Raising the level of your leadership

No Style Points For Leaders

In the world of competitive sports, “style points” are the difference between winning and losing in ice skating, gymnastics, diving and bull riding. Each of these has an element of “what you do” (degree of difficulty) and “how you look doing it” (style). So looking good is important.

However, in the world of leading organizations, style points aren’t worth much—especially in the long run. Substance, not style, is what matters for leaders.

What are the telltale signs of a “looking good” leader?

Charm: being charming is a great thing. Some people just have it. (I wish I had more of it.) Charm can carry a leader a long time with a large group that sees and hears but doesn’t really know the leader, but it will soon wear thin with those who know the leader best.

Charisma: Webster’s defines charisma as “personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm….” The definition tells all—magic isn’t real, it is an illusion—and leaders who rely on it aren’t real.

Chatter: don’t you get tired of leaders who always talk and never listen? All great leaders are great listeners and ask great questions. It is how they show respect for followers and how they learn (chatter leaders may think they know it all, but they don’t).

Cha-Cha: the Cha-Cha was a popular dance in the 50’s; disco was popular in the 70’s; the Macarena in the 90’s. Cha-Cha leaders always know the latest and most popular dance and they are good dancers. If leadership was a continuous big party, Cha-Cha leaders would be great leaders—but it’s not.

Chrome: chrome is on cars to make them look good—shiny, flashy, etc. But it is what’s underneath that really matters. Chrome can cover up corrosion, cracks and chipped paint. To repair a wrecked car, you start by pulling the chrome off. To repair a wrecked organization, you start by pulling the chrome off the leader.

“Looking good” may be half of the score in bull riding, but in leadership it’s not worth much at all.

Leaders Need Rebar Too

(Guest post by Carl Roberts, President, SW Business Resources)

Haiti’s devastating earthquake was a wakeup call throughout the world. But what I found interesting and frustrating was that a lot of the damage and destruction could have been avoided. Unfortunately, many buildings in Haiti were built without adequate reinforcement in the concrete walls. Translation: not enough or no rebar. Rebar is the iron rods that strengthens concrete and keeps concrete from crumbling like a cracker when outside forces hit.

We are like those structures. If we don’t have a solid infrastructure that is reinforced with the right character traits, then it becomes difficult to achieve our dreams and goals. Five traits critical to our success are:

Resiliency – Every person I have ever known or read about who has achieved something of importance in their lives has had to be resilient in overcoming obstacles or setbacks. Look around you and identify those in your circle of friends who have demonstrated this trait. Encourage them and learn from them.

Education – Another foundational trait. People who are high achievers and successful are constantly learning and helping others learn. They do this by reading, listening to peers and experts in their field, and electronic media such as CDs, DVDs and the internet. There are more ways for us to learn and glean information than ever before. Use all the resources available and don’t stop learning. It’s been said the books you read and people you know and associate with will impact your life greatly. Believe it.

Belief – Believe in what you do, who you are, and why your goals are worthy. Belief is the catalyst for change. The power of belief will open doors and windows for all types of opportunities.

Attitude – Many of the top motivational writers and speakers talk about the importance of attitude and how it is responsible for 80-90% of a person’s success. It is a lot easier to go through the day with a positive encouraging attitude than one filled with stinkin’ thinkin’. Develop a “can do” attitude. Remind yourself and others that they are fantastic and deserve the best life has to offer.

Reputation – Your integrity is critical in all areas of your life. Do not compromise your values and ethics. Stand for what’s right. By doing this, all your relationships will be stronger and the trust you and others have in each other will skyrocket.

These five traits are but a few that make a person strong and able to weather life’s storms. What are the others in your life?

Leader's FICO Score (#4 of 4)

“Credit-ability”—credibility—is the leader’s FICO score.

Credibility is that combination
of trust and confidence that convinces people
you can successfully lead them into the future.
As a result, they voluntarily decide to follow you.

Both trust and confidence are essential to credibility. People may trust you, but if they don’t have confidence in you, they will not follow. And like trust, confidence has to be earned.

The starting point for confidence is in relationships.

“People today demand personal relationships with their leaders
before they will give themselves fully to their jobs.”
Bill George, True North

People have little confidence in leaders who are invisible, unavailable, impersonal and uncaring. Want to increase confidence in your leadership? Open your office door.

Courage is: (1) take the first step—lead from the front where it is risky; (2) slay the dragons that only the prime leader can slay; and (3) always accept the blame for failure. Why was German General Erwin Rommel such a great leader?

“The Desert Fox led from the front.
His mode of leadership was to place himself physically wherever the action was hottest…”
Steven Pressfield, Killing Rommel

A key component of confidence is the leader’s track record. Don’t expect people to enthusiastically “move out’ with you if your last four change initiatives have all failed. People will follow leaders who have “been there and done that.” So, building a track record of success is a really big deal for anyone who wants to lead really big change.

