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The purest form of leadership

I was talking to a group of close business friends last week about the topic of manipulation in leadership.  We discussed at length whether each of us had used manipulation in our leadership and our different spheres of influence.

Manipulation - the control of someone or something in order to get an advantage, often unfairly or dishonestly.

On the basis of the above definition we were hesitant to admit wrong doing.  However, when we looked at an expanded description of the term we confessed that we all have been guilty at some time in our lives.

Expanded definition of Manipulation - to make someone think and behave exactly as you want them to, by skilfully deceiving or influencing them.

As the saying goes, confession is good for the soul, so rather than dwell on the negatives we then chatted about the purest form of leadership - inspiration.  When we look back our lives and the experiences we've all had with the various leaders we come across on life's journey, it's interesting the things we remember.  In short, we remember the good and the bad but little in between.

For sure we can recall the times when we felt we were treated unfairly, but it's the occasions when we were inspired that we remember the most. We easily remember the times when someone believed in us and willed us on, even when others didn't.

If we stop and take time to think, I'm quite sure each of us could all talk about memories that have shaped us for good.

Our challenge as leaders is to set example that others desire to follow.  It will undoubtedly be inspirational leadership that will create that desire.

Inspirational leadership in my view is, and always will be the purest form of leadership.  It remains vitally important that we instil belief in others coming along behind and provide the next generation with the best leadership example possible.



Making time for what's important

The modern way of life seems to place demands on each of us in such a way that we always find ourselves busy, all of the time. The question is though, with what? 

From the minute we get up in the morning, until we leave the iPad or phone down for the night we're catching up with emails, finishing off work stuff or checking out what's happening in the world of 'social media' - great term though.

In my parents day it seemed like there was more time to talk, but they still watched the10pm news before they went to bed. Nothing better than filling yourself with some doom and gloom before going down for the night.  

Nowadays, we just give our brains a dose of electronic light instead.

I had the privilege of going to the Wicklow mountains this weekend with some friends.  This is without doubt an area of outstanding natural beauty.  Taking time to walk and talk, stop and look, laugh and smile, really made me realise how important these things are for me to function correctly in life.

We're living in a time when there has been more change in the last 30 years than there has been in the last 300. Trying to cope with this and the pace of life in a balanced way is a challenge for each of us.

I don't know about you but for me the simple things in life are still the best, like kicking some leaves, listening to the wind rustling through the trees, or making someone laugh.

So often we say our circumstances limit what we do in life. In fact, I've heard it said once that our circumstances are really only the circle in which we stand.  We 'can' actually step outside the circle.

I am more determined than ever to try and live life in such a way that enables me to experience more, do things I've never done before, push the boundaries of what's deemed to be the norm, or perceived to be risky.

I'm pretty sure when I do that I'll look back and say 'that was important.'

When you think you can't

It's been said that we're often our own greatest critics and I think that's true.  How many times have you found yourself thinking 'I don't think I could do that,' or 'That's too much for me.'  The potential to achieve more than we 'think' actually lies within each one of us.  So often we sell ourselves short by listening to the whisper from within that says 'no you can't.'

Have you ever climbed a mountain with false summits.  You think you're almost there only to discover there's another level.  Well, that's been my experience of life.  The amount of times I've had to push myself just a little bit more to achieve a goal would take some paper if I were to write them all down.

We're wired for more than that and we have the ingredients to succeed.  There's a reason why we're told to walk by faith and not by sight.  Myles Munroe once said, 'the cemetery is full of dreams never realised, books never written, goals never reached.'  We have a life opportunity to be the best we can be, to go further, to reach higher than we ever thought possible.

So often we settle for much less than we should in life.  You may think that the opportunity sitting in front of you is too difficult, or too complex.  You may even think that you could never do whatever it is you're looking at.  It could be a dream to make a difference, or a promotion that seems way higher than you would be comfortable with.

Can I encourage you to push the boat out and go for it.  There is something strangely exciting about risk when you decide to go forward in an area you don't feel qualified for.  'Do we ever 'feel' truly qualified for anything?'

I often say to my sons that hindsight is a wonderful thing.  When we look back at what we are facing today in 6 months or a years time, we'll often smile and wonder what all the fuss was about.

The challenge is to get that mind moving in the right direction and not let it dictate what you can't do.  It's time to push the boat out and go for that goal, that desire that lies deep within you.

A Sales Masterclass on a Portuguese Street

Just last week my wife and I were having a break in Lisbon, Portugal. One evening, as we ate dinner at a street restaurant, we witnessed something of a masterclass in sales.
Philippe was busy drumming up trade in a bustling area of the city where there were literally 10’s of restaurants scattered around the streets. (Competition)
Not phased at all by the competition our man smiled and greeted each potential customer, politely asking if they wanted to look at the nicely designed menu, whilst walking alongside them. (Presentation)
The slightest hint of acknowledgement and he began to sell. (Buying signals)
If the pitch wasn’t being too well received, out came the small glasses for a complimentary shot of a local brew. (Incentive)
The law of probability them kicked in; he knew if the potential customers took the shot he had them reeled in. (Tactics)
Charming as he was, he knew his menu very well and easily answered any question pleasantly. (Product Knowledge)
He was not alone and worked as part of a group.  One cheeky observation was when his colleague thought he had a couple interested; Philippe bent down to tie his lace, blocking the pathway to allow a little more time for the pitch to complete, which turned out to be successful. (Team work)
He knew at a glance who was definitely not interested and those who may be. He didn’t waste time on the cold shoulder, he just moved on to the next challenge. (Resilient)
It was interesting to note that Philippe’s restaurant was the busiest on the street. It was also amusing to watch while we enjoyed the food and this live entertainment.
Of course we were watching because he had reeled us in just a little earlier. (Closing the deal)

