How to Lead When You Don’t Feel Like a Leader

Business leadership and teamwork concept

If someone tells you they were born a leader, don’t believe them. No one is born a leader, but people do develop into one. While some of the most outstanding leaders of all time were born with some leadership DNA, they still had to work to develop their skills over their journey.

This question of whether leaders are born or made has been debated for decades. Leadership Quarterly did some fantastic research; they found 24 percent of our leadership comes from DNA, while 76 percent is learned or developed. 

Why is this important? I don’t know whether you were born with this leadership DNA or not, but I know you can become a better leader regardless if it comes naturally or not. For many people, this is a significant change in thinking, but it’s the only way to think if you are going to get better.  

Take Ben, a project manager in a manufacturing company, as an example. For the first five years of his career, he was a team member instead of leading a team. When he became a head project manager, he was thrust into keeping projects on time and within budget, which meant leading people. He struggled early in this new role to build strong relationships, set clear standards, and create a culture of accountability. As the project started to fall behind, Ben realized that the problem wasn’t his team; it was his lack of leadership.  

After coaching Ben, it became evident that he had many of the skills required to lead successfully, but the problem was that he didn’t think of himself as a leader. I will share with you what I shared with him:

Thinking of yourself as a leader is a key to becoming one.

Now before you start running down the ego trail, it’s essential to clarify this. You don’t decide if you are a leader; others do. However, most people struggle because, in their mind, leadership is only meant for certain types and kinds of people, not for them.  

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Everyone is called to lead in one way or another. Either leading themselves, leading at work, or leading at home.

Everyone is called to lead in one way or another.

So whether leading comes naturally or not, it should be evident now that you’re called to lead in some part of your journey, so you might as well become a better leader. Here are some ideas to help:

1. Anchor yourself in belief 

Belief is one of these things that most people assume only a few people possess. It couldn’t be further from the truth because belief by definition is; trust, faith, or confidence in someone or something. Everyone can have trust, faith, or confidence in themselves and what they expect to happen in the future.  

On a recent episode of the Follow My Lead Podcast, Amy P. Kelly said, “When a leader has belief, it’s a magnet for others to want to be part of it. Conversely, if you don’t have belief, no one else around you can.”

Not only is she correct, but it highlights the essential nature of self-belief and the belief in others as a critical element of leadership. Because as Michael Korda said, “if you don’t believe in yourself, then who will believe in you?”

2. Focus on the fundamentals 

Leadership, in some ways, is like golf. For some people who have excellent hand-eye coordination, the game comes more manageable than those that don’t. But even without excellent hand-eye, you can still play the game and get better at it by focusing on the fundamentals—grip, posture, balance, technique, and the mental game. 

If you weren’t born with the natural instincts of leadership, it’s best to lean into leadership fundamentals—things like relationships, communication, standards, accountability, and coaching. 

Don’t get bored with the basics and work relentlessly to develop your skills in these areas. If you want a recap of leadership fundamentals, check out a previous newsletter, 8 Building Blocks Successful Leaders Get Right, or get a copy of Building the Best

3. Demonstrate you care 

There aren’t many leadership hacks, but simply demonstrating you care about others in each interaction might be one. Whether leadership comes naturally or not, if people don’t think you care about them as human beings, you won’t go far as a leader.

If people don’t think you care about them, you won’t go far as a leader. 

One of the easiest ways to show you care is by implementing this simple technique within the first minute of every interaction you have; it’s what I call the “One-Minute Rule”: 

Within the first minute, decide to care by giving your undivided attention and showing genuine curiosity in the other person.

While this might seem obvious, most leaders don’t have difficulty caring; it’s starting to care. Leaders are busy and have many things on their mind, so getting in the correct mindset of care in each interaction can be easily forgotten.  

Closing

Suppose you are among the few people where leadership comes naturally, congratulations but don’t take it for granted. Reaching your full leadership potential won’t happen without a lot of hard work and effort. 

If leadership doesn’t come naturally, don’t for a second think you can’t be a leader. By anchoring yourself in belief, focusing on the fundamentals, and demonstrating you care about others, you increase your odds of positively impacting others.

Coaching for Excellence: The development of your coaching skills will make a tremendous difference in helping you lead your best in 2021. Join me today the next Coaching for Excellence Workshop from 12-1 PM EST. Sign up and get “8 Questions to Leverage to Be a Better Coach” for free today! https://bit.ly/3goZLv2

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

The 1 Minute Leadership Technique to Show Employees You Care

Planning, risk and strategy deadline time in business

When you choose the responsibility of leading others, relationships form. That’s just part of any hierarchical leadership role. The quality of that relationship is up to you. You determine if you have an excellent, good, average, bad, or toxic relationship with each person on your team.

As anyone who has had a boss knows, this relationship can be the catalyst for an engaged or a disengaged employee. As Marcus Buckingham said, “People don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad managers.” Research supports this; a recent Gallup study found that the #1 reason people quit their jobs is a bad boss or immediate supervisor. 

Leaders don’t have to be friends with employees, but they do have to care.

