10 Principles of 21st Century Leadership

Serve to Lead is built upon the following principles of 21st century leadership:

1. Everyone Can Lead, Because Everyone Can Serve.

2. The Most Valuable Resource of Any Enterprise is its People.

3. We Are in Transition from a Transaction-Based World to a Relationship-Based World.

4. Leadership is a Relationship Between Empowered, Consenting Adults.

5. Leadership is a Dynamic Relationship.

6. There is No Universal Leadership Style.

7. Leadership Roles Are Converging.

8. A Leader’s Unique Task is to Imagine and Advance a Vision.

9. Love is the Highest Level of Leadership Relationship.

10. Character is a Competitive Advantage.

What do you think? In the coming weeks and months this blog will examine these principles and their implications for how we all live and work today.



Are You An Absent Leader?

In your heart, you’re a good leader – you care for your people, you help them grow.

© iStock Photo
But you’re rarely there.

You’re just so darn busy with everything you have to do. So many fires to put out, so many urgent To-Do’s. So you cancel your bi-weekly meeting with your employee and you rarely have time to listen to them.

You’re an