Leaders – It’s Not About You

Leadership is simple. It’s about influencing a group of people to accomplish a goal. The problem is most managers forget about the people, the goal, and their role in influencing others. In other words, they do everything except lead. Maybe this is the reason why 70% of employees are disengaged at work. The vast majority of workers are disconnected because most managers are also unplugged.

Most bosses are just too busy to lead. They are focused on their own work. They are going to meetings, working on reports, replying to e-mails, or checking off items on their to-do lists. These managers are simply too busy to get out of their office and truly engage with their teams. As a result, most employees hardly ever see their managers and rarely interact with them.

If you’re a leader, your actions have a profound effect on the lives and careers of the people working for you. Once you are given the responsibility to lead a team it’s no longer just about you, it’s about them. Great leaders understand this and go out of their way to get to know every employee they are responsible for.

These leaders understand that every interaction with an employee is a chance to lead. They engage in deep, meaningful conversations with their employees and do more listening than talking. Great leaders are sincerely interested in what each employee has to say. These leaders know that engaging with their teams is a critical part of their job.

How about you? Are you engaging with your team? Ask yourself these three questions:

  • Do you know your employees’ names, how long they’ve been with the company, and something about their lives outside of work?
  • Do you take time out of your daily schedule to visit your employees where they work?
  • Do you take time to thank employees, appreciate their contributions, and celebrate their successes?

Leaders – it’s not about you. When you are in charge, you have the watch. You are not only responsible for the results of the organization, but you are also responsible for your employees. Engaging with employees is an important part of your job, much more critical than answering a few e-mails.

Great leaders know that employees who are appreciated, respected, and supported will be more engaged and will always do more than expected.

Learn more about how to be a more effective leader in my new book, I have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following.

The Problem with Problems

There is nothing a submariner fears more than a fire. A fire on a submarine is one of the most dangerous things that could ever happen on board. Smoke can quickly fill compartments and asphyxiate sailors. The heat and flames can spread to weapons, volatile materials, and critical systems creating devastating damage. A fire can quickly destroy a submarine if not extinguished immediately. That’s why every submariner is a trained firefighter. We were trained to ignore our natural instincts to move away from the fire and, instead, run towards the fire to put it out while it’s still small.

Imagine my surprise when I entered corporate America and discovered a different mindset. When a problem occurred, most people moved away from it. Many didn’t want to get involved, some hoped the problem would just go away on its own, and a few avoided the issue all together just to protect their careers. What was worse was to see managers ignoring obvious problems in their organization because they were afraid to make a tough decision.

The problem with problems, however, is that they are like fires. They don’t stay small. If ignored and left alone to smolder they grow in size and can cause catastrophic damage to a business. These problems might include a product failure, a customer complaint, a supplier quality issue, a change in the market landscape, new technology, an employee situation, or any number of challenges that businesses face each day. These problems start off small but can grow if not addressed quickly.

As leaders, we have to ignore our natural instincts to move away from problems. Our employees are counting on us. They are looking to us to lead the effort to attack these issues with tenacity. How we respond to these challenges will set the tone for the rest of the organization.

There is a universal truth about problems and fires. The longer it takes to attack them, the larger they get. Almost every significant issue an organization faces was once a smaller problem that could have been resolved in the early stages.

What are the problems your organization is facing today? Are you running towards those challenges or away?

As leaders, we need to run towards the fire.

Learn more about how to be a more effective leader in my new book, I have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following.

Why Do You Want to Be a Leader?

There are three questions you should ask before taking any leadership Job.

A Leadership Crisis

There is a crisis in America. There is a shortage of good leaders, and it seems to be getting worse. The problem is people are choosing leadership for the wrong reasons. Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, is changing how people think about introverts. While she is widely known for her writings on this subject, it’s her thoughts on leadership that got my attention. In a New York Times article called “Not Leadership Material? Good. The World Needs Followers,” she explains that in America today we have “glorified” leadership. So much so that people are taking on leadership roles for the wrong reasons. They are choosing to become leaders to get recognition, more money, or to help advance their careers. She explains:

Perhaps the biggest disservice done by the outsize glorification of “leadership skills” is the practice of leadership itself – it hollows it out, it empties it of meaning. It attracts those who are motivated by the spotlight rather than by the ideas and people they serve. It teaches [people] to be a leader for the sake of being in charge, rather than in the name of a cause or idea they care about deeply. The difference between the two states of mind is profound.

Choosing to Lead for the Right Reasons

While the focus of her article is to point out the importance of those who don’t choose a leadership path, she indirectly uncovers the crisis in the current state of leadership. There is a shortage of good leaders. People are choosing to lead for the wrong reasons, which is why there are so many poor leaders.

If you want to be a leader, the first question you should ask yourself is why? Why do you want to be a leader? If you are choosing this role for the paycheck, the title, the prestige, the power, or the trappings of the position, you are going to be sadly disappointed. Leadership is difficult. Being responsible for motivating a group of people to accomplish a goal isn’t something you choose to do without careful consideration.

Three Questions

Let me suggest three questions to ask yourself:

Do you have a passion for leadership? Just like selecting any career, ask yourself if you have the passion to lead. To be a leader means you have the full responsibility of an organization and all the people associated with it. It means you will be accountable for everything that happens on your watch. It is a difficult and sometimes lonely job that demands a 24/7 commitment. Ask yourself if you have the passion and desire to be a great leader.

Do you care deeply about the idea or organization? As the leader, all eyes will be on you. Your attitudes toward the mission will reverberate throughout the organization. As a conductor, your team will be taking cues from you. If you care deeply about the organization’s mission, they will as well. If you are half-hearted, they will be too. Ask yourself if you care deeply about the idea or organization you will lead.

Do you love people? The one thing I see most in poor leaders is their negative attitude towards people. Leadership is a people business. Your entire job is to motivate people towards accomplishing a goal. Unfortunately, many people who don’t like people choose leadership. I understand. People are messy. They have issues, problems, emotions, relationships, and baggage. But your job is to see past the flaws, love your people, and motivate them to do great things. You can’t be a great leader if you don’t love people.

Consider your “Why?”

As Susan Cain points out, people are choosing to lead for the wrong reasons. The result is a hollowed-out, empty version of leadership that’s not good for people or organizations. Leadership, like any other profession, requires a specific set of skills. If you don’t have them, you shouldn’t pursue a leadership path.

Ask yourself these questions and determine if you have a passion to lead. Find out if you care deeply about the mission. Understand your view of people and what it takes to lead them. If you choose to lead, be a great leader. Honestly, we need better, not more, leaders.

Learn more about how to be a more effective leader in my new book, I have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following.