Leading by Your Values

As a leader, the only effective way you can direct your life and the lives of others is to truly know what you stand for. Your personal principles, or values, direct your thoughts, priorities, preferences, and actions. The aspects of life that you value shape your character, which determine how you lead. They determine how you do everything.

Unfortunately, many leaders haven’t identified their values, and often find their roles frustrating, confusing, or unfulfilling. If a leader’s experience can be described this way, imagine what their people are experiencing. If you struggle with internal conflicts, or have a sense of something important missing from your life, assess your values.

Max Klau states in his Harvard Business Review article, Twenty-First Century Leadership: It’s All About Values, that a significant purpose of personal values is to serve a cause greater than yourself. Great leaders have a vision of serving by contributing to a cause where they try not to be the focal point. This requires a set of values based on benefiting others.

Your values are simply your ideals, the foundational principles that you live by. They are the important standards you feel should govern body, mind, and spirit, manifested throughout the course of your personal and business life. Generally people resonate most with a handful of values, each having a great influence on their character. Prioritizing just a few prevents losing focus.

Some examples of personal values that leaders have been known to embrace:

  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Accountability
  • Humility
  • Loyalty
  • Serving others
  • Excellence
  • Optimism
  • Relationships
  • Hard Work

The list is broad. No two leaders will have the same set of core values. They are almost as unique as fingerprints. Your values establish your personal standards for what is right and wrong, acceptable and not acceptable. They are the basis for judging your personal progress of growth, your impact on your areas of responsibility, the contributions you’ve made, and the satisfaction you receive.

Values Are Barometers

Paul Larsen, in his book, Find Your Voice As A Leader, (Aviva Publishing, 2016) recognizes that because we set our personal standards with our values, they serve as gauges or barometers for the important things in our lives.

Your sense of success is based on how well you feel you’re upholding your values. If relationships are a high value, you can assess how many new ones you made, or how many struggling ones you mended. If you value humility, you can judge how well you allowed others to be lifted up and recognized.

As a leader, your satisfaction or fulfillment can be gauged by your values of serving or hard work. You are rewarded with great feelings and a sense of worth when your values lead you to make a positive impact in these areas.

A high value of optimism or excellence can impact your emotional level or state of energy. Similarly, a high value of loyalty or commitment impacts your perception and approach to challenges, endurance, and perseverance.

Values As Warnings

Larsen also sites that leaders whose roles are misaligned with their values experience inner conflict, stress, or frustration. You may be a leader facing hardships without recognizing the reasons. An inner look at your values may reveal some contradictions in your business life that need to be addressed.

If you value transparency and are required to be vague in dealing with difficult corporate issues with your people, you will be torn inside. Your emotions and spirit will suffer by going down a contrary path.

If you value excellence, you will be discouraged and defeated if the pressures of your environment force your people to submit substandard work. Your inner self is in conflict with your actions.

If you value relationships, you will be distressed if your workload doesn’t permit you to engage your people in ways that allow you to know them. You’ll sense an emptiness inside that won’t go away.

Look for the warning signs. Your responses to situations, your confidence and positivity, or your quality of relationships can be affected by actions that contradict your values. This is another reason why assessing your values is so critical. Allow a coach or mentor take you through the process of identifying those ideals that you strongly believe in.

Assess your job, your duties, and your career path, to see where you fit and where you don’t. Make changes before a value-action misalignment takes you further down a painful path. Neither you nor your people benefit if you are in conflict with your values.

Making Use of Your Values

Leaders who follow their values are seen as authentic, and are appreciated because they’re genuine and trustworthy. Use your values and the related personal attributes to enhance your environment. Set a vision based on value-oriented choices and hone in on a path for the future; for yourself and your organization.

Your values establish your culture. You set standards for what is right and wrong; just the kind of leadership people seek. The virtues and principles you stand for can help you establish organizational goals. By being the example of honorable values, you motivate staff to implement your vision.

Valuing people builds the relationships that create engagement and investment. An authentic, relational culture fosters value-based responses, accountability, and higher accomplishments. The values of trust and respect forge truthfulness and a focus on people. Leaders who earn the trust of their people experience a special unity that enhances their entire organization.

Put your values to work in your leadership style, decision making, and goal setting. As the people in your organization recognize, respect, and adopt your values, they are embedded in the organizational culture.

Renewing Your Values

As a leader, you grow into your leadership skills. Experience and tenure give you the opportunity to see how your values evolve. Wisdom comes from successes and failures, and leads to the understanding that some things are more meaningful than you originally thought.

Seeing how relationships have been so vital for you and your organization leads you to place a higher value on people. Perhaps some relational failures came with a heavy price. By adjusting your values, the importance of engaging and helping people is enhanced.  Everyone benefits from your renewed perspective.

If you have learned the hard way that taking credit for the contributions of others causes them to distrust you, your values probably needed review. Valuing humility and trust more than you once did can be a change brought on from past mistakes. Everyone has some character flaws. Great leaders learn from their mistakes and evolve their values.

Getting caught by a customer for being deceptive will likely cause you to revalue the ideal of integrity. Truthfulness or accountability may be hard lessons to learn, but as long as improvements are made and damages are atoned, a renewing of values will send you off in a better direction.

Values are worth assessing periodically. Take stock of yourself, what you stand for, and what mindsets you may need to adjust. Some good questions to ask yourself are: what’s worth standing for… and why?

Keep your values in mind as you lead. They will be evident in your actions, decisions, and conversations. Your values will guide your thinking, responses, goals, and vision. Your people will see a nobler, genuine, trustworthy leader who is worth following.

Compulsive Leaders Pose Unique Challenges

Most corporate cultures place a high value on accomplishment and productivity, which explains why so many compulsive, driven leaders rise to executive positions. The business landscape is filled with leaders who, while bent on achieving success, present difficulties for the people who work for them.

While compulsive leaders can claim credit for myriad workplace advancements, their obsession with tasks and goals contributes to employee dissatisfaction and disengagement. If you report to a compulsive leader, you likely experience mixed feelings over completing great work vs. bearing the pain that comes with it.

Are You Compulsively Driven?

Compulsive leaders are often referred to as control freaks. They’re obsessed with producing, orchestrating, winning and looking the part. Our corporate culture promotes this mindset, so we are raising these types of leaders in droves, notes management consultant Steve Tobak in "Why Control Freaks Are Natural Leaders" (CBS Moneywatch, August 25, 2011).

Compulsive leaders are appreciated from the top echelons, but not as much from the bottom ones. They are overachievers, with no interest in letting up because they must win at any cost. They expect their people to be as efficient and goal-oriented as they are. Unfortunately, it’s not a realistic expectation.

Leaders with compulsive tendencies focus on tasks, checklists and goals to produce the fastest and best results, win battles, maximize success and gain favor. Their insistence on hard work and achievement overshadows people’s needs, suggests Beatrice Chestnut, PhD, in The 9 Types of Leadership: Mastering the Art of People in the 21st Century Workplace (Post Hill Press, 2017).

They chase the common rewards of accomplishment: position, possessions, influence, respect and a reputation for being the best. Their communication style suits this approach by being brief, blunt and centered on results. As Dr. Chestnut explains, the compulsive leader is passionate about doing the best job possible, achieving the most success and looking good doing it.

The Pros and Cons of Compulsiveness

Though the compulsive mindset is hard to deal with, there are some beneficial aspects of this type of leadership style. The compulsive leader:

  • Accomplishes goals and achieves results
  • Brings a spirit of excellence to the workplace
  • Runs a tight ship and knows what’s going on
  • Is dedicated to people who do good work
  • Inspires dedication and teamwork

But the fallout from adverse effects can far outweigh the positives. A compulsive leader:

  • Can be insensitive and rough on people
  • Is intolerant of mistakes or slow work
  • Often sets the bar unachievably high
  • Micromanages “underperformers” and shows favoritism to achievers
  • Can’t deal with failure and doesn’t learn from it
  • Can overwork into exhaustion and suffer from bad judgment
  • Lacks humility and openness to vulnerabilities
  • Has a one-track mind that can reject others’ input
  • Causes dissention and disunity, stemming from a lack of people skills

These negatives can clearly put an organization in a poor position for long-term success. Coaches can help leaders take healthier approaches to success without the collateral damage to the workforce.

