Looking like a leader versus being one

There is a saying about leadership. The better leaders tend to deflect credit to others, the worse leaders tend to assume credit even when it is not due. Think about this as you consider various leaders.

One leader in the news is known as a narcissist. He is on record as saying he alone can solve our problems. He has said  that no one knows taxes better than he does maybe in the history of taxes. He has said no one knows ISIS better not even the generals.

He has beaten on his chest saying how great a job he is doing when most observers see chaos and incompetence. Yet, he controls the message to his followers and says he is being treated unfairly.

He would not be the first leader to take advantage of photo ops, but this man lives a life without substance. He is all about smoke and mirrors. He is all about appearing to be a leader. He is not about being one.

Leaders have to deal with the truth and not bend it to fit their view. How can someone solve problems when they don’t know what they are or what caused them? How can someone lead when their history is one of self-service and not helping people? How can one lead people who he has taken advantage of his entire life?

This leader looks the part. He is successful  and wants people to know it. He stands in front of airplanes as successful people have airplanes. He has his name on everything as his name represents success. The dilemma is it is all for show. His business career is spotty. His mentor taught him to never admit mistakes and to sue everyone. He has had over 4,000 lawsuits in his career.  And, he has trouble admitting his mistakes. It is always someone else’s fault.

A leader does not do these things. There is another leader who did not look the part. He took over after a great, popular leader had died. He almost lost his reelection. He is known for two things. He said “the buck stops here” meaning he owned the problems. He is also viewed as one of the best presidents. His name is Harry Truman. We all know the name of the other guy.

 

 

 

I believe in you

These are very simple words, but they are extremely powerful when used. “I believe in you” can make a huge difference in performance, whether it is at work, at home or at play. A real life example may help, but I have changed the name of the individual to protect the identity of the person.

Sandy has worked in retail for many years at the same small store. She is a solid contributor, very pleasant to customers and quite loyal. While Sandy is not the best employee in the store, she is very reliable and is often called in when others cannot work their scheduled slot. Only rarely does she say no, as she needs the hours.

Like many retailers, this store is pushing cross-selling at the register. And, like many stores, they also have a phone application where customers can find answers to questions and guideposts on their own. Sandy, hates cross-selling as she knows many of their customers are return ones and don’t need to be invited to buy, but she is obligated to make offers.

Sandy was not performing well under stretch store measures, as the retailer was in financial trouble. The application sales were critical as they provided recurring revenue. The cross-sell push was strong and it made her feel quite uncomfortable. Her manager was stressed and made her stress known to Sandy and others. As a result, Sandy felt threatened and it affected her work, psyche, and health. Her scheduled hours suffered and her boss was hyper-critical of her. She considered other employment.

And, then the stress went away. An old boss who knew Sandy and what she was capable of, replaced the stress-causing boss who was asked to leave. Sandy was not the only one who felt the extra tension. The returning boss “believed in” Sandy and gave her room and opportunity. Sandy sold more of the applications and gained greater comfort in cross-selling without being too intrusive. And, her scheduled hours went up.

The boss who left openly and caustically shared her displeasure with others. Sandy is far from perfect, but the stress causing boss, created the circumstances for less fruitful performance. The returning boss knew how to lead and manage. She believed in her workers even while giving them high goals. This belief enabled Sandy to perform at a much higher level and the results showed.

“I believe in you.” Leaders can make a difference with these words. Not every employee is an “A” employee. Any team is a mixture of different skills and capabilities. A leader will provide the necessary amounts of management and encouragement. They will know when to step on the accelerator or ease off and tap the brakes. Good leaders are few and far between, but each manager can be a little better at leading. The results might be staggering, if they do.

A Great Leader

I have written before about great leaders and bosses I have witnessed or read about. Not that I am an expert, but the following opinions about leadership resonate with me.

A great leader…

deflects credit to others and does not take credit when it is not deserved.
– reaches out to others for their thoughts, even if it is to validate a preconceived notion.
encourages communication with those up, down and across the organization.
– recognizes the best ideas to improve sales, performance, safety or efficiency come from those closest to the action.
empowers his or her people to do the jobs they have been hired to do.
– admits mistakes and seeks to remedy them, not cover them up.
encourages people to share their concerns with him or her and not look for people to agree with everything he or she says or does.
– creates a culture of doing the right thing and shows little tolerance for cheating the system.
establishes BHAGs or Big Hairy Audacious Goals, which show a path forward. *
– treats people fairly and consistently.

Please note I did not indicate any personality style. Great leaders can be introverted, as an increasing number of CEOs are, of they could be extroverted. Yet, we often mistake the ability to tell a story with someone who can actually lead.

Finally, great leaders are not perfect. Seeing how they react to business or personal failure is key. Do they blame others or accept the failure? The is the best window into how the person will lead.

* From the book “Built to Last” which reviews why companies are successful over time.