5 Harsh Truths Every Aspiring Leader Needs to Know
January 24, 2013
President of Trailblaze, Inc.
TopicsCommunication, control, influence, limitations, people, Responsibility
So Easy to Forget
Whether you've led teams for decades or just started in your first leadership role, if you want to be effective, there are fundamental truths you cannot afford to ignore.
You may even be familiar with them, but they are easy to forget and many leaders ignore them - at great risk to their own credibility and influence.
Keep these in front of you and review them monthly to see how you're doing. They'll keep you grounded and effective.
1. You cannot do it alone.
I coached an executive who shared his perspective that "results are everything."
It's true - whether a volunteer service group, a sports team, or a corporate division, your team exists to accomplish something in the world and we call that something "results."
Without those results, there's no reason to have a team and nothing for you to lead toward.
However (and this is a very harsh truth for some leaders), those results cannot happen on their own.
Everything you do happens with, through, and because of people.
Results are a product…they happen because of people and processes. Myopically focusing on results and ignoring people will ultimately undermine your ability to achieve them.
Some leaders fall into the trap of thinking they could just do it themselves if people would get out of the way.
It's tempting to think that way, but it's a lie: you didn't even get here on your own - at the beginning, someone clothed you, fed you, taught you, and kept you safe.
Whatever you want to do, you cannot do it on your own. It always takes people.
Which leads us to the second harsh truth:
2. You cannot make people do anything.
I've coached leaders in over 2000 sessions and this is one of the most consistently ignored or misunderstood truths.
Stated another way: everything people do is a choice. Even if they don't realize they have a choice, they do. They can always make another choice - even if that choice is to quit, be fired, or stay, but stop working.
This is a 'double-whammy' for many leaders I've coached. They had this illusion that if they could just "get the job" that they'd be able to make a team perform.
But you cannot make anyone do anything.
That's the harsh truth.
The good news is that you most definitely can influence people…to make choices that benefit the team, to give their all, and to achieve results.
Real leadership influence begins when you understand you do not control another person.
And that brings us to the third harsh truth:
3. Your influence is 100% your responsibility.
Your company may or may not equip you to maximize your influence. The leaders in your organization might not be great role models of how to do it right.
Even if you do have the benefit of training and good examples, they do not substitute for this truth: your influence is your responsibility.
No one can do this work for you:
- No one else can be the example you need to be.
- No one else can give the encouragement you need to give.
- No one else can invest in your people the way you need to invest.
- No one else can address the change the things you need to change.
- No one else can envision the future with your team the way you can.
The good news here is that you live at a time where it is easier than ever before to equip yourself to do these things. Keep reading Lead Change, subscribe to my blog as well as the other writers here. There is so much information to help you - my younger self is jealous!
Your influence is 100% your responsibility and you have more opportunity to meet that responsibility than the billions of people who have lived before you!
4. You control very little.
No matter your position in an organization, from entry level to CEO, you have very little control over the world and systems in which you live and work.
- If you lead a small team, you cannot control most of what is happening in the rest of the company.
- If you are captain of a sports team, you cannot control how the other team prepares, what is happening in the lives of your team mates, or the weather.
- If you are CEO of an organization, you cannot control the world, what your competitors are doing, what is happening in the personal lives of your employees…or the weather.
We all live and work in systems and environments where we have little control.
Even so, you do have control over a great many things: your own attitude, learning, preparation, how you treat the people around you, how you modify the environment, where you put your time, and the choices you make.
The good news is that these things make a tremendous impact and have great influence over the things you cannot control.
You control very little, but you can influence much!
5. Once is never enough.
There are many ways to look at this one…stated even more harshly:
"You are not the center of anyone else's universe."
Okay, maybe your dog…maybe. (But definitely not your cat!)
Many leaders I've coached get frustrated because their words do not immediately sink into their team's hearts and become mantras that guide their every waking moment.
The truth is, we all have busy lives. Think of every single bit of information you've been told, read, or encountered just in the last 24 hours...
Unless your blessed (cursed?) with a photographic memory, there is no way you can possibly remember everything that has entered your brain.
Now think about your important relationships. If you're married, I hope you didn't tell your spouse "I love you" on your wedding day and then never repeat it.
Once was not enough.
So it is with your teams. You must keep the "big why" in front of people…the mission and reasons you exist and how your people's work relates to that "why." I recommend at least monthly…and more doesn't hurt.