The Signs of a Compulsive Leader

Certain outward behaviors signal to people they’re working for a compulsive leader. Some are subtle and need to be observed over time. Others are obvious when first experienced.

Compulsive leaders demonstrate high energy and dedication to long hours without complaint. Their emphasis on results is reflected in their speech and decisions. They are bottom-line people, often cutting off others to get to the main point. They take the direct and ultra-efficient approach. They refer to their accomplishments as a matter of habit and continuously cite their goals.

Compulsive leaders are obsessed with speed. Productivity looms large in their interactions, with tasks and checklists overriding feelings or emotions. They seek the upper hand and search for ways to win. Unable to sit still, they make every minute count.

Compulsive leaders also become impatient with discussions they deem too long or tasks that exceed their budgeted time frames. Slow people and inefficient meetings frustrate them, as do unnecessary explanations. Compulsive leaders are more concerned about averting delays than how their behavior affects those around them.

Image management is another noticeable trait, Dr. Chestnut notes. They will shape-shift to portray the image of success they believe others have, which takes a lot of work. They outwardly enjoy being in charge and having things done their way.

Their lack of interest in engagement, social skills or empathy indicates a greater priority on tasks. Being disconnected from people affects every aspect of the work environment, which the compulsive leader rarely recognizes.

The Compulsive Mindset

Understanding compulsive leaders’ perspectives and motivations can help them transition to healthier behavior.

Compulsive leaders believe only hard work and achieving their goals will bring them the rewards of power, influence, possessions and recognition. In their minds, this reward system is the only means of personal fulfillment. To compulsive leaders, what they do is who they are. Their principal purpose is to meet their goals, accomplish their tasks and win. From their perspective, their degree of excellence in realizing these priorities determines their self-worth.

To ensure none of their efforts go unnoticed, compulsive leaders maintain a highly successful image, which draws the admiration they need to further fill their self-worth tank. The image machine works overtime to match different people’s views of success. Keeping all the plates spinning is worth the potential payoff.

The ultimate goal is a spotless record. Anything that could potentially lead to failure must be avoided. But if the unthinkable happens, failures are downplayed or denied. Compulsive leaders adopt a can-do attitude to bolster a confidence level that drives them to press on.

Emotions, they believe, get in the way and slow things down. Controlling their feelings isn’t as easy as controlling tasks, so they’ll do their best to ignore them. Keeping things superficial—tasks, duties, goals and appearances—is more manageable. Compulsive leaders are out of touch with their inner selves and have a poor grasp of who they really are outside their professional roles.

In the same vein, other people’s feelings are cumbersome and best kept off limits. Following procedures and schedules is all people need to do. Emotions inhibit productivity, so others’ personal needs are a low priority for compulsive leaders. Many of their staff’s personal difficulties go unaddressed and wouldn’t be understood.

Blind Spots

Compulsiveness can be viewed as emphatic behavior driven by an intense internal focus. Thus, compulsive leaders are likely unaware of the personal difficulties they cause their people.

When employees’ feelings or needs go unaddressed, morale, engagement and unity suffer heavy blows. Consequently, work quality suffers, thereby fostering further unfortunate leadership responses. This downward spiral feeds upon itself.

Diminished team performance makes it harder for compulsive leaders to maintain their image of success, and the pressure affects everyone. Leaders with a one-track mind blame their employees for any problems, with no idea that the true source is much closer.

A coach can help steer compulsive leaders away from damaging habits and toward healthier ones by posing some introspective questions:

  • Can you get in touch with your feelings? Why not?
  • Do you believe your people have no feelings?
  • How do you think people respond when their feelings go unaddressed? What does the eventual outcome look like?
  • How is a person’s true value determined? Is it task related?
  • What would happen if you slowed down? What’s the likelihood of this result?
  • What’s so devastating about failure? Can anything be learned from it?
  • Are you ever concerned about burning out? How could burnout affect your leadership abilities?
  • How has striving for recognition helped you?
  • What signs would indicate your people don’t trust you? Would it bother you to miss these signs?

Working through these issues and reframing their mindset can help compulsive leaders recognize trouble spots and potential remedies.

Counsel for Compulsive Leaders

It’s difficult for compulsive leaders to identify with feelings (their own or others’). It’s also hard for them to step outside their own perspective. One effective approach involves training that focuses on relating to people.

Compulsive leaders must learn to value the power of engagement: the relational aspects of working together. Accepting the notion that their success depends on other people proves to be a great epiphany. Ultimately, the goal in coaching is to reverse their priorities: away from their own success and toward their staff’s. If their people do well, their professional success follows.

Leaders must recognize that people aren’t simply tools to be used to achieve desired results. Staff members are valuable resources that make the organization function optimally; they’re worthy of respect and appreciation. Failure to provide this consideration drastically diminishes their value as resources.

Other key steps can help leaders reduce their compulsive tendencies and reconsider their values:

  • Assess what constitutes real self-worth. Is it what you can gain for yourself, or is there more value in making a lasting contribution by developing others?
  • Get in touch with your emotions and become more self-aware to enhance your leadership impact on others and the world around you.
  • Accept people and their traits. Learn to work on a more relational level, appreciating what they offer rather than fighting it.
  • Embrace failure and learn from it. Failure can offer the best lessons for future success. It’s not nearly as fatal as you once believed. It’s normal.
  • Step back and make note of the responses you see when you enact the previous steps. You are strengthening your workplace culture.


Compulsive leaders need a new frame of reference. Benefiting oneself is a narrow, less meaningful purpose than the good one can do with and through others. Leaders who derive fulfillment solely from feeling good about themselves enjoy only  temporary benefits. Building a legacy holds greater meaning.

Working for a Compulsive Leader

Compulsiveness is a tough trait to manage. It takes a special awareness and understanding to work with a compulsive leader. Staff can start by recognizing the compulsive personality’s fundamental traits.

Addressing a compulsive leader’s needs requires people to give their best (the appropriate goal, regardless of leadership type). Every reasonable effort should be made to complete assignments on time. Accountability is critical. Compulsive leaders greatly appreciate employees who own up to mistakes and offer solutions to correct them.

Wasting leaders’ time and slowing them down won’t help. Delivering needed information succinctly is important, as is alerting them early to any potential trouble. The aim is to find ways, in matters great and small, to help leaders succeed.

Compulsive leaders should not be pressed for a personal relationship, but reciprocating is a good idea if they make the first gesture. It’s wise to tread carefully and assess how personal the relationship should get. Leaders will respond to respect and appreciation, that doesn’t veer into sycophancy or manipulation.

As leaders work past their compulsive tendencies, tensions will ease and spirits will lift. Giving leaders positive feedback and thanks will enhance the transition even further.

Conquering the Fear of One-on-One Meetings

As a leader, you have lots of things in motion, and your people have more than ever on their plates. Managing your team is enough of a challenge when dealing with the big picture.

But numerous details also need specific attention. You’re aware that many of them pertain to certain individuals, and the only effective way to manage these is one-on-one. This is an aspect of leadership that makes administrators uneasy, if not fearful. Does this resonate with you?

Many leaders dread or avoid one-on-one meetings because they are viewed as uncontrollable, unpredictable, or risky. They seem to require an almost perfect use of soft skills and techniques, and swing with as much variation as the personalities with whom you’re meeting.

These ideas stem from a lack of training in the leadership skills needed to conduct beneficial one-on-one discussions. Great leaders know that it pays to learn these skills because one-on-one meetings are necessary. If you struggle with these kinds of personal encounters your role will eventually be significantly compromised. This is detrimental to everyone.

Fortunately there are strategies and methods available to help you overcome these concerns and excel at one-on-one meetings. When you do, both you and your people benefit greatly and you’ll find these types of meetings to be the most powerful and satisfying tool in your arsenal.

One-on-One Meeting Purpose

Managing the activities under your authority creates many reasons for meeting with people individually. Some are vital to the administration of ongoing work. Others are important to address issues of concern, and yet others are advantageous to maintain an engaging leadership. One-on-ones are needed for a variety of reasons:

  • Assignment updates
  • Addressing project issues
  • Opportunities for your people
  • Discovering their needs
  • Performance appraisal
  • Mentoring or coaching
  • Engagement and relationship building
  • Addressing personal issues

One-on-One Meeting Policy

One-on-one meetings are a significant part of your leadership portfolio but you don’t want them to carry a stigma that signals trouble or concern. Integrate them into your policy as a regular part of administrating. Be clear that everyone gets to have them with you. No one is placed in a dubious category by meeting with the leader privately. Making the meetings a positive aspect of your team process eliminates the fear or awkwardness of calling them.

