 


That company believed that while respected leaders were a “nice to have” feared leaders were a “must have.” They knew that fear was a powerful motivator and it worked for them. Or at least it appeared to work. 


What they succeeded in doing was forcing the compliance of their people. Compliant people can produce immediate results that sometimes leads to short-term progress. Fear appears to create a sense of urgency in people but it’s not really urgency, it’s anxiety. That anxiety creates a lot of activity but very little productivity. 


People who are led by fear tend to live in survival mode. They aren’t interested in what’s best for the company or it’s customers. They are concerned with their own well-being and not making waves that could swamp them. Their focus is on themselves not the organization and that is not a recipe for success. 


Fear kills! It kills trust. It kills creativity. It kills communication. It kills good decision making. It kills action. 


Lead on fear long enough and you’ll kill your organization. 


While fear can force at least temporary compliance only respect can earn the commitment of your people. 


Leaders who earn the respect of their people have the opportunity to make them better. Respected leaders inspire their people to do more, be more and accomplish more. People who respect their leaders don’t feel the need to watch their backs. Instead they focus on the customer to make sure they are taken care of as well.


Earning respect comes from showing respect so Authentic Leaders put their people first. They build the trust necessary to create clear, open and effective communication. These leaders are not afraid to admit when they are wrong and they never dump the blame for their mistake on someone else. 


Respected leaders have to opportunity to build more leaders. Fear-based leaders can only hope to hang onto the followers they have. While respected leaders grow, fear-based leaders eventually just go. Go away that is. 


And yet the temptation for many a leader is to believe that they still need their people to fear them at least a little bit. If you’re one of those leaders I’d say to you to make certain that your fear-based leadership is not just a cover up for your own fear and insecurity. You may think you’re hiding beneath layers of intimidation and authority but eventually you’ll be discovered to be just another person with a leadership position who doesn’t lead at all.

If you’re going to truly lead you’ll need to risk allowing your people to see you fail from time to time. So stop with the fear tactics. Begin developing a strategy for building the trust of your people. You’ll soon discover that respect grows best when fertilized with that very same trust.

You Represent More Than You Think

Know it or not, wherever you work, you represent that company to outsiders. It matters little if you’re at the top of the org chart or even at the very bottom. If you’re one of the only people they know at your company then for all intense and purposes YOU ARE the company.

The reputation of the entire organization can rest on your shoulders.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say you’re in the market for a Flat Panel TV before the big game on Sunday. You swing into XYZ electronics, a large national electronics chain store and pick out a gigantic 196 inch beauty. It has surround sound and some sort of shaking device so you can actually feel it when players hit the ground. It is simply awesome!

You have your friends over on Sunday and since you’ve been bragging up your 196 beast of a TV they too can hardly wait for the game to begin. You push the ON button and nothing happens. Nothing. You push it a few more times, still nothing and then the hoots and hollers of your “friends” begin.

Ha they say, that sure is one heck of a TV you got there. You are embarrassed and more than a little mad. So…. You call the XYZ store and as luck would have it you get a 16 year old kid on the phone who is absolutely disinterested in your problem. He tells you it would be best if you called back on Monday when the “TV guy” was in.

Now you’re VERY unhappy and you’re not going to be happy with that store, or that kid, anytime soon.

A couple of weeks later someone asks if you know of a good store to buy a TV. So what do you say? Do you say, “yes, XYZ is great, just look out for that 16 year old kid” or… do you say “don’t go near that XYZ outfit, “they” don’t have a clue what they are doing.

If you’re like me, and most people, you wouldn’t have anything good to say about anything that has anything to do with XYZ or it’s 50,000 employees around the country.

Because of one 16 year old kid. Who didn’t even sell you the TV.

It’s not fair that the whole organization is painted with the brush of one individual interaction but that’s often how it is.

You see, you not only represent your company, you also represent your fellow employees of the company. You may not be in Public Relations, you may not get paid to deal with customers but when people discover where you work you DO represent your company. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All day, everyday.

That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, can’t be yourself, or just “let your hair down.” It does mean that you need to be aware of your surroundings, who is near you, how you are behaving and what you are saying. I’m told there are even some people who have cameras in their phones now so this is doubly important these days. 😏

Whether you think you have a crummy job, a menial job, a low paying job, whether it is a temp job, or part time job doesn’t matter, you have an obligation to represent yourself professionally because it’s not just you that you represent.

You may not like this thought, you may not agree with this concept but you do have to understand it because it’s true. Yes, I know those are high standards but you know that successful people set high standards for themselves. I encourage you to set the bar very high for yourself.