Unfortunately, many managers get this simple lesson wrong. They make the mistake of acting like they are on a different team with their people instead of the same team. The best leaders do the opposite. They know their job is to be their team members ally and care about them enough to build a bond of mutual trust. Part of that trust is knowing an employee is cared for or even loved by their boss. Yes, I used the word love, but not in any HR violation kind of way. Love is a component to elevate other people, which is critical to be a successful leader today. I define love in Building the Best as “to contribute to someone’s long-term success and well being.”

Don’t just take my word for it. Researchers at the University of Berkley studied what motivates productivity in professionals. When people felt recognized for the work they did, they were 23% more effective and productive. But what’s even more astonishing is that when people felt valued and cared for, their productivity and effectiveness experienced a 43% increase. While recognition is essential, there is an additional 20% jump in performance by showing your people you care for them. 

How to Show You Care in the First Minute

As you may have guessed, there is no hack or shortcut to caring about your team. If you don’t care, maybe now is the time to look for a position other than leadership. But where most leaders struggle is demonstrating that they care about others through their actions.  

Leaders get the opportunity to demonstrate how much they care about their team in many different ways. Whether it be an annual performance review, a weekly one-on-one meeting, or a daily zoom call, each interaction provides an opportunity to show you care.  

One of the easiest ways to show you care is by implementing this simple technique within the first minute of every interaction you have; it’s what I call the “One-Minute Rule”: 

Within the first minute, decide to care by giving your undivided attention and showing genuine curiosity in the other person.

While this might seem obvious, most leaders don’t have difficulty caring; it’s starting to care. Leaders are busy and have many things on their mind, so getting in the correct mindset of care in each interaction can be easily forgotten.  

Not Just Any Curiosity

Curiosity is defined as the strong desire to learn or know something. Many managers start their interactions with a curiosity that isn’t effective. Typical questions include: “How was your weekend?” “How are you doing?” or “What’s going on?” While there is nothing wrong with these questions, they are habitual questions that don’t demonstrate any real care in the other person.  

Instead of these overused questions, ask “recall questions.” These are follow up questions that position your previous knowledge of the other person. They recall something you saw or heard in the past that was going on in their lives or careers. The difference would look like this:

Habitual question:

“We didn’t catch up on Monday, how did your day go?” 

Recall question demonstrating genuine curiosity:

“You mentioned your daughter started going back to in-person school on Monday after doing remote school for 8 months, how did she do?”

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how much more powerful the recall question is over the habitual question. However, without paying attention to previous conversations, you have no way to create recall questions. It is impossible to truly listen to someone if your mind or heart is somewhere else. Anchor yourself into those interactions like the other person is the only person in the world.  

It is impossible to truly listen to someone if your mind or heart is somewhere else. 

If, for some reason, your attention is elsewhere at a particular moment, do the right thing and tell them, “I am in the middle of something, and I want to give you my undivided attention. Can we talk when I finish?”

Closing

Very few things in leadership are easy but showing people you care isn’t one of them. Try the “One Minute Rule” in every single interaction with your team. First, give them your undivided attention, then ask a recall question to demonstrate genuine curiosity. The best part, whether they ever tell you or not, deep down, they will know you care about them.

What are other ways you demonstrate you care that others could learn from?

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Take the Free Leadership Style Quiz? Join over 50k leaders and discover your current leadership style for free.

About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

The Unconventional Way Great Leaders Show Their People They Care

We were at the point in the workshop when participants begin feeling uncomfortable. One participant raised his hand and stated, “John, call me a little old school, but I refuse to know my people on a personal level or treat them anything like my family because the day might come when I have to let them go. I don’t want to make it awkward or deal with the feelings of having to let go of someone I care a lot about.”

While on the surface, his logic made sense, he couldn’t have been more wrong. The best leaders build trust with their people. Part of that trust is knowing they are cared for and loved by their boss. Yes, I used the word love, but not in any HR violation kind of way. Love is a component to elevate other people which is critical to be a successful leader today. I define love in Building the Best as “to contribute to someone’s long-term success and well being.”

Don’t just take my word for it. Researchers at the University of Berkley studied what motivates productivity in professionals. When people felt recognized for the work they did, they were 23% more effective and productive. But what’s even more astonishing is that when people felt valued and cared for, their productivity and effectiveness experienced a 43% increase. While recognition is essential, there is an additional 20% jump by in performance by showing your people you care for them. 

How to Show You Care

For your team to understand how much you care about them, you must reject the notion that words hold great power. In this case, talk is cheap. Your power comes from your actions. These actions can come in two fairly obvious forms:   

Make time. Like all great relationships, the only way to build them is by dedicating time. A mentor of mine told me, “Kids spell love T-I-M-E.” The same is true in showing your team you care about them. While the amount of time can help, it’s not always about the length of time you spend but choosing to be being present during the time together. It could be as simple as a text message between meetings or putting your phone away during lunch together.  