Stress the importance and benefit of this tool to your staff. The team operates at a higher level and each person’s job is more rewarding. Everyone will appreciate it.

Make it clear that the policy works both ways. Your door is open to those who want to talk. Any subject is fair game. If you aren’t available at request, make sure you schedule a get together as soon as possible. You’ll build trust and respect by attending to your people’s needs.

One-on-One Meeting Planning

The one-on-one is a special kind of meeting, which due to its nature, must be conducted with special regard. It is a personal appointment designed to benefit both a working and personal relationship, and is customized for the circumstances. 

Choose a setting appropriate for the individual. Your office may be best, or if you’re working with a lower level manager, their office. Another room or area on the campus may work well. Wherever it is, your attention needs to be undivided and focused on your employee to attain an effective level of trust—both ways.

Scheduling the meeting with your employee signals that you value their time, attention, and allows you to secure the proper setting.

Plan an agenda ahead of time, and stick to it to cover the needed topics. Respect the employee’s time by keeping the conversation relevant and work related. Chitchat should be minimal: a groundbreaker only.

For duty-related topics, share the agenda in time to allow the employee to prepare. You may want some materials that take time to assemble, or you may want a decision that requires some careful thought.

However, a discussion over a troubling personal issue generally does not benefit from a pre-announced agenda. In this case an advanced notice can cause misunderstanding and undo stress. Conversely, unplanned discussions about the employee’s performance or personal issues can feel like a surprise attack. Weigh these factors carefully.

The Right Technique

How you conduct a private meeting is just as critical as what you cover. Perhaps the most important guideline is to communicate clearly. This is a major point John Maxwell expresses consistently in his many books, in particular, The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader (Thomas Nelson, 1999).  Verify with your employee that you are understood.

Guide the conversation, but don’t rule it. Intent listening and acknowledgement are important communication methods. Pause to respond, doing it calmly, yet confidently. All of these show respect and consideration.

You will make a better connection with your employee by being a good observer. Note their body language. Gage their responses, questions, and tone of voice. Measure your interaction accordingly to provide helpful nudges, but not harmful shoves.

Be aware of your style and approach. Your eye contact and tone establish the proper sincerity. Gestures and volume should be low key, and your body language needs to be engaging, not disinterested. Resist blaming or getting upset. You won’t get the most out of your meeting if you’re not mindful of these things.

Provide positive feedback, which can also be integrated into constructive criticism. In a December 2013 Harvard Business School article, Michael Blanding observes that we generally focus more on negative comments than positive. We take them personally, and sense a threat. Therefore, make suggestions positive, effective, and helpful, especially if they are corrective.

The Difficult Conversation

The toughest challenge is the meeting to discuss a personal issue that is causing problems. Don’t shy away from hard topics, but pursue them with fairness, frankness, and firmness. Express the expectations for performance or behavior—your personal expectations and those of your organization. This won’t be effective unless you exemplify them yourself.

Never threaten people but rather offer insight, help or solutions. Ask the employee to contribute his or her own ideas. Communicate empathically. See the person over the circumstance, as Maxwell teaches. Try to grasp their perspective and show you believe in them.

Ultimately you want to reach resolution or agreement. Follow up is key. Make it a point to continue touching base while monitoring progress. Clarify any misunderstandings you perceive as you move forward.

Conquering the fear of one-on-one meetings will test you, but the rewards are a healthier, more effective team, as well as a more prosperous, satisfying leadership for yourself.

How Leaders Benefit From Journaling

Are you reaping the rewards of journaling?

Leaders face an ever-demanding role as the business climate continues to speed up to counter threats. The pressures of superiors, stockholders and customers don’t seem to give you much time to catch your breath. Responses must be quick. Choices must be smart.

Have you experienced this in your attempts to run an organization? Expectations of you never diminish. In her 2016 Harvard Business Review article, Want to Be an Outstanding Leader? Keep a Journal, Nancy Adler puts it succinctly: “Extraordinary leadership requires seeing before others see, understanding before others understand, and acting before others act.”

You strive to do this, but how can you initiate critical thoughts and keep them fresh under such circumstances? Wise leadership requires careful reflection of evolving ideas and feelings that may be forgotten from one day to the next. Mental processing is difficult enough without the distractions of the everyday pace.

The answer that many leaders have found, Adler states, is keeping a personal journal. Initially, this may seem banal. But research and many leader testimonials support the benefits of this personal practice.

Making the Effort

Journaling captures thoughts and ideas to be revisited. Difficult feelings can be worked through and tough concepts can be further examined. Consider journal entries as bookmarks in a volume of important thoughts whose pages are constantly turning.

Not only does journaling prevent your important mental notes from being lost, but it also improves your thinking. Setting aside time to journal quiets your mind so you can think more clearly. This is what research funded by The National Institute of Mental Health concluded. Settled brains are simply more effective at processing and problem solving.

Additionally, research sponsored by the National Institute of Health found that replaying experiences in our minds is a great tool for learning. Journaling essentially provides you a way to relive thoughts or feelings, and reflect on them. Identifying these in your journal is a critical way to learn about yourself and the world around you.

Dan Ciampa, author of Right From the Start: Taking Charge In a New Leadership Role (Harvard Business Review Press, 1999), believes that keeping track throughout your day of what went well and what didn’t is the best way to learn. You can glean from your successes and mistakes. And most importantly you can determine how to adjust and improve. All this requires quiet reflection. Making the effort to journal on these things is well worth it.

Making a Routine

Many leaders attest to the benefits of writing their journal entries by hand. True, electronic entries can be more efficient, but slowing down to manually write helps with processing thoughts. It eases the tension.

Consistency is key. Schedule your journaling time at a set time of the day, and make that your commitment to yourself. If you are journaling once a day, the best times are before your day begins or after your day ends. Ten to fifteen minutes is all you’ll need. It’s much more difficult to squeeze this into the middle of an already busy day.

Another reason to journal on off hours is to avoid being interrupted. Do it in private. Again, the idea is to reflect on significant thoughts. These are things you won’t be sharing with anyone — this is a safe world, for your eyes only.

The best journaling is spontaneous and transparent. There’s no need for proper grammar or spelling. Be honest with yourself. Let the thoughts flow freely. The more candid you are, the more you will help yourself. Don’t use this time to judge or criticize yourself. Make it a positive time to learn and grow.

Making It Meaningful

Journaling is made most productive when asking yourself questions that provoke deeper thoughts as you attempt to answer them. The questions should cover a variety of ground, and they should be asked regularly for maximum benefit. Feelings are certainly a focus, as are observations, concerns, and satisfactions.


Adler suggests leading your reflection time with some positive takeaways:

  • What was I thankful for today?
  • What did I do well today?
  • What did I learn today?

The answers to these help build a positive mindset. They’ll boost your confidence and productivity.

Self Awareness

  • What made me laugh today?
  • What made me upset today?
  • Did I act in an unfortunate way today?
  • Did I feel successful today?
  • Did I disappoint myself today?
  • What inspired me today?

The answers to these can improve your emotional intelligence by assessing your responses to circumstances. This will help you deal with feeling better, and shape your character for maximum effectiveness.

My Leadership

  • How am I leading?
  • What do others think of my leadership?
  • Am I reflecting my personal values?
  • Am I supporting my organization’s values?
  • Were my people better off today because of me?

Answers to these can assess your impact and how it can be improved.

My People

  • Who needs my attention?
  • What might my people be feeling to make them the way they are?
  • What techniques worked with my best people?
  • What techniques didn’t work with those who concern me?
  • Who has been consistently dependable / non-dependable?

Answers to these will shed light on how to manage talent better.

My Goals

  • Did I get closer or farther from my goals today?
  • What can I do differently?
  • What should my priorities be?
  • Are my goals still appropriate?
  • What is the purpose of my work?
  • What fulfills me?

Answers to these can aim you in the best personal direction.