If you want to lead, do not underestimate the importance of credibility. Remember, you can’t lead without it because:

“The most essential quality for leadership is…credibility.”
Rick Warren

Leader's FICO Score (#3 of 4)

Since credibility (credit-ability) is the most essential quality of leadership (essential meaning you can’t lead without it), it is crucial to know what it is and how to get it.

Credibility is that combination of trust and confidence that convinces people you can successfully lead them into the future. As a result, they voluntarily decide to follow you.

Trust is fragile—easily broken. Trust takes time to build, but can be torn down in a moment. Without trust, you can’t lead. You can herd, but you can’t lead.

Building trust starts with integrity. Integrity is simple. God gave us three integrity rules to live by:

  • Don’t cheat
  • Don’t steal
  • Don’t lie

The telling points of integrity are the little things like inflated expense accounts, taking office supplies home for personal use, business trips that are really vacations, and using organization credit cards for personal items. No matter how “small” your cheating, stealing or lying is, it is still cheating, stealing and lying, and your credibility will be destroyed by these things.

Dependability is also simple. It is always doing what you say you will do and always being consistent. Few things destroy trust faster than unfilled promises. And, few things create anxiety more than inconsistent behavior. Make sure that “my word is my bond” is actually true for you, and make sure that people know what to expect from you, especially in stressful situations.

Another important part of building trust is humility. Simply put, leading a team is not about you, it’s about the team. People trust you because they believe that you have their interests at heart, not just your own.

Every now and then look over your shoulder. If fewer and fewer people are following, it may be because they don’t trust you. So, what are you going to do about it? Do you have anyone who will tell you the truth about yourself? If not, find someone.

Leader’s FICO Score (#2 of 4)

Leaders have a credit score. It is their “credit-ability” which we call credibility. How important is credibility?

“The most essential quality for leadership is…credibility.” — Rick Warren

Since it is the most essential quality (essential meaning we can’t lead without it), we need to know what it is and how we get it.

Credibility is that combination of trust and confidence that convinces people you can successfully lead them into the future. As a result, they voluntarily decide to follow you.

Trust is about the heart. People trust you because they believe that you have their interests at heart, not just your own. The building blocks of trust are integrity, dependability and humility. Trust is hard to gain, easy to lose. Want to raise your Leadership FICO score? Start by building trust. (Leader’s FICO Score #3 will identify ways you can build trust.)

Confidence is about the future. It is people deciding to follow you because they have confidence you can get them to the finish line. The building blocks of confidence are relationships, courage and a track record of successfully leading. People may trust you, but if they don’t have confidence in you they will not follow. (Leader’s FICO Score #4 will identify ways you can build confidence.)

Credibility has to be earned. You do not have credibility just because you are in a position of leadership. People may follow you because they have to, but they will not follow you because they want to until you have a high Leadership FICO score with them.

Decide today: “I am going to raise my Leadership FICO score by building trust and confidence in my leadership.”

Leader's FICO Score (#1 of 4)

In the world of financial credit, we all have a FICO score which indicates how much risk there is in lending money to us. FICO scores (named after the Fair Isaac Company which developed the credit scoring system) range from 300 to 850 with anything above 750 considered to be excellent and anything below 580 considered to be very risky.

Eighty percent (80%) of an individual’s FICO score is based on:

  • Payment history
  • Total amount owed
  • Length of credit history

So, if you have a long track record of paying on time and aren’t asking to borrow too much, your FICO score will be good and financial institutions will be willing to extend you credit.

Leaders have a credit score. It is their “credit-ability” which we call credibility. How important is credibility?

“…if he has not built credibility with his people,
it doesn’t really matter how great a vision he has.”
John Maxwell

“The most essential quality for leadership is…credibility.”
Rick Warren

Credibility is the single most important attribute of leadership. Without credibility, you can’t lead because no one will follow you—not willingly.

So if you want to lead, you need to be concerned about your Leader’s FICO Score. Is it above 750 and people line up to follow you willingly, or is it below 580 and people grudgingly follow only when they have no other choice?

If it is that important (and it is), it needs more than one post. The Leader’s FICO Score #2 (next week) will cover what credibility is and how you get it.

I'm All Ears!

Great leaders are always great listeners!

…listening is probably our greatest opportunity to give attention to others on a daily basis and convey how much we value them. — James C. Hunter

There are four reasons why listening is so important.

First, listening shows respect. When eye-to-eye with no distractions, it is one of the best gifts you can give to a team member, or your spouse. (Dottie made it clear to me that I could improve on this.)

Second, listening reveals humility. Especially in the work environment, it lets your team know you don’t think you have all the answers.