What are the consistent, specific actions that will accomplish your "big why?" Keep those in front of everyone on a weekly basis.
Use multiple means of communicating and do it often. One of my colleagues use to tell his team, "If you haven't said it at least 6 times in at least 3 different ways, you haven't said it."
Once is never enough.
These are fundamental truths which are harsh because they force us to leave aside our illusions and recognize our limitations.
When you embrace the truth and work within your limitations, however, you will see your influence expand significantly.
What are the "harsh" truths you've encountered in your leadership journey?
David M. Dye
Creative Commons Photo Credits: Five by Woodley Wonderworks, Space by Sweetie187
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Another one for me “I don’t know everything about anything ever!” There is always more to every story or situation.
Dean – that is a great addition. Healthy perspective is so important!
Thanks for the addition,
Eye opening article. This article reminds me a lot of parenting; especially as they become teenagers. In fact, this article gave me an idea for my next blog. As leaders or supervisors on jobs, we often thing we can control people with money, firing them or promotions. Truth is, we actually have little control and it’s up to them. However, as leaders, we are accountable for our team’s performance. Just like parenting, we can influence as best we can. Don’t always work the way we may have hoped. But we are accountable for their lives to a certain point.
This is incredibly well written and a timely reminder to me. Thank you!
I’m so glad it was helpful to you!
[…] So Easy to Forget Whether you've led teams for decades or just started in your first leadership role, if you want to be effective, there are fundamental truths you cannot afford to ignore. You may even be familiar with them, but they are … […]
[…] Whether you've led teams for decades or just started in your first leadership role, if you want to be effective, there are fundamental truths you cannot afford to ignore.You may even be familiar with them, but they are easy to forget and many leaders ignore them – at great risk to their own credibility and influence.Keep these in front of you and review them monthly to see how you’re doing. They’ll keep you grounded and effective. […]
[…] 5 Harsh Truths Every Aspiring Leader Needs To Know This is from David Dye on The Lead Change Group blog. Dye offers five principles that are harsh in the sense that they speak to our naiveté. We must be deadly accurate in our perspective about our role as leader. These principles provide a good foundation for getting there. […]
[…] Whether you’ve led teams for decades or just started in your first leadership role, if you want to be effective, there are fundamental truths you cannot afford to ignore. You may even be familiar with them, but they are easy to forget and many leaders ignore them – at great risk to their own credibility and influence.Keep these in front of you and review them monthly to see how you’re doing. They’ll keep you grounded and effective. […]
Great stuff David. I’d add some emphasis to #4, like a 4A. The things we control make all the difference. It’s tempting to blame our circumstances for our situation. Our circumstances constrain us, but they don’t define us. We still define ourselves and our responses. Our attitude, which you mention, is more powerful than we appreciate. Our actions matter and our attitude enables us to take action when everyone else would quit. We’re not victims, and I know you agree with that. We control very little, but what we control matters a lot!
Thanks for the great post!
Well said, Mike – well said!
We can’t use circumstances as excuses, but simply as data that we incorporate into our decision-making and acts of personal responsibility.
Appreciate the clarification 🙂
You have provided some very valuable insights for aspiring (and experienced) leaders. A harsh truth I have encountered is “Cordiality does not necessarily equate to Commitment.” It is often difficult to have a clear understanding of who is committed, who shares you passion and who will go above and beyond, particularly in times of turmoil or controversy. Because of a leader’s perceived power, employees or followers work to maintain cordial relationships. However, leaders cannot expect that to mean genuine friendship, support or passion for a mission or a cause. Despite that truth, leaders must focus on building trust and cordial relationships even if they are sometimes not reciprocated.
That is a powerful observation. My approach in those things has always been “behavior trumps everything”.
In other words, I give very little credit to the words and focus on behavior. It is possible to maintain friendships with people who you have to remove from an organization because their behaviors don’t align with the mission. You reminded me of the parable in the new testament where two sons are asked to do something. One says sure, I’ll do it…then does not. The other says no, but then later goes and does it. Behavior trumps everything.
Thanks for the addition!
I lied…it has not “always been” my approach…but only one I learned the hard way 🙂
[…] the bad news. In my harsh truths that every leader needs to know, harsh truth #5 is that once is never […]
[…] 5 Harsh Truths Every Aspiring Leader Needs to Know by David Dye at http://www.LeadChangeGroup.com […]