Don’t undervalue journaling. Resist the temptation to drop your diligence or cut your routine. Practice patience. The effects are long-term, but they can be amazing.

Let journaling refresh you and help you find a level of enjoyment you may be missing in your work. If you make it a priority, you will eventually wonder how you ever got by without it.

Leading Beyond Your Authority

In today’s complex and dotted-line organizational culture, your job frequently requires buy-in from people outside your direct authority. Influencing people who report to someone else can prove daunting—and an even greater challenge if you confuse the principles of leadership and authority. (They’re not the same.)

Contrary to what you may have learned in leadership training, you can effectively guide people who are outside your realm of authority. To do so, you must understand what leadership truly is and how it appears to those who are looking for it.

The traditional model of leadership requires control (authority) to “make” people do what they need to do. Pulling rank, so the thinking goes, forces them to fall in line and meet goals and objectives. Fortunately, this has become an outdated philosophy that, we have come to realize, ignores basic human behavior.

Leadership vs. Authority

People apply themselves and do their best when they want to, not when they’re forced to. From a motivational standpoint, they seek interest, satisfaction, purpose, inspiration and personal reward. Having a sense of value and accomplishment encourages engagement—a virtually impossible prospect when they feel they’re being controlled.

Leadership fosters inspiration, whereas authority produces obligation. Authority is the supervisory responsibility to direct, decide and delegate. It is sometimes misused for personal gain.

In contrast, leadership establishes goals or visions and inspires people to achieve them—a process accomplished through influence. Those influenced positively will follow willingly (the essence of true leadership).

Leadership success depends on knowing how to influence people and breed a desire to follow (as opposed to trying to mandate it via formal authority). Following a leader is a choice based on desire; trying to mandate it is misguided and ultimately doomed to fail.

Influence is the foundation of leadership, according to Clay Scroggins, author of How to Lead When You’re Not In Charge: Leveraging Influence When You Lack Authority (Zondervan, 2017). "Leaders who consistently leverage their authority to lead are less effective in the long term than leaders who leverage their influence,” he writes. Again, human behavior is the driving factor.

While almost everyone has the ability to influence others and lead in some capacity, many leaders fail to be inspirational and fall back into their default position: an insistence on asserting their authority. Numerous research studies confirm that positional authority does not guarantee effective leadership. In fact, strongly wielded authoritative power has led to some of the poorest leadership outcomes.

Your ability to influence people will determine whether you can lead those who report to others. Work on mastering the following principles to increase your sphere of influence.

1.  Be a Worthy Leader

Show others how reliable, trustworthy and respectable you can be. You don’t need to have formal authority over them to do this. Noble leaders naturally exude these attributes.

Followers want to be associated with successful leaders. They listen to leaders with admirable traits, seeking hope, encouragement and professional possibilities. Also demonstrate confidence if you want others to work with self-reliance, advises Patricia Simpson in Leading Without Authority, a July 2016 Leadership Institute article.

Remember: People are watching you. They’re searching for character in their leaders, and they appreciate working for individuals who improve their lives at work. They want to admire, respect and follow authentic leaders.

Your identity relies heavily on how you view yourself. Knowing your abilities, limitations, values, mission and perspective allows you to perform an accurate self-assessment. Followers, colleagues and superiors will judge you on these factors, so you must continually work to improve your skills. You’ll be rewarded with greater trust.

People value leaders who have everyone’s best interests at heart, including those outside your direct authority. Leaders who care about others are worth following. Being helpful, especially when there’s no direct benefit to yourself, commands respect and influence.

Your motivation and ambition should focus on achieving something, Scroggins notes. Followers want to take part in your achievements, as long as your goals aren’t self-serving. Selfless leadership should generate a matching level of enthusiasm. (Both draw attention from a distance and are contagious.) It doesn’t take long for the workplace to recognize where they originated.

Dedication to excellence, without the intrusion of one’s ego, is a catalyst for inspiration and influence. Take ownership of the quest for positive change, while also giving credit to others—a potent combination for growing a following. Listening to others’ ideas and valuing their input forges a collective ownership.

2. Promote Relationships

People-focused leaders enjoy the greatest professional success, as influence is founded on relationships. People find it easier to follow the ideas of someone they like, respect and trust, suggests Erica Hersh in Leading Outside Your Authority, a 2015 article for the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.

Show interest in people, and regularly communicate how much they’re valued to cultivate healthy, mutually beneficial relationships. This strengthens your influence and builds a stronger following.

Your ability to pitch ideas and win over opinions directly relates to your relational strengths. One way to measure influence is by the number of people who adopt your perspective. Strong relationships are characterized by cooperation, collaboration and implementation.

They also develop into networks, where influence is compounded. You may not have relationships with everyone you’d like to influence, but a growing network of followers helps cement your reputation, creates further connections and brings beneficial supporters on board. People within the network will rally others who will embrace your efforts. You can grow a solid base of support by leveraging relationships within a network.

3. Build Credibility

Demonstrating credibility helps compel people to work with you, Hersh says. People trust leaders whose ideas make sense and who have a history of effecting positive change. Nothing beats a track record of making things happen. People seek leaders with the insight to pinpoint needed improvements and the skills to implement the necessary changes.

Part of being credible is the ability to think critically, yet openly.  Your capacity to see things objectively—and realistically—engenders trust. Leaders who openly tackle and overcome obstacles with regularity and positivity are deemed credible. Be a critical thinker, not a critical person.

Build credibility by continually forging ahead and rejecting passivity, especially when things don’t go your way, Scroggins suggests. Become known for never giving up, while putting the organization’s needs ahead of your own.

Be a role model by behaving like a team player. Demonstrate that you’re willing to roll up your sleeves, and eschew the “it’s not my job” mentality; you’ll earn respect and enhance your credibility.

Show others that “good enough” is not good enough. A powerful role model sees a need that no one else is addressing and works toward remedying it.

4. Challenge the Status Quo

Perhaps the toughest test you’ll face when working outside your authority is challenging the system. By questioning the status quo, you insinuate that change is needed. Upper-echelon managers may think you’re brooking their authority or accusing them of doing something wrong. Some may take your comments personally, unable to separate the policy from the personal.

Followers may also resist your efforts, fearing the potential fallout. But a leader with great people skills, influence, and a following can successfully institute positive change at even the highest levels.

Navigating these treacherous waters requires a multifaceted approach:

  • Ensure that your motives and values are honorable and evident. Changes perceived to be self-serving or inappropriately critical will be rejected quickly.
  • Pay attention to your body language, tone, verbiage and timing when expressing your thoughts and concerns.
  • Consider hiring a qualified professional leadership coach to offer helpful direction and work with you on your relational skills.
  • Clearly communicate why you’re challenging the status quo. Declare your noble intentions from the start.
  • Present compelling solutions instead of merely identifying a problem, Simpson advises. Develop a reputation for being a problem-solver for your boss, with everyone’s best interests in mind. Paint a picture of positivity and mutual benefit.

When you’re in tune with your boss’s needs, you’re in the best position to lead change. Followers will happily join your efforts if you’ve worked to establish solid relationships and taken the time to understand others’ personality and style.

Choose your battles, and be willing to let some things go. Learn to accept the possibility that some of your ideas will be rejected. Recognize that you’ll take some wrong turns on the way to finding the right ones. The entire process is yet another opportunity to grow professionally as you expand your sphere of influence.

5. Enlist Colleagues’ Support

You’ll build an even stronger position when you harness the influence of peer-level leaders.

Reach out to these colleagues in a positive, sincere and nonthreatening way. By working together, you have a greater chance of convincing higher-level managers to move forward.

Present solutions as vehicles for achieving joint benefits. This approach can be a compelling start to improving the status quo.

6. Show Initiative

Anticipate leadership opportunities—and be ready when the call to action arrives.

Better yet, recognize that “each of us has a unique opportunity to create something right where we are,” asScroggins says. “It doesn’t require special authority or a fancy title or having the corner office…Don’t shrink back until someone calls your number.”

We encourage our direct reports to be self-starters. Seize every opportunity to lead by example.

Overcoming Adversity: 3 Steps Great Leaders Take

How a leader responds to adversity reveals how effective that leader is. Reactions to setbacks or crises not only test leadership character, but define it.