Know Them On a Personal Level. As the participant in my workshop, you might be uncomfortable with this one. The time to get comfortable with it is now. It isn’t complicated, and it also doesn’t mean you have to be friends. Simply ask questions about a person’s journey, experiences, challenges, and career aspirations. When they talk, LISTEN. Recalling the details of your conversations with them proves you listened and care about them. 

Pro Tip: If you have a larger team, create a spreadsheet to record the names of their significant other, hobbies, interests, passions, favorite things, and dreams of the individuals on your team. Keep it updated and handy, so you can be in tune with things going on in their life inside and outside of work. 

The Less Obvious Way to Show You Care

One of my first professional jobs was working for my dad. While those years were rocky, he did something with me constantly that showed how much he cared. He challenged me. 

While his methods for challenging me could be argued, I had little doubt he cared about me because he knew I was capable of more. By challenging me to raise my game, he showed me he cared (even if I didn’t realize that’s what it was at the time.)

Challenging people is so important because it’s human nature to only stretch ourselves to the point where we feel discomfort. Often it takes someone challenging us to go further or reach higher for it to become a reality. 

Here is the key, having solid relationships and a strong bond of mutual trust is critical for you to challenge them in order to get a positive response. Below are a few of my favorite times or places to challenge someone on your team to show you care:

  • Their preparation for a big event or meeting
  • Their effort in developing their skills
  • Their focus during a critical time
  • Their ability to think more creatively and innovatively

If you care about your people, then don’t be afraid to challenge them lovingly. 

What are the best ways you have been challenged, or how to do you challenge your people to show them you care?  

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company that exists to turn managers into leaders and create healthier places to work. He is currently booking events and speaking engagements for 2020. John was named one of LinkedIn’s 2017 Top Voices in Management & Workplace and was awarded the 2017 Readership Award by Training Industry.com. John is also the host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

Sound Advice Bad Leaders Don’t Listen To

The day before I started my new job, my soon to be old boss called me into his office. Without knowing exactly how he felt about me leaving his team to take my own leadership role, I was a little hesitant, to say the least. 

It didn’t take more than a few minutes before we were chopping it up about fond memories and all of the achievements we had accomplished together. It was as if this is exactly what a leader-follower relationship was supposed to be when it was time for the follower to make the leap. 

Being the great boss that he was, he didn’t just let the moment slip by without seizing the moment to offer up a simple piece of advice: “No matter what, don’t forget leadership all comes down to the quality of your one-on-one relationships.”

I shook my head like I understood and even thanked him for offering such an elementary piece of advice. As I got up to walk out of his office, I remember thinking to myself. “Of all the things he has taught me, he left me with that?” Sure he was a good leader and I had other good bosses in my career, but the things I thought of were much more complex like; go to market strategy, timely decision making, and being an excellent communicator. “Just don’t forget it, and you will do great,” he said as I turned and walked out of his office for the last time. 

I took the new job the next day and since then many years have passed. I have seen him a few times and even reached out for advice when things were particularly hard. Without question of all my personal experience and advice from great mentors over the years, there has been nothing become more evident and true than those words “don’t forget, leadership all comes down to the quality of your one-on-one relationships.” 

There are literally hundreds of things a leader of a team or business is responsible for and if you miss on any of them at a particular time it will hurt performance. This is what makes leading other people so difficult. But when it boils down to it, leadership is a relationship thing. It will never be outsourced by a computer or Artificial Intelligence. People follow people and to do that it requires a level of trust and belief that doesn’t come from a casual handshake or just saying hello at the beginning of the day. It requires deep and real relationships built on the foundation that you truly care about the other person and their long term success and well being.

Here is the kicker, many leaders believe they have strong relationships with their people but when push comes to shove, the quality of that relationship is average at best. If you want to improve the relationship with your direct reports it comes down to one simple four letter word. Time. Your willingness to carve valuable time out of your schedule and spend it with team members is the only way create a real bond that shows your people you care about them through actions and not just words. 

Whether you are a leader with an extremely busy calendar or one who tends to keep your schedule more free and flexible, here are two ways to improve the quality of your relationships during the time you spend together:

Share Your Competence 

One of the best ways to improve a relationship at work is to share your knowledge and experience with others in order to help them improve their performance. It’s important this doesn’t come off like you are a know it all or that you don’t need help but rather that you are sharing insight with them based on where each individual team members is on their journey.  

Show You Care

If sharing your competence with others is 1A on the list for building professional relationships, showing you care about your team as individuals is 1B. It becomes so much easier to build a solid relationship with someone when you know they care about you in their heart and that they are going to act in a manner that helps you get better.  

This doesn’t mean you are a pushover or you aren’t willing to push people to levels they have never been before, it just means your team knows you are pushing them because you care about them.

Regardless of your style, the important thing to remember is “leadership all comes down to the quality of your one-on-one relationships.” If you get this right your chances of leadership success drastically improve.

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About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company which exists to turn managers into leaders and create healthier places to work. John was named one of LinkedIn’s 2017 Top Voices in Management & Workplace and was awarded the 2017 Readership Award by Training Industry.com. John is also the author the upcoming book Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success and host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on instagram @johngeades.