Keeping good people engaged

Like it or not, even the best of people can become unsettled in the workplace.  This includes those who are considered to be 'part of the furniture.'

What causes a person then to become unsettled?

Believe it or not, in my experience a lot of unsettling comes down to listening.  Giving people a good listening to, is key to engagement.  Good people are usually the quiet ones.  They just get on with the job and don't make much fuss, but as a result they can easily be taken for granted at senior level.

Another contributor is appraisal, that controversial term that often makes people uneasy for all the reasons you might expect. Regardless what a person's experience has been, one thing is certain; each member of staff has the right to be heard by any progressive organisation.  Whether it's a structured sit down or an informal chat over a cup of tea, it's good practice to meet with the people to hear their outlook on life in the company.  Giving staff members opportunity to express their views is actually very liberating - believe it or not.

Of course, there are those who stay clear of this because they think it's an opportunity for a moan, or to be hit with a bunch of awkward questions. What they don't consider however, is that the moaning may be going on behind their back anyhow, so it's best to front up and snuff out rumours and frustrations directly.

When staff members are listened to, they perform better.  Not only do they perform better, but they become engaged and are present.  Those who don't get listened to, may be present (i.e. physically) but are often not engaged.

Managing relationships

The term 'Relationship Management' usually refers to external customers and suppliers, but managing relationships internally is a different thing all together.  How we regard and behave towards each other on a day to day basis paints a very real picture indeed.

It's where influence and inspiration co-exist. It's where we develop others, recognise needs and identify barriers.  It's where conflict appears, because like it or not, that's how us humans are wired. Finally, there is the team and how we build team spirit and encourage collaboration.

Managing relationships is an essential part of day-to-day business.

Daniel Goleman once said, 'The fundamental task of leaders is to prime good feeling in those they lead.'

When managing relationships (internally) it's always useful to ask ourselves two simple questions:

  1.  How am I doing?
  2.  What do I need to change?



Feeling ready is overrated

It we waited until we felt qualified, or ready to do something big, we'd never move.  There are times in life when we have to push the boat out, even though we don't really know how to navigate it at the time.  So often we hesitate because we don't feel ready, or we don't know enough, or even we wonder are we able to do it at all.

I don't know about you but I think we all work through thoughts like these.  Of course a lot of this thinking can come from how we've been conditioned in life, often through our formative years.  We may have heard too many times the quip, 'Sure you could never do that,' or 'You'll not amount to much.'

The capacity of a human being is immense and that includes all of us.  There are countless examples of people rising to take up a challenge, overcome a serious obstacle, or achieve what seemed impossible at the outset.

Hindsight is also a wonderful thing.  I often like to think when facing a challenge that it will be good to look back at it in about 6 months or a years time. Then I smile thinking I'll be saying, 'what was all the fuss about,' as has been the case on countless occasions.

Feeling ready is overrated.  If we wait until 'we think' we're ready, we'll never move.  So today, if you're looking at a new opportunity, or a new yet formidable looking challenge, get going because you'll learn along the way.

You'll look back at it in the future and smile, probably saying to yourself something like, 'Why didn't I do that years ago.'

Generating a Leader

Yes it’s true that leadership can mean many things to different people depending on their values and experiences. It involves a great deal both technically and relationally but what does the term Leader really mean?

Simply put by some is the notion that a leader is someone people follow, or another widely used phrase is ‘leadership is influence’. Both are true, but true leadership involves much more.

For example you can follow a leader to the wrong place and for different reasons, i.e. fear, duty, obligation perhaps – or equally a leader can influence you in the wrong way.

I have observed many different leaders over my lifetime and can definitely understand when experts say that up to 90% of leaders are manipulators, in other words they try to control someone to their advantage, often unfairly or at times dishonestly.

Ironically though, some of these leaders appear to have varying levels of success (although of course it depends on your definition of success.)

Why do you suppose manipulative types of leaders appear to have a level of success? And at what cost does this success come?

Most will take a number of casualties along the way and will have spent a long, in fact very long time getting to where they are – and guess what, they will often be so lonely and dependant on themselves because they will have lost more than they have gained at the end.

There are generally three types of followers:

A true leader will attract followers and will not have to pursue them and rule over them. It’s important to realise that people should not be treated as personal property.

Many leaders today confuse workers or employees with followers. Very often people follow because they have to. In many workplaces for example, workers often do just enough that they don’t get fired, and bosses pay just enough so the workers don’t leave. Yet the capacity of a person is incredible. Some statistics state that many workers are only working at 40% of their capacity most of the time.