Some difficulties are devastating, and unfortunately, they are compounded by leadership responses. There’s no real training for adversity on the leadership ladder, except experience. A leader who doesn’t effectively deal with a trial will succumb to it. The rest of the organization won’t be far behind.

Leaders can prevent this. There are specific methods that can defuse setbacks, allow subsequent crises to be more manageable, and make leaders stronger. Leaders can learn to conquer setbacks by using simple, logical steps to make their way through each difficulty.

Better yet, with the right approach, setbacks can provide advantages that would not have been possible otherwise. Leaders with these skills will weather any storm, regardless of its cause.

From Setback to Success

Ryan Holiday, in his book, The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumphs (Portfolio/Penguin, 2014), claims that leaders can turn the roadblock they face into a path to success. Ironically, the impediment is a gift.

When a leader is hit with a crisis, fear and anger may be triggered. A leader who remains in this state is paralyzed and derailed.

Instead, leaders can view obstacles as self-motivating challenges. They can tap into determination to turn a weakness into a strength. Leaders can view challenges as a test that can be utilized to thrive, not just during a crisis, but in spite of it.

To defeat obstacles leaders can use a three-part weapon system, according to author Holiday.

  1. A mindset or perception on how to view the situation.
  2. The motivated action plan on how to address the specific issues.
  3. An inner drive or will that keeps the mindset and action plan going.

The Right Mindset

When a leader gains a rational perception of a situation, it’s put into proper perspective. A useful perspective of a setback is one that doesn’t focus exclusively on negative emotions, but looks at the facts. A leader’s healthy viewpoint has logic and a sense of discernment to see things as they really are, not what they may appear to be.

The first step in dealing with a crisis is to remain calm. Composure not only helps with clarity, it has a positive effect on others. Worry only feeds on itself, and then it feeds on the leader.

A shaky emotional state, one of fear or anxiety, only makes the problem seem much worse. Instead, leaders who redirect distracting thoughts build the strongest mental positions.

The second step is to frame the trial accurately. Correct decisions can’t be made if the understanding of the issue is flawed. A leader’s thoughts must be stable and reliable. This takes discipline, but it can be learned, especially with the help of a seasoned coach.

Gathering data, other perspectives, and root causes are exercises a wise leader undertakes to get the facts and the most accurate picture of the problem. Without these prerequisites, no decisions or plan will be effective enough.

The third step is to make the situation as manageable as possible. A leader who breaks a crisis down into workable chunks finds the most effective solutions, fixing simpler things, one at a time. This permits even small successes to appear larger than the trial itself, which is a positive perspective.

An effective leader gets in the pattern of reevaluating after each chunk is dealt with. A day-by-day approach will keep emotions, tactics, and activities in check. They focus on today: tomorrow will be addressed tomorrow.

With a positive outlook, the entire challenge is seen as an opportunity to learn, correct, prevent, and get better. Failure is not final, but a step to the next success. Every leader fails. Great leaders don’t let failure take them down.

Author Holiday encourages leaders to allow the trial to push them to be something greater, to grow their capabilities to think around roadblocks, and defeat things most people deem undefeatable. Let setbacks create a champion in you. In a sense, this ends up being more important than the trial itself. The trial is simply an advantage to be used by a crafty leader. This is perhaps the toughest mindset to adopt, but invaluable to do so.

A Solid Foundation

A leader with a healthy mindset takes the most prudent steps. Too many leaders regard immediate action, any action, as a step in the right direction. This is dangerous thinking.

Before any action plan is initiated, a leader needs to establish the proper foundational conditions within the organization. Steadiness in the culture—in the corporate mentality—is essential. As the leader enhances their own mindset, they inspire staff, especially management.

The leader’s initiative must become everyone’s initiative. Everyone needs to take ownership and have the dedication needed to see things through. The obstacle needs to be removed, and it’s going to take persistence. The roadblock won’t go away by itself, and no one has a magic wand to make it disappear. Only facing it head on will suffice. The effort will not be a sprint but a marathon, so a leader needs to prepare everyone for endurance. Quitting is not an option.

The BP Deepwater Horizon oil platform disaster of 2011 was a classic example of leadership not following this principle. Responses were stalled, uncoordinated and unaccountable to the public, the government, and the families. A solid foundation of initiative and prudence was clearly missing. Trust in BP plummeted, and the poisoning of the environment far exceeded what was considered up to that point as tragic.

A leader who charts a strong course will have staff that can follow structured steps, stick to a plan, make things more manageable, and less stressful. If more leaders would learn this preliminary process, more crises would be overcome well. This is the meat of an effective setback defeat.

The Best Action Plan

With a leadership team in sync on their mental and emotional approach, solutions can be derived and put into place. But again, a careful and deliberate method yields the best results. Taking action for the sake of action often makes things worse. Action is not needed. Prudent action is.

Leaders who follow the most deliberate and manageable process are the most successful. Trying to slay the entire beast with one sword thrust is detrimental. Gradual, proportional steps are best, tackling one sub-issue at a time. This requires discipline, and it must come from the leader.

The downturn in Kodak’s analog photography business exemplifies a leadership plan that didn’t fully respond to the threats of disruptive technologies. Legacy products were not phased out in time to make way for new ones. Innovation wasn’t ramped up enough to transition the company. An effective, systematic strategy was not implemented. The company is a fragment of its former self.

The leader must also keep everyone focused. Staff can get anxious and want to jump ahead too soon. They may want to quit. Competing issues tempt managers to spread themselves too thin. People can struggle with shaking off disappointment or a sense of failure. The leader’s task is to encourage, empower, and escort.

A leader aiming for ideal solutions will be frustrated and will frustrate their team. Many crisis situations are not the time for ideal, but for making due. They are a time for rolling with the punches.

Leaders who get results consider non-traditional approaches. Attacking a problem through the side door can be the most effective way to find a solution. By preparing teams to step out of their comfort zones, they are open to new ideas. This can be a humbling experience, and that’s often helpful. Pride has no place in this process.

Teaching the staff to embrace the struggle brings out the best in them. A leader who takes things seriously, but holds them loosely, demonstrates what wisdom is.

With these action plans, the leader will direct everyone to an effective resolution in ways that were never initially thought possible.

The Will to Win

As solutions are attempted, ups and downs will occur. Leaders often take their people into new territory. Things don’t always follow the plan. Defeating setbacks requires humility, resilience and flexibility from the leader, according to author Holiday. This is manifested in the inner will.

Leaders must reflect this for their people, and inspire it in them. They should demonstrate the desire to apply themselves in the most effective way, and maintain this energy until the setback is overcome.

Being an encourager is part of leadership responsibility. The things most worth doing are difficult, and difficult things take time. The leader prompts everyone to be determined not to give in or give up. This is the will to win.

HP’s purchase into touch screen consumer products offered them a solid opportunity amongst the top competitors. But underdeveloped hardware, software and relationships with carriers caused the walls to close in. After spending billions of dollars, the strategy was abandoned just months after launch, instead of pressing forward with the will to overcome. Their prospects for tablets and smartphones vaporized, as the market for them soared.

A strong will also calls for wisdom and discernment. The solutions being tried need to be weighed to minimize the chance of bad surprises. Smart leaders oversee the planning of alternate routes, just in case. They anticipate what can go wrong, accept the outcomes that can’t be controlled, and maneuver toward the ones that can.

Leaders who can stand up to stiff opposition, whether circumstances or people, will forge a strength in their staff, and inspire them to respond boldly. Unity builds a force more powerful than can come from the same number of individuals.

The tragedy is not that things go wrong or crises knock you down. The tragedy is that when a leader doesn’t have the skills or the will to take their organization through the trial, they miss the opportunity to learn from it, and grow because of it.

Defeating Skepticism

Skepticism in leadership takes on several forms; some are advantageous, and some are detrimental. In its truest sense, skepticism is a logical and rational challenge of ideas to get to the reality or truth about a specific issue. Leaders with such a constructive, critical eye possess a positive strength, especially in a fast-paced environment where many proposals compete.

But this sense of the word has been overridden in today’s culture. Within the last generation, the typical impression we have of skepticism pertains to a close-minded, doubtful, and hard-to-convince mentality. Leaders can also allow distrust or resentment to play into this picture.

This kind of skepticism is damaging in many ways, and stifles organizations. Fortunately there are ways leaders can undo skeptical traits and adopt a better outlook.