Third, listening promotes involvement. Giving everyone a voice gets more ideas on the table—some may be the breakthrough ideas you need.

Finally, listening is smart. After all, you might learn something.

Of course, I’m talking about genuine listening, not just letting people talk to make a show of it.

Need to raise the level of your leadership? (For all of us the answer is “yes.”) Become a great listener.

"All In?"

I walked about four miles yesterday morning.

It was about 30 degrees. There were some light snow flurries and a brisk breeze. It was cold—but not too cold for a fast one hour walk. I had on gloves, my ears were covered, and my feet were covered with warm socks and shoes. Plus, I knew a hot cup of coffee and a fire awaited my return.

But I wasn’t “all in”—because if it had been a little colder, or sleeting instead of snowing, and if the wind had been roaring instead of just “breezing,” I would have stayed in the house. There is a limit to what I’ll endure to get a little exercise.

On the night of December 25, 1776, George Washington’s army of 2500 men was “all in.” On a bitter cold night, drenched by sleet and freezing rain, facing a howling relentless north wind, they trudged for nine miles on ankle-deep muddy roads in an desperate attempt to surprise the Hessians (Germans working for the British) in Trenton, Delaware, to gain their first victory in a revolution that was about to collapse. Their clothes were worn and threadbare and many were barefoot. Conditions were so severe that although only two were killed in the battle, several hundred died in the days thereafter due to the exposure and frostbite they suffered that night.

Why were these men willing to sacrifice and suffer so much? My gosh! They had no shoes and their feet were frozen, yet they kept going! They were hungry, sick, discouraged and alone (two other commanders and their troops were “no shows” that night). But these 2500 men were “all in”—their password for the night was “victory or death.” And whichever they faced, they were ready.

From a leadership perspective, there are three lessons from that night:

  • Clear purpose: they had a purpose—a cause—they were willing to die for—their freedom.
  • Compelling vision: they could see what it would mean to be “America” instead of the “colonies.”
  • Great leadership: Washington was the “first to lead and the last to withdraw” (quote from To Try Men’s Souls by Gingrich and Forstchen).

Questions for you:

  • Is there any purpose or vision for which you are “all in”? If not, find one!
  • Are your followers “all in”? If not, what are you going to do differently in leading them?

[By the way, they surprised the Hessians, gained their first victory, and saved the revolution. Get the whole story in To Try Men’s Souls.]

Get Started Today!

How long is your list?

Are there three things you really need or want to get done this year? Seven? Eleven?

How long have you been putting them off? How many times have you started, failed, and given up? How many times have you said, “I’ll start tomorrow” and didn’t?

If you don’t get started, what is at stake? Is your health at risk? Your finances? Your family? Your business? Your church? Your self-esteem?

Wouldn’t you love to get rid of the guilt and disappointment from past failures?

Maybe today is the day you should “forget what lies behind…and press on toward the goal….”
(Philippians 3:13-14; thanks for the reminder, Ken.)

Whatever it is you need to do—or want to do—whatever goals and dreams you have, remember:


Leaders Playing Santa

Christmas is one week from today. I can hardly wait. Highlights will be the candlelight service on Christmas Eve; reading the story of the birth of Jesus on Christmas morning; watching my three buddies open their gifts and getting great hugs from them all; then, Christmas dinner. My wife, Dottie, makes the best dressing in the world. If that was all we had to eat—I’d be happy (well, maybe a little pumpkin pie thrown in).

Giving gifts is a big part of Christmas, but for authentic leaders it should be a big part of leading all year long. A leader can play Santa every day by giving the…

Gift of Appreciation
Philosopher William James once said that the need to be appreciated is at the core of the human personality. What are you doing to show those you lead that you really appreciate them?

Gift of Listening
“…listening is probably our greatest opportunity to give attention to others on a daily basis and convey how much we value them” (from The Servant by James C. Hunter). Don’t forget—authentic listening and just hearing are not the same thing.

Gift of Freedom
There isn’t much worse than being in bondage to a controlling boss—every decision, large and small, reviewed and approved with an “I know best” spirit. Give the gift of freedom. Quit being a boss and start being a leader!

Gift of Honesty
There are a lot of dimensions to honesty, but the greatest gift a leader can give is honesty about self. Be transparent, admit it when you are wrong, and don’t pretend you don’t have any weaknesses.

Gift of Patience
Anger, finger pointing, outbursts, revenge seeking, punishing and wounding have no place in any organization. The leader sets the tone. Do you have a spirit of fear and reticence in your organization? It’s probably your fault.

What’s the greatest gift a leader has ever given you? Let me know.

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    "The best way to lead people into the future is to connect with them deeply in the present."

    Kouzes & Posner


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