Remember, you don’t guard the reputation of your company and your colleagues because you’re paid money to work there, you do it because it’s the right thing to do.

You’ll never go wrong doing what’s right!

How to Sell More of Anything

Next week in Baltimore I’ll present a “How to Sell” class to a group of professionals. Not sales professionals, in fact, these professionals may very well have a certain disdain at even the thought of selling. 

As I prepared for the presentation I knew instinctively that a traditional sales training session was out of the question. No sales process or technique would be of interest or value to this group. While “selling” is important to their profession it is not something they are comfortable with and not something they do on a daily basis.

That got me to thinking about the essence of selling and what it really takes to sell effectively. The answer that popped into my head was trust and relationships.

People buy from people they like and trust. People don’t buy from companies or machines. Yes, we sometimes buy stuff online and through vending machines but usually even then someone, a person, has previously convinced us that it would be a good purchase.

The presentation morphed into a “Building Trusting Relationships” session and it quickly occurred to me that this isn’t just a great topic for non-traditional salespeople, it’s a valuable topic for all sales professionals. 

Salespeople, at least less successful salespeople, tend to focus all their energies on “telling” their prospect about the product. They spend far too little time on building the type of relationship that will help the prospect trust them as a person and as a result the prospect remains suspect about most everything the salesperson says.

The most successful salespeople don’t focus on themselves or their product, they focus on their customer and their customer’s wants and needs. They start that process by learning about their customer’s goals and objectives and it is from those conversations that a real relationship blooms.  

The most successful salespeople treat people with courtesy, politeness, and kindness. They listen to what others have to say before expressing their own thoughts. Successful salespeople do not insult, disparage or knock another person’s ideas. Even if that other person is a competitive salesperson. Especially if that other person is a competitive salesperson! 

The most successful salespeople have long ago thrown out the Golden Rule and replaced it with the Platinum Rule: Treat others as they wish to be treated.

The most successful salespeople don’t play the blame game. They accept responsibility for their actions and they honor their commitments. They share credit for their success knowing full well that no salesperson can succeed long-term without a lot of support from others in their organization.

The most successful salespeople avoid wasting time and are consistent planners. They are genuinely interested in other people and believe they can learn from anyone. They smile often and always, always, always maintain control of their attitude. Simply put, they are the type of person we all enjoy being around. 

Now, for those of you who have never sold a thing or are in a position that requires a non-traditional sales approach, just remove the word “sales” from every sentence above. What you’ll discover is that the way to sell more of anything is to be a successful person. 

Once you have developed the skill of building trusting relationships, sincere relationships, well then you can sell most anything to most anyone. 

You see, great salespeople are also great people.

Authentic Leaders Don’t Expect to be Respected

Yes, you read that title correctly. I’ve never met an authentic leader who expected respect. Every authentic leader I’ve ever met knew from the start that any respect they received would have to be earned. 

There is no such thing as unearned respect. Your position or title doesn’t earn you respect; people may respect your position or title and they may respect the office you occupy but that doesn’t mean they respect you. 

That kind of personal respect must be earned and re-earned frequently. 

If you want respect then be respectful. Authentic leaders know that the best, and fastest, way to earn respect is to be respectful of others. When you talk down to people, when you put your needs before theirs, and when you “fudge” on the integrity issue you lose respect.

You can be powerful, you can be brilliant, and you can have the appearance of success, and you still won’t have the respect of those around you. 

Authentic leaders are humble leaders. The world renown Pastor at our church recently retired after over 30 years in the pulpit. He was replaced by a 30 something Pastor with no prior experience leading any size church much less a large congregation like ours. That’s pretty heady stuff, most of the members of his staff are considerably more experienced than him, yet he is the guy. Today I heard him introduce himself as one of the Pastors here at Bethlehem. 

He could have rightfully said Lead Pastor or Head Pastor but instead he said one of the Pastors. That’s humble! That earns respect. Sadly, that type of humble leadership is all too rare these days.

I’m going to doing something now that I wouldn’t normally do and something I don’t recommend, I’m going to make a very general broad statement. Here it is: if you’re constantly bragging about your power or your position or your brilliance I’d be willing to bet your people don’t have a lot of respect for you.

It’s like this; authentic leaders don’t need to boss because they lead. They don’t need to command respect because their people willingly give it. To be more precise, they don’t need to command respect because their people give it back. 

If you want to be respected then show some respect, and remember, you’re the leader, you go first!