Embracing Failure

Skepticism is often bred out of a fear of failure. A leader can be so concerned about failing that no ideas appear to offer a reasonable level of risk because they are scrutinized so heavily. None will work well enough. The task is too difficult to attempt. The threat of failure looms too large. Have you ever felt like this? You’re not alone.

There isn’t a leader who hasn’t feared the possibility of failure. They’re under constant pressure to produce, succeed, and grow the organization. Though they have this in common, leaders have a choice of how they view potential failure: something to be avoided or an opportunity to improve (and succeed.)

As author Gary Burnison describes in his book, No Fear of Failure (Wiley, 2011), failure happens to everyone, but there can be significant advantages.

“Success may instill confidence, but it is failure that imparts wisdom. With wisdom comes the inner serenity needed to create a bridge between failure and success.”

Failure offers the insight to get better, to shake loose the sense of setback, and grow in the chance to learn key lessons that can’t be learned any other way. Leaders with significant key lesson experiences are the ones who top their competitors.

If a leader sees that all great leaders fail, and failure is not final but is often beneficial, a more positive outlook can be had. And with a positive outlook, a greater openness to ideas can be gained. The habitual rejection of ideas will fade away. A coach can help you frame this perspective.

Shaking Personal Bias

Another breeding ground for close-minded skepticism is an over emphasis on past negative experiences. Regrets from the past, whether self-caused or not, can be powerful deterrents in the mind, unduly shaping your beliefs. A leader with a negative bias over a certain topic will be unable to assess it with objective eyes. Can you recall a time when you simply declared, “I’m not going there again?” And have you found yourself unable to clearly explain why?

These are the kinds of biases every person has in their lives, to some degree. We don’t know we have them. Leaders certainly are not exempt.

In his book, Everyday Bias, Identifying and Navigating Unconscious Judgments in Our Daily Lives (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014), author Howard J. Ross helps us understand the powerful influence past experiences have on our minds:

“Unconscious influences dominate our everyday life. What we react to, are influenced by, see or don’t see, are all determined by reactions that happen deep within our psyche. Reactions which are largely unknown to us.”

How can a leader counter this?

First, accept the fact that subconscious influences often keep you from seeing things as how they really are. If you have a bitter taste over a certain issue, a bias could be in play. In significant decisions, err on the side of being biased, and decide to let another view have a chance of being true. Force yourself. You will most likely need help from a trusted colleague or coach.

Second, for the specific issue at hand, determine if the circumstances are actually the same as those in the past. If not, allow this to paint a better picture. Third, recall why the past outcome was negative, and what you learned since then so you can change your approach.

Finally, explore all reasons why your feelings could be off target, and concede that another perspective is more appropriate. Your skeptical position can be reversed.

Eliminate the Not-Invented-Here Syndrome

Because of pride, unwillingness to trust the judgment of others, or a need to control, leaders are skeptical of the ideas of others. The view that only your ideas are worth pursuing is greatly limiting, and self-deceptive. The best leaders know that they don’t have all the answers—no one does. There are many people out there, perhaps under your own roof, who are more brilliant than you.

People who follow a leader skeptical of all ideas other than their own will soon stop submitting ideas. Think of the prospects of an organization where new ideas cease. Have you noticed the flow of ideas around you drying up? It could be because you only trust your own ideas.

Al Pittampalli, author of the book, Persuadable: How Great Leaders Change Their Minds To Change The World (Harper Collins, 2016), describes the evolving view the business culture has on leaders who change their minds.  At one time, it was considered a sign of weakness. Now, leaders who change their minds are often admired for adapting to volatile, threatening conditions, and staying ahead of the game. The image of pridefulness is being overshadowed by one of shrewdness.

The best way to overcome skepticism of other people’s ideas is to challenge your own. Establish an open, collaborative culture. Include brainstorming exercises throughout the organization, especially at the top:

  • Collects all ideas, without critique.
  • Use a weighted grading system to eliminate bias, and score ideas.
  • Sift out the highest scores and trust them.

People are drawn in, become more engaged, and best of all, the greatest ideas and strategies are found. Sometimes the oddest ideas turn out to be the best.

Accept this: with better ideas from the team, there’s nothing wrong with changing your mind away from your own ideas. In fact, it’s admirable. Shove a prideful position aside, and cleverly make the most effective use of the resources you have. Sounds much better, doesn’t it?

You’ll find that critical, constant skepticism is a debilitating element that will limit you, your staff and your organization. If you sense that a skeptical outlook has gotten the better of you, choose open mindedness and reap the rewards.

The Paradox of Leadership Give and Take

Western leaders have been conditioned for generations to believe that the way to advance is to claim as much as possible, to take more than you give. Many leaders make personal gain the objective of business life, and almost any means to achieve it is fair game.

Hard work, perseverance, passion, and talent are valuable, of course. However, in the human dynamics of business, taking what you can, even if it’s from others, is often the method used to attain rewards.

But what if there was a paradoxical truth that showed the opposite to be the case—that by giving away what you have, you’ll get even more? There is substance to this truth, and it warrants examination.

The majority of employees see their bosses fitting the mold of the “taker.” These leaders are viewed as prioritizing their personal needs above everyone else’s, in a competitive arena where there are definitive winners and losers.

This perception is so common we stereotype managers by their interpersonal behavior. An aggressive, self-serving leader who gets what they want by using people to get it is seen as powerful, competent, and productive. We assume this taker is a person who will work their way up the corporate ladder effectively.

Conversely, leaders who put their needs last, who serve their people by giving more than they take, are seen as weak, interdependent, and insecure. These “givers” are not viewed as likely to advance.

Again, cultural experience makes some of these things seem factual, but looking deeper reveals another reality.

Adam Grant, in his book, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success (Penguin 2013), describes the contrast between these two basic styles of leadership social interaction: the taker and the giver.

Takers are more self-focused, motivated to succeed first, and give (if necessary) down the road. The ends justify the means, so they believe. Givers are focused on others, and sense the need to give of themselves first, and success will come later. The benefits to others are paramount.

Takers see themselves as superior and set apart from the rest. Givers recognize that they belong to a team with diverse skills and that they all depend on each other.

Takers are more independent, claim more credit, and are reluctant to share knowledge, privilege, or power. Givers are more willing to ask for help, and to share credit, knowledge, and rewards.

In the traditional mindset that claims the spoils go to the victor, the takers have the perceived edge in leadership success. And initially they may. But over time, as author Grant points out, success depends heavily on how leaders approach their interactions with other people.

The Deception About Taking

The premise regarding those who try to claim as much value as they can is that they get what they want. They have an intentionality that achieves goals and maximizes opportunity. Takers make things happen for themselves, and for the most part, those around them, as they take advantage. We’ve seen this happen all the time.

This is an attempt to gain, with a narrow focus on personal benefits. The costs are secondary, and often discounted. However, the position that seems advantageous at face value is rarely advantageous at all—for those reporting to the taker and even for the taker themselves. This is the deception of the taker’s way.

Leaders who are takers are self-promoting and self-protective. They take credit that may belong to others and spin things in ways that benefit their position. Employees have little difficulty spotting this. Eventually, the leader becomes known for this and the responses of those around them are not favorable.

Takers grow to earn the disrespect of those they work with because of the maneuvers they make. No one likes to be taken advantage of, or have their work claimed by their boss. Other leaders are often affected as well, and word spreads.

Takers may be envied by some, due to their apparent favor with higher leaders. Others may resent them. Both responses fashion enemies. People subject to a taker sense the detriment to their own careers, and that is about as negative a feeling as possible in the work setting.

Overall value in the group declines, due to the draining of motivations and ambitions from its members. The long-term career prospects for a taker are compromised because team performance suffers and turnover rises. Leaders who are responsible for this fallout eventually develop negative reputations that excuses cannot defend.

It’s deceiving. Amazing skills, training, and drive are often considered the recipe for stardom. What often appears to be a leader who has the world at their command is someone who suffers from a damaged success ladder. The damage is self-inflicted—all because of a poor way of treating people. The leader doesn’t recognize the long-term effects of taking from others.

