Are You Really Leading?

I’m kind of afraid that “leadership” has become something of a buzzword. The actual definition of buzzword is “a word or phrase, often an item of jargon, that is fashionable at a particular time or in a particular context.” 

If we buy that definition then “leadership” has actually been a buzzword for quite some time. I’m not sure when it changed from a meaningful word to a buzzword but my guess would be that it happened slowly over time, so slowly that many of us were slow to realize it happened. 

People, including me, have written exhaustively about the difference between managing and leading and yet most people who use the word “leader” when describing themselves still operate more as a manager than a leader. They know enough about leadership to use the buzzwords but when you watch them in action the buzz soon disappears and all your left with is words. 

One area, one critical area, where many of these would be leaders fall short is in developing and sharing their vision.

They effectively develop good strategies and operational plans (management activities) while glossing over or completely ignoring the vision. (Vision-casting is a key component of effective leadership) 

Authentic leaders understand the importance of goals and having everyone in their organization working towards those goals. A vision describes those goals in some detail and also explains how the strategies, tactics and operational plans of the organization ensure those goals are achieved. 

The best leaders endlessly clarify the vision and goals of their organization and explain how even small goals can serve to help ensure the larger goals are achieved. That process helps everyone within the organization understand their own role in helping the vision become reality. 

Here’s the thing; if you’re in a leadership role and you have no vision for the organization then where exactly are you leading your people? If you have a vision and you have not effectively shared it with the people you lead then why would they follow you? People have a need to know where they are going and what will be waiting for them when they arrive. Without that very basic information they are unlikely to actually follow.

Leadership is not just a word, it is an action, more precisely a set of actions. One of the actions is developing and sharing a common vision that comes from common goals. 

If you want to actually practice leadership rather than just talk leadership then share your goals and vision early and often. Repeat it again and again, make it a part of everyday life in your organization. 

People react to management but they respond to leadership, when it’s truly leadership. Reactive people will seldom help a manager achieve organizational goals but responsive people very often engage with their leader to accomplish great things. 

Share your vision and your people will respond. Once that happens anything and everything is possible.

Good Decisions

The right decision made at the wrong time is a bad decision. The right time to make a decision is when you have as many facts as you can get to make it. Sometimes it will be all the facts, sometimes it will be enough facts and sometimes you’ll have to make a decision with less facts than you would want. 

But if you intend to lead then you have to make decisions period!

Once you have all the facts available, whether you believe it’s enough facts or not, you must make a decision. Deciding not to make a decision or deciding to delay a decision IS A DECISION and it is frequently the wrong decision. In fact, it’s worse than a wrong decision because a wrong decision can be fixed, a “non-decision” often cannot.

I see people all the time who have the facts required to make a decision and yet just can’t bring themselves to make it. They think and think, rethink and rethink, sleep on it and still don’t come to a decision. 

When they finally decide something it’s often too late to have the positive impact that a more timely decision would have had.

I believe one of the major causes of poor decision making is a lack of awareness of values, vision, and mission. 

When faced with a decision ask yourself how each possible decision will align with your values. Does the decision get you closer to your vision or not?  Does the choice you would make “fit” with your mission? 

Here’s the real challenge: when asked, most people can’t clearly state their values, either their personal values or the values of their organization. Most every organization has some sort of vision and or mission statement but they are no better than a slogan unless people know what they are and actually align themselves to them. A vision and mission statement should be used to guide every decision made in the organization. 

If something doesn’t get you closer to your vision then why on earth would you do it. If something is contrary to your values or the values of your organization then your choice is clear…and much easier.

When you know AND live your values every decision is easier. When you understand your mission, either in business or in life, then every decision becomes clear. 

It requires some serious reflection to truly understand your values. You will also find your values much easier to know than to live. But that’s okay, values can not only help to keep you on track, they can help you get back on track when you fall off the rails.

When you know, really know, what your true values are, when you understand your mission and have a vision for your life and business then you will find yourself not only making faster decisions, you’ll find yourself making much better decisions too.

Do You Have A Vision?

Here’s an interesting if a bit risky experiment for you. Walk into a room full of people that you have never met and yell out “follow me” and run out of the room. See how many people follow you.