Result of manipulation

Leaders who try to control, force and coerce those around them should remember that people like to treated in a certain way, or to put it another way, people can’t be forced to do very much.

Those who revert to a manipulative style of leadership should realise that human beings have some natural instinctive traits that are worth considering.

For example when someone pushes a person, the natural reaction is to push back, or to resist. Depending on the personality involved some will push back physically, almost in your face, but most will push back and resist on the inside. They certainly think this way and often will make sure and tell others about it.

Secondly, if a person is pushed or has conflict for any length of time – the natural reaction is to get out of this environment. Human nature is mostly non-confrontational, therefore aggressive behaviour, particularly by a leader is very off putting to those around them.

Thirdly, and most common are those who have become resigned. The fight has been knocked out of them, but they remain out of need, habit, even fear and intimidation, with their confidence seriously affected. This type of follower very often feels that they have nothing worthwhile to offer anyone else. When probed, these people tend to be quite resentful of the way they and those around them have been treated.

There are many such people in organisations today, yet leaders wonder why people perform to a lower rather than higher standard.

More worrying is the fact that many leaders don’t realise that they are actually treating people this way, of course until it is too late. They think that they can treat people like their personal property.

To make matters worse much of the leadership training today encourages control and manipulative techniques as the way forward. This breeds a type of leader where ‘power at all cost’ is the driving motive. They aim to get to where they think is a worthwhile place through exploiting others.

This is not leadership, particularly if we use the phrase ‘people follow because they want to.’

So what then is a true leader?

Leadership is not a title, but rather it’s an identity. True leadership is an attitude rather than a title. It ‘inspires’ those who follow, rather than manipulating and controlling them. ‘Leader’ is what people whom you inspire call you, because they are stirred to participate in the positive vision that you are presenting them. In the workplace today leaders are called many things, some of them not so nice. Why is this? I would suggest it is because of the picture they present of themselves.

A true leader must win the hearts of the people – they must demonstrate this by letting the people see vision, purpose, passion, inspiration and influence. All together this forms the foundation for true leadership – only the foundation.

The character part is extremely important. Real leadership power comes from a person having an honourable character. Some ingredients of true leadership character include the following:

And also the following keys to excellence

A true and authentic leader keeps in mind the following important thought when dealing with others – ‘Am I treating others as I myself would like to be treated’ and they also possess another important quality – that of serving others. The term serving is often seen as a soft option by people but when understood and practiced in the correct context it is a powerful leadership secret.

You may have heard the saying ‘I wouldn’t ask anyone to do something I wasn’t prepared to do myself’. That is good but I haven’t met that many who has put their money where their mouth is!

Genuine servant leaders gain a respect and following that stands the test of time. When people around you, particularly the harder cases see what you are prepared to do to get the job done and not necessarily to win them over – they follow.

The secret of this type of leadership is that it is a constant ingredient in the leader’s style. If not, and only pulled out once in a while, it offers little value, but when it becomes part of the person it carries real value.

The old definition still holds true today:

'Leadership is a bit like beauty. It's hard to define, but you know it when you see it.'











Selfish of selfless?

Why is it that some people only talk about what they’re doing and what they’ve done. It’s as if you don’t really exist, they’re so busy going on and on about themselves?

Why is it that some friendships are so one sided?  Although they could well go on forever provided you do all the running, all the phoning and all the arranging?

Why is it that some people are really only interested in what’s in it for them?

Well, it’s called selfishness. The thing is, selfish people may not actually see themselves like this. In fact if you were to challenge a person about being selfish, they may just stare at you strangely with an almost unbelievable look that says, 'who me?'

The fact is, in this life there are givers and takers, we most likely know people in each category without thinking too long. There are also people who have some kind of entitlement syndrome.

There are yet others who care on the surface only, but don’t count on them when the chips are down.

Life is full of interesting people and as it happens the most interesting thing of all is this, 'people with a generous heart and a caring nature are the happiest of all.'

Selfless people have little or no concern for themselves, especially with regard to fame, position or money.  Yet, selfless people are often the most content, the most inspiring, the hardest to anger and the nicest to be around.

Selfish and selfless are words that sound alike, but that's where the similarity ends.

Getting the balance right

Many of us are pulled in so many directions with competing priorities, so the question is, 'How in the world can we find balance?'

What do I mean when I say balance?

I'm talking about getting our time right.  I hear people saying all the time, 'I'm so busy that I don't know which way to turn.'  Then there are those who jokingly put the hand up and say, 'I need help with this.'  Sometimes, what they really mean is that they want some kind of magical 'To do' list that enables them to achieve more in less time and with less stress.

In order to get balance right we have to look inward.  It starts with us.  If we genuinely want more balance in our lives we need to know ourselves well.

We need to manage our commitments well, and the areas we're gifted in, well.  We need to handle our health and our families well.  (We can so easily be present with our families, but the reality is we're just there in body at times).

Burnout is a real thing and it can ambush the best of us.

There are a few signs worth looking out for though:

Finally, be thankful for the small things and don't take them for granted.  Remember the old saying, 'Life is not a rehearsal, it's the real thing.'