The Surprise About Giving

Givers, on the other hand, generally don’t strike people as those who will attain what corporate life considers success. They put the needs of others ahead of self, sometimes helping them with their tasks instead of focusing on their own. Giving leaders are more prone to add value to their people than worry about what they receive personally.

By traditional standards, givers are viewed as inefficient or slow achievers. This unfavorable impression is a result of not spending enough time on their tasks. Thus their recognition for advancement is often negatively affected.

Giving leaders care about helping people become their best by teaching, helping, or mentoring. They recognize that in a group of diverse talents, everyone needs others to reach the peak of effectiveness. To them, success comes in teams, not so much to individuals. If this means a tarnished personal reputation, then so be it. In the competitive business world, this mentality is often considered strange, even crazy.

However, as with the taker, paradigms about givers can be inaccurate. With time, the workings within the giver’s world can reveal surprising benefits.

Givers trust people and give them the benefit of the doubt. They are willing to risk themselves by betting on those around them. Givers understand there is a difference between taking and receiving. As author Grant defines, receiving is a willingness to accept help, with the desire to reciprocate. Givers credit others for their work.

Unlike taking, giving is appreciated. Givers focus on the success of others, and grow to earn the respect and trust of those around them. They are noticed as someone good to work with. People welcome givers because they add overall value to everyone. This raises the success of the team as well.

Givers draw people to them, and the giving becomes contagious. There are numerous benefits for those following a giver. They have a huge learning advantage. Their abilities are strengthened. The desire to give to others is enhanced. Mutual giving breeds interdependence, which breeds stronger networks and beneficial contacts. The increase in skills expands exponentially.

Employee engagement expands as well, and people are more motivated about their jobs. This increases productivity and efficiency. Eventually, the giving leader is recognized as a major contributor, as people throughout the organization realize and talk about it.

The biggest surprise is that giving leaders can be the most successful leaders of all, despite their apparent shortcomings. As author Grant suggests: organizations need more givers and fewer takers. The paradox of leadership giving and taking is easier to grasp when we look below the surface, and see the effects of time: give away what you have to end up with more―take what you want and end up with less.

Strengthening the Giver’s Image

Giving leaders can be very effective overall because of how they enrich those around them. Yet there is still an impressionable bias against them. Some regard them as soft or weak. This can stifle or threaten a giver’s career. But there are ways they can combat this.

Many givers are aware of the impression others have. Giving is, after all, an unnatural conduct in the tough corporate environment. The giving leader can fear appearing soft, and this can deter them from giving, by acting more like people expect. This helps no one. But fortunately givers can raise their stock by busting the common myths about givers.

Giving leaders can be firm, yet still be kind. Helping can require expectations or accountability, and still enhance engagement. A giving demeanor can be serious, yet fair―tough yet appreciative. These are not mutually exclusive traits. They work very well together.

Givers can be results-oriented, without being critical, threatening, or inconsiderate, like takers tend to be. Employees want to be held accountable and led well with conviction under defined expectations. The giver is perfectly positioned to do this, and to do it in a way people respect and admire.

Don’t Be a Doormat

Givers, if taken advantage of too often, can become leery, and eventually withdraw giving to avoid being hurt. This truly renders the giver ineffective and grants the takers more control.

This “doormat” state is avoidable. Givers can learn to trust with greater discernment, spotting genuine givers from takers in sheeps’ clothing. To do this, they raise their level of observation.

Get to know people and watch their behavior. Remember that agreeable people are not necessarily givers. Look for motives and values as true indicators rather than outer appearances. Wait for clues, such as shallowness or true genuineness. Observe how they treat others. Notice if they regard themselves highly or not.

Givers can also adjust their approach to suspected takers. If there is a lack of reciprocity, they can become what author Grant calls a “matcher,” someone who will give, but conditionally. Giving is done with the agreement that the other person gives back.  Assertiveness is appropriate to require fair and honorable exchanges.

Giving leaders can put up their guard, yet still be polite. Learn to say no, but do it considerately. Reduce your exposure and find another resource to meet someone’s needs, and observe how that transpires. If there is cooperation and reciprocation, then the giving faucet can be opened up again, while continuing to assess the indicators.

Givers are a vital key to organizational success, and are responsible for the success of many others. They understand that winning doesn’t require that someone else lose. There are enough credits and rewards for everyone. Takers draw life out of an organization, and leaders are wise to avoid those behaviors. A coach or trusted colleague can help with this.

Giving doesn’t require major sacrifices or deeds. It just requires caring about others and sharing what you have inside. Try to emulate the spirit of the giver, and see what good things happen.

The Failure of “Good-Enough” Cultures

Billions of dollars are wasted each year by companies who compromise on standards. Many leaders endanger themselves and their organizations by permitting a “good-enough culture.” This danger of mediocrity fortunately has a remedy.

“Only the mediocre are always at their best.” ~ Jean Giraudoux, French essayist

The good-enough culture plagues an organization in every aspect of its operation, all the way down to the most basic. Some of the more prominent effects are:

  • Lack of productivity
  • Staff turnover
  • Defective products
  • Warranty costs
  • Safety costs
  • Inefficiency and waste
  • Dissatisfied customers
  • Lost sales
  • Layoffs
  • Shrinking profits
  • Poor reputation

Leaders experience many more unseen problems buried down under the details of every department. The issues feed on themselves if not corrected.
Growing the Good-Enough Culture
The good-enough culture flows down from the top of the organization. It takes root when leaders believe that a good-enough approach is acceptable.
Typically, leaders who have the impression that life for them is rewarding enough don’t see the need to work to make things better for everyone else. Leaders with a self-focused mindset have one or more of the following issues:

  • Apathy: There is no real concern for what the others in the organization endure.
  • Laziness: There is no felt need to give more than an adequate effort. Adequate often seems heroic to the lazy mind.
  • Disengagement: There is not enough involvement with staff or specific operations to know that troubles exist. Worse yet, the leader intentionally avoids knowledge of problems.
  • Greed: There is less monetary reward for the upper echelon if more resources are spent on addressing system shortcomings. This is the age-old deception of not believing a sacrifice today pays rewards tomorrow.
  • Fear of failure: There is too much risk seen in trying something that could make things worse. This fear emanates from a lack of wisdom or confidence.
  • Pride: There is a need to preserve image by avoiding the acknowledgment of a problem.
  • Ignorance: There is no pressing desire to know how the operation works, to grasp how it could be better.
  • Resentment: There is a dislike of bad news and the people who bring it. And of course, nothing can be improved if it’s not discussed.

Leaders who don’t understand the power of excellence don’t care enough about pursuing it. This lack of caring is what author Subir Chowdhury claims is the main cause of a good-enough culture, in his book, The Difference: When Good Enough Isn’t Enough (Penguin Random House, 2017).
When leaders don’t care enough about being the best they can be, why would staff? Each layer in the organization takes its cue from the one above, and all of them ultimately from the top. Uncaring leaders set a strong example that caring is not needed by anyone. The result is mediocrity at best, total failure at worst. Leaders who are excellence-minded see both of these as failure.
Organizations fail, but not always because they’ve crashed to the bottom. Leaders often cause slow failure simply by allowing mediocrity to set in. When things are “good enough,” people are lulled into complacency and a false security. They are unprepared to respond effectively when the bleeding begins, and gradual decline ensues.
Symptoms of “Good-Enough”
Organizations and leaders who don’t care much about excellence will signal this throughout the system. Some signals are subtle, some are clear. Here are some examples:

  • Leaders often ignore the elephant on the conference room table. Certain bad topics are not discussed. Waves aren’t made. Upsetting bosses with bad news or concerns is avoided at all costs. When staff leave a meeting knowing an underlying issue is deliberately left unaddressed, this is a sign that the status quo is too important to disrupt. Good enough is good enough.
  • When red tape bogs down a process and is discussed with no effort to get to root causes, this is a trouble sign. In these instances, leaders simply want the bottleneck to go away by any means necessary, and there’s no real concern for preventions or improvements. They permit an exception to the rules and everyone goes back about their business because good enough is good enough.
  • People start blaming one another during stressful situations rather than trying to reach understanding. Gaining clarity and collaboration takes work, sometimes a lot of it. Leaders don’t regard teamwork worth giving of their time and effort, so they allow their people to endure disunity because good enough is good enough.
  • Leaders are more upset at delivery numbers than product quality when production nonconformance arises. Standards are conceded to get the product out the door, or leaders approve a band-aid for the problem, hoping it’s just a limited issue. The concessions are easier than diving into the causes and effective solutions, because good enough is good enough.
  • Employees are skeptical of feedback forms, company surveys or information meetings because their voices are rarely valued, heard or acted upon. Suggestions go unanswered, survey results are not shared and organizational information has no real substance. Any improvements are minor, not requiring a significant investment. Leaders don’t emphasize positive change because good enough is good enough.
  • Leaders see staff turnover in a specific department, and exit interviews indicate a managerial problem. But they see it more difficult to replace a manager―with a higher salary requirement and a more complex recruitment process―than to continue finding new employees with fairly common skills. Leaders choose to make due, overlooking the manager’s weaknesses because good enough is good enough.