Next, walk into a room full of people who know you well, don’t say anything to anyone other then yelling the same “follow me” and then run out of the room. See how many people follow you.

I’m betting the numbers will be almost the same. The people who don’t know you may have some disparaging comments about you, then again, so may the people who know you. But the group that knows you may just shrug and wonder what you’re up to now.

Both groups however will have this in common: they are unlikely to follow you without first knowing where you’re going. Even people who know you well, they might even trust you, but to follow you they need to know where you’re going.

So now let me ask you this. As a leader, do you have a vision? For yourself, your organization and for the people you lead?

I hope your answer is yes. Let’s assume that it is. Here’s a second question. Do your people know and buy into your vision?

If you’re answer to that question is yes as well, then congratulations are in order. You’re set!

You’re also in a very small minority. The sad and challenging reality is that too many, way too many, leaders have an “idea” of where they might be going but have nothing so formal and serious as a vision statement.

If you don’t know where you’re going, or can’t articulate it to your people then why in the world would you expect them to follow you?

The good news is that you, anyone as a matter of fact, can develop an effective vision statement that shows you and those who you would lead exactly what your (and their) destination looks like.

To write a vision statement, focus on the basics of your mission statement and extrapolate; where is your organization, you, or your people going to be five years from now? What will you, your organization or your people have accomplished?

It might sound something like this for your organization:

In five years XYZ Company will be the leading provider of healthy snacks for unhealthy people. We will do this through our committed employees showing care and concern for every single customer we touch. We’ll “Wow” our customers and competitors alike and we will be a joy to do business with. We’ll work in a supportive caring environment that makes “work” fun and allows no doubt about the fact that XYZ is a great place to work and a wonderful place to do business. We will be a business where every customer is served with a smile and positive attitude.

Something like that. Make it meaningful, make it realistic, make it attainable with effort.

Once you have a vision statement you must share it with everyone. Your people, your customers, anyone who will listen. You must share it often. If you share it once it will die a quick death. The only way to keep your vision alive is to share it often.

Expect your people and anyone else you share it with to hold you accountable to it. While that can be scary it is also a great thing. Accountability will be a huge asset in your efforts to achieve your vision.

Above all, YOU must believe and commit to your vision statement. If you don’t then others won’t either. Your vision statement won’t be worth the paper it’s printed on.

So, let me ask you again, do you have a vision?

If you do then tell the world. You might be amazed how many people will be willing to help you get there.

Why Leadership Really Matters

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Top performing, passionate people still need direction, focus and a purpose. The most common source for those three prerequisites for success is an effective leader. Without effective leadership even top performers lose the motivation the use their skills and abilities.

They can get simple direction from a manager, they can even be somewhat forced to focus but their purpose becomes clear only when there is a vision to work towards. Vision casting is a prime responsibility of an effective leader.

People will put forth effort for mere money… for a while. Money alone however has proven to be a poor motivator for top performers. People are most productive when they know that they are making a difference. Working towards a vision shows them where and how they can make a difference.

If the vision can’t be articulated by the leader then there might as well not be a vision. If the vision isn’t shared often then that too is nearly as bad as not having a vision at all.

Leaders are role models as well – good or bad. They should not expect to see more effort from their people than they are willing to offer themselves. They should not expect better decisions or more prudent risk-taking than they put forth as leaders.

If you’re in a leadership position then you absolutely MUST know that your people are watching you… always. They watch to see if your words match your actions. (They do what you do, not what you say) They watch to see if you’re committed enough to the vision and if they determine that you’re not then they will not commit to you.

If they cannot commit to you then they will not commit to the vision. People, especially top performing people, commit to a leader before they commit to the leader’s vision.

The energy that makes good people top performers turns on itself without direction, focus and purpose. When that happens top performers go sour, become ineffective and they eventually leave the leader…. or worse, they stay with the leader and simply stop performing.

Leadership matters, it always has and it always will. Without effective leadership even promising top performers will struggle to reach their potential.

If you’re in a leadership position then you not only have the opportunity to lead, you have an obligation to lead. If you can’t or won’t meet that obligation then you owe it to your would be followers, and even to yourself, to step aside and let a real leader take over.