Leaders must motivate people. The problem is that everybody’s different, so what inspires one team member may demotivate another. It can be confusing to lead a diverse team. But personality is not an unsolvable puzzle. And we’ve got three powerful tools to help you put it all together.
Countless people have written on what it means to be a leader. And almost everyone identifies influence as the primary characteristic.
By definition, this means that leadership and position are two different things. Holding a title and a high rung on the company org chart doesn’t mean you’re a leader. Even people without these things can exert influence and thus leadership.
But leadership is more than influence.
It certainly includes influence, but that’s only part of the package. I believe leadership includes at least five characteristics. I call these the five marks of authentic leadership.
1. Authentic Leaders Have Insight
Sometimes we refer to this as vision, but that usually has exclusive reference to the future. While leaders must have vision, they need more.
In one passage, the Bible talks about the soldiers in King David’s army. About the men of Issachar, it says they “understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chronicles 12:32). This is what I mean by insight.
Leaders need wisdom and discernment for the present. They need to be able to look at complex situations, gain clarity, and determine a course of action.
Steve Jobs stands as one of the best examples of this in recent decades. When he returned as CEO of Apple, Jobs inherited a mess. But he had the necessary insight to reboot the business and dominate the industry.
2. Authentic Leaders Demonstrate Initiative
Leaders go first. They don’t sit on the sidelines. They don’t ask others to do what they are unwilling to do themselves. Instead, they lead by example. This is what distinguishes leaders from theoreticians and armchair quarterbacks.
I had a sales job in college. Our trainer taught us everything we needed to know. But when it came time to hit the street and try out what we had learned, he wouldn’t join his students. It turned out he had never sold a thing in his life.
When I think of a leader that really took initiative, I think of Lt. Col. Hal Moore. Famously depicted by Mel Gibson in the movie, We Were Soldiers Moore told his troops, before leaving for Vietnam,
We are going into battle against a tough and determined enemy. I can’t promise you that I will bring you all home alive. But this I swear, before you and before Almighty God: that when we go into battle, I will be the first to set foot on the field, and I’ll be the last to step off. And I will leave no one behind. Dead or alive, we will all come home together, so help me God.
This kind of initiative is indispensable because it instills confidence and courage and communicates the kind of dedication that earns trust.
3. Authentic Leaders Exert Influence
It’s no coincidence that influence and influenza come from the same root word. Real leaders are contagious. People “catch” what they have.
People are drawn to their vision and their values. They are able to gather a following and move people to act.
My friend Robert D. Smith demonstrates this. Robert is Andy Andrews’s manager, and he’s the kind of person who owns a room when he walks in. Not because he’s loud or boisterous; he just has that thing.
Besides my wife, Gail, he’s the most positive person I know, and he has the power to persuade others to his point of view like very few people I’ve ever met.
Switching my metaphor, I think of Robert and others with this skill as human wave pools, creating a ripple effect wherever they go. And more influence they exert, the higher and further the waves go.
4. Authentic Leaders Have Impact
The measure of leadership cannot be found in the leader. It’s found in the impact the leader has on his or her followers.
At the end of the day, leaders make a difference. They’re either instrumental in creating real and lasting change, or they’re not leaders. They’re just entertainers.
Think about the extraordinary impact of Martin Luther King Jr. He became pastor of The Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1954. In one decade he had turned the nation upside down.
Throughout the 1950s and early ’60s, King mobilized activists, organized leaders, rallied supporters, and helped secure passage of the most sweeping civil rights legislation to date—not to mention changing countless hearts and minds.
King had enormous impact on all of our lives.
5. Authentic Leaders Exercise Integrity
Not every leader is benevolent. We can all think of leaders in business, politics, or ministry that have insight, initiative, influence, and impact. But when we look at their lives and legacies, we can see something is still missing—something big.
What is it? Their lives are not integrated with the highest values. Integrity—or the lack thereof—ultimately determines the quality of a person’s impact. In a sense, this is the foundation of authentic leadership.
I saw this modeled early in my career by one of my bosses. He hired me at $27,000 with the understanding I’d get bumped to $30,000 after ninety days. All I had to do was kill it. And I did. I hustled like never before.
But when it came time for the raise, the company had instituted a wage freeze. I was crushed. Here’s how much integrity this boss had: He paid me the raise out of his own pocket rather than renege on the agreement.
Influence and influenza come from the same root word. Real leaders are contagious.
Leaders must be deliberate and intentional if they are to be successful. These five qualities can guide us as we grow in our ability to lead. Do these attributes mark your leadership? Where can you improve?
Every leader is motivated by a compelling vision for the future. There’s something you want to achieve. You know where you’re headed. The problem is that it’s hard to keep that vision real for your team. They’re busy and easily distracted. Before long, another quarter has slipped by and you haven’t made real progress on the big outcome you’re after.
That can be incredibly discouraging.