When leaders reveal these and other symptoms it is a general indication that they don’t really care enough about excellence to truly implement it, and probably don’t understand how to.
Overcoming the Good-Enough Culture
Author Chowdhury suggests four basic principles leaders can apply to overcome the good-enough syndrome.

  • Truthfulness / Directness: Leaders who care about truth must instill a culture of transparency and honesty. They are advised to deal with trials directly and openly, and to reduce fear by welcoming feedback. This gives responsibility to staff to bring issues to the table and tackle them, with the incentive to solve them. Leaders who can accept bad news, and respond with fairness and understanding, establish higher levels of emotional safety, accountability, and excellence.
    People learn to care about the day-to-day issues, and have a greater sense of empowerment to make things work better. Small successes lead to more, and succeeding becomes attractive. A leader who cares about making things right for everyone will create a following of people who want to do the same. Being truthful and direct builds trust. And trust breeds higher standards. Good enough is no longer good enough.
  • Consideration for Others: Leaders who care about their people are attentive to them. They show them they’re valued by engaging them, listening to them, and understanding them. Their communications skills demonstrate an empathetic mindset, where the leader is concerned about what their people are going through, and how things can be improved for them. This requires humility and genuineness. Such leaders care enough to be helpful and unselfish.
    People respond by returning a leader’s consideration with consideration of their own. They know they’re affirmed and appreciated, and this causes them to care about what the leader cares about, as well as each of their contributions. The staff becomes thankful and returns the leader’s thoughtfulness with their best efforts. Quality becomes a desired trait of their work, because good enough is no longer acceptable.
  • Taking Responsibility: Leaders who care about excellence demonstrate responsibility and instill the same in their people. They accept critical feedback but not without viable proposals for solutions. They don’t accept a mentality of “it’s not my job.” Everyone participates and is expected to follow through on their assignments. Great leaders prompt everyone to add value and make positive changes.
    This encourages engagement, positive outlooks, and a drive for the best ideas. These leaders forge the habit of analyzing strategies and their potential outcomes. An overall aim to enhance things for everyone is established.
    The staff responds by getting involved, taking action, and being answerable for what they do. Everyone strives for improvement, and they raise their expectations. People find it exhilarating to be responsible for their portion of the overall success. They feel a sense of unity, and are encouraged to ask for help when needed. Staff go the extra mile because they care, and because good enough is not an option.
  • Determination: Leaders who care lead by example. They show their people that success requires resolve, and nothing worth achieving comes easily. Leaders who persevere inspire the passion in their people to do the same. It shows the staff that the leader is serious about making commitments and staying the course. That demonstrates the importance of decisions and the worth of the goal. They support long-term improvements and reject quick fixes. Leaders who don’t give up when things get tough make a lasting impression on their people. That impression grows when they understand the struggles their people have, and help them with the needed resources.
    Workers respond to this with a determination generated from within. They take ownership as they are empowered to act and resolve. People adopt a willingness to change and improve, individually and collectively. They reject short cuts. This drives a can-do culture. They care about contributing to lasting value because they learn that good enough never provides that value.

Caring about excellence is everything. A truthful leader molds a team that improves communication, timeliness and a thorough review of all difficult issues, large and small. A leader who’s considerate of others demonstrates the importance of relationships to success. Leaders who commit to such responsibility raise the level of accountability within their staff. Employees who are held to account by their manager also hold each other to account. Determined leaders foster a group spirit that overcomes challenges that once made people surrender.
Leaders can transform their organizations and reach potential never imagined if they put their immediate needs aside and care for their people and the outcomes of their endeavors. Their caring becomes contagious. Everyone’s felt needs will be met more effectively when a caring culture is in place.

Brain-Friendly Steps to Make Change Stick

When’s the last time you promised yourself to make some changes, either break or make a new habit? And how long did your changes last?
Changing habits can be one of the hardest things to do. Once we decide to lose weight, quit smoking, get fit, or do anything differently, it takes a lot of effort and persistence before we can claim success. Anyone who tells you it only takes 30 days to acquire a new habit doesn’t know human nature.
Most people who’ve been successful at making major lifestyle changes report that it rarely comes as steadily upward progress. Instead, it’s often two steps forward and one back, with intermittent relapses, surges of resolve, and a lot of learning along the way.
One has only to look at the obesity problem in the US and other affluent countries to see how hard it is to make behavioral changes that stick. Despite growing evidence that being overweight contributes to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and premature aging, people struggle to lose weight, start exercising, and eat healthy. The obesity rates aren’t getting better, they’re getting worse.
And yet we know more about how to make or break habits than ever before. Behavioral scientists have conducted extensive research into how people make lasting changes. Why aren’t more people successful?
Knowing Isn’t Enough
“If you want to make a change you need to know why you’re making the change―but for that change to really last you need more than knowledge. When it comes to change, our minds don’t work rationally.” ~ The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn and Dr. Elissa Epel, Grand Central Publishing, 2017
We humans have far less personal control than we like to think we have. We largely go about our days operating out of automatic patterns and impulses. When we decide to change our routines, some of us are more accomplished than others. Here is what successful change experts suggest we do.
First, identify a change you’d like to make. Identify one area you’d like to improve, such as health. Before you commit, ask yourself three questions.

  • How ready to change are you? On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you rate your readiness to actually make this change? (A ranking of 1 would mean you’re not at all ready; a 10 means you’re extremely ready.) If you rate your readiness at a 6 or below, go to the second question to explore what truly motivates you. Many of us are ambivalent, even though we admit we “should change.” Pick a change for which you are truly ready to commit.
  • What about this change is meaningful to you? Ask yourself what things are most important to you. Try to tie your goals with your values and deepest priorities in life. The more your goal is connected to your values and priorities, the more likely you are to stick with the change. Choosing goals related to relationships, enjoyment, and meaning in life are simply more important to people than wealth, fame, or how others perceive us.
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how confident are you that you can make this change? If you aren’t sure you can attain your goal, make it smaller and easier to achieve. Anything you rate as a 6 or lower means you need to adjust your sights. You need goals that are challenging but realistically attainable based on previous results. Self-efficacy is one of the biggest predictors of future behavior. Break down goals into steps that will boost your confidence.

Brain-Friendly Tips
The brain is equipped for automaticity and economizing efforts. The way to make that work in your favor is to include brain-friendly action steps.

  • Make small changes: If your goal is too hard, break it down into easy-to-do steps. Instead of 45 minutes of exercise a day, set out to do 10 minutes a day or one hour a week. You will feel successful and energized to make the next small change.
  • Staple it: Tack your change to something else you do regularly. If you log on to your computer each day, set a goal of writing for 20 minutes before opening email. Hitching a behavior to an already embedded one helps you stick to your plan.
  • Mornings are best: Whatever change you decide to make, do it before the day gets in the way. Once you let a busy schedule take over your brain, other priorities will interfere. Make your change a priority first thing.
  • Don’t decide, just do: Schedule your behavior and don’t waver. Making decisions will deplete mental energy and resolve. Just do it. Or, just start to do it. Once you start, you may decide to complete the action.
  • Celebrate it: Give yourself credit for whatever you accomplish. We are often judgmental of less-than-perfect efforts. If you aren’t giving yourself positive reinforcement and mental pats-on-the-back, you will lose enthusiasm.

It’s not rocket science; making changes stick isn’t complicated. Make sure you set meaningful goals, and create a pathway to success. Expect obstacles and distractions. Those who succeed are those who get support from others, are willing to delay gratification, and persist.