But there’s hope. We’ve got a compelling formula for communicating your vision to every single member of your team.
As a leader, how do you become a better leader? If you’re like me, probably by reading a lot of books, listening to podcasts, and attending a few conferences. Those are excellent growth strategies, but there’s one missing.
According to Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, people who have a growth mindset believe they can improve themselves by their own efforts and strategies, plus input from others.
That means one of the best ways to grow as a leader is to ask questions of other leaders.
Some time ago, Michael Smith called and asked if he could interview me. Michael is on the staff of ClearView Baptist Church in Franklin, Tennessee. We follow each other on Twitter, but we have only met one time previously. He said that he wanted to interview me on the topic of leadership. I happily agreed.
Michael began our meeting by sharing with me that he is on a sabbatical. One of his goals is to grow as a leader and one of his sabbatical projects is to interview leaders in various professions. I was honored that he choose me as someone worth interviewing.
What really impressed me was how thoroughly prepared he was. Michael asked great, thoughtful questions. In fact, the questions were so good that I asked him for permission to post them here. I have printed this list out and put it in my Moleskine notebook. The next time I am with a leader I respect, I can pop out this list and start interviewing.
Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Maybe some one who has been a mentor to you? Why and how did this person impact your life?
What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organization?
As an organization gets larger there can be a tendency for the “institution” to dampen the “inspiration.” How do you keep this from happening?
How do you encourage creative thinking within your organization?
Where do the great ideas come from in your organization?
Which is most important to your organization—mission, core values or vision?
How do you or other leaders in your organization communicate the core values?
How do you encourage others in your organization to communicate the “core values”?
Do you set aside specific times to cast vision to your employees and other leaders?
How do you ensure your organization and its activities are aligned with your core values?
How do you help a new employee understand the culture of your organization?
When faced with two equally-qualified candidates, how do you determine whom to hire?
What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?
What is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?
What is one mistake you witness leaders making more frequently than others?
What is the one behavior or trait that you have seen derail more leaders’ careers?
Can you explain the impact, if any, that social networking and Web 2.0 have made on your organization or you personally?
What are a few resources you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader?
What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?
What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as a leader?
You might start by asking yourself these questions. Better yet, ask them and then blog about them. This will give you some basis of comparison as you begin to learn from the leaders around you.
Do you ever have enough hours in the day to do all you need to do? If we’re honest, most of us would say no. Work, family, friends, rest, exercise, reading, relationships—something’s got to give. For most of us, that something is self-care.
The result? We give more and more to work and others, and less and less to ourselves. It’s a recipe for burnout.
I first heard about Slack, a new software app for internal communication, in early 2014. At the time, our team was growing, and we were struggling to keep everyone aligned. We were using email for all our internal communication, and it was proving insufficient to keep everyone on the same page.
Specifically, we didn’t have an easy way to get new team members up to speed on key decisions, policies, or the myriad details that were a part of every new product or marketing initiative. In addition, we found ourselves inadvertently leaving people out of important conversations. Worse, our conversations were distributed across hundreds and even thousands of email messages that lived in our individual inboxes.
Slack promised to change all that.
As a “quick start,” I was easily convinced and ready to adopt it wholesale for all internal communication. However, my enthusiasm was immediately met with resistance by our less adventurous team members. Though they too were frustrated by the limitations of email, it was a familiar tool. They weren’t quite ready to dump it for a new, untested one.
That’s when I stopped trying to sell it to my teammates and invited them to test it. I said, “What if we conduct a one-day experiment? Let’s take one day next week and commit to communicating in Slack exclusively. That means no email messages to one another for the entire day. Then, at the end of the day, we’ll vote.”
Who could say no to that? It was only an experiment, and there was virtually no risk.
So we tried it. By the end of the day, everyone was sold. The team voted unanimously to try it for another seven days. At the end of that first week, we were still fully on-board and have never looked back. Today, Slack is the single most important software tool we use as a team.
From that experience, I learned that whether you are trying to sell an idea, a new initiative, or a program, it’s best to treat it as an experiment. Don’t ask people to commit to something forever. Instead, invite them to commit for a week, or the next 21 days, or some other defined period of time. If it doesn’t work, you can discard it and go back to what you were doing before.
The Benefits of Experimentation
Experimentation offers four benefits. First, it keeps you from thinking you have to get it perfect before you commit. Perfectionism is the mother of procrastination. When you think you have to get every detail right or answer every possible objection, you wait. As a result, your organization gets bogged down in analysis.
Second, experimentation enables you to gather data you would otherwise never get. You can argue conceptually all you want and still never get alignment. Why? Because you are missing the data that only comes from actually doing the thing you are proposing. That’s why Uber, for example, ran a major experiment before launching their Express Pool service in 2018. Rather than talking about whether the idea would work, they tried it out.
Third, experimentation enables those who are not yet sold to give it a try before fully committing. Research indicates that 70 percent of change initiatives fail. I’m convinced a huge factor is risk aversion among team members. That sets up resistance that virtually dooms the project. Treating change as an experiment reduces the risk and enables team members to convince themselves—or not. Either way, you’ll know far more at the end of the experiment than you knew at the beginning.
Fourth, experimentation allows you to change your mind. For example, a few months ago, I decided to grow a beard. I made it clear to myself, my family, and even my social media followers that it was an experiment. At the outset, I thought this is going to be my new look. I even did a photo shoot with it. But, after six weeks, I was over it. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it. So I shaved it. It was easy for me to change my mind because I knew it was just a trial.
When Should You Use This Approach
In my experience, it is useful to adopt an experimental mindset in three different situations.
When you find yourself procrastinating. Several years ago, I wasn’t making any progress in starting a program of strength training. Cardio? No problem. I was a runner. But I knew that wasn’t enough, especially if I wanted to stay healthy into my later years. But I kept procrastinating.
Finally, I convinced myself to hire a personal trainer as a 90-day experiment. I thought, I’m not committing to this for life; it’s just an experiment. That made all the difference. I’ve now had a trainer for the last seven years and am in the best shape of my life.
When you’re trying to sell a reluctant audience. Gail and I took our first 30-day sabbatical in 2011, just after I left the corporate world to start my own business. One morning, as I was finishing up my morning ritual, Gail said to me, “I really think you should consider adding a practice of daily journaling to your routine.”
I rolled my eyes. After all, I’d tried journaling a few times in my past and had concluded it just wasn’t for me. Even though as a writer—I typically wrote several thousand words a week—there was something about the thought of journaling that I resisted.
Finally, she said to me, “Why don’t you just take it on as an experiment. Commit to it daily for the next 21 days. If you decide it’s not for you, fine. I won’t ever mention it again.” I thought to myself, I can do that. Why not? I have been journaling consistently ever since. It is now an integral part of my morning ritual.
When you need experiential input to get it right. In 2017 we shipped the first edition of The Full Focus Planner. To be honest, I knew it wasn’t perfect, but we didn’t know how to make it better. We had taken it as far as we could without customer input, so we shipped it. I’m glad we did.
Over the next several months, customers flooded us with comments about what they loved and what they didn’t. We even set up a private Facebook group to collect their feedback. Then we went to work on the next edition.
Every time we came up with a proposed improvement, we created a sample page and shared it with the group. We invited them to test it and share their comments. Boy, did they ever! We got hundreds and hundreds of comments on every aspect of the planner. This is exactly what we needed to take it to the next level.
How-To Get Started
Hopefully, by now you see the value of developing an experimental mindset for reframing new initiatives as experiments. So how do you get started? Let me suggest you take three steps.
Be alert to resistance. Whenever you encounter this in yourself or a constituency you’re trying to sell, see it as an indicator you might have an opportunity for an experiment. Make it easier for you or the people you’re trying to sell to say yes.
Emphasize the low risk. One of the main reasons we resist change is because we are either not convinced the change will work or we’re not convinced the change is worth the investment required. One study showed that the average person will not place a bet unless the potential gain is at least twice the potential loss. An experiment reduces, or even eliminates, that risk. Enroll your team in the experiment by underscoring the low exposure.
Set a specific time-frame. You want the experiment to last long enough to be an honest try but not so long that others continue to resist the idea. This is art, not science, but I usually shoot for the shortest time I can without compromising the validity of the experiment.
Here’s the thing: If the experiment works, great. You have achieved the change you wanted to make. If it doesn’t work, you still win. You mitigated the risk of full adoption and now you have more information than when you began.
As Ray Bradbury reportedly said, “Life is trying things to see if they work.” Developing an experimental mindset is a great way to see change happen for yourself and for those you are trying to lead.
One of your most lucrative clients has admitted to unethical behavior and is entirely unwilling to change. Do you keep the account and tie your name to their misdealing? Or do you terminate the relationship and lose over a million dollars in sunk cost?
Your top salesman is accused of inappropriate behavior toward team members of the opposite sex. You believe the complaints, but the top-performer denies them. Do you fire the salesman and lose your rainmaker? Or do you tolerate the behavior and sacrifice integrity?
In this episode, we’ll give you five steps for dealing with a high-performing but bad-behaving employee.
Has this ever happened to you? You get in the car and pull out of the driveway, just like you do every day. Then it dawns on you: “This is Saturday!” You’re halfway to the office, but you were really going to the store.
Oops. It’s easy to drift along in the wrong direction. That happens in life. And it happens in business.
Feeling overwhelmed? Wow, do we know what that’s like! When you’re caught in that whirlwind of tasks, it feels like you’re downrange at Top Golf. You get pelted with a new task every few seconds. It’s even worse when you don’t have a staff. With no one to delegate to, you just fall further and further behind. But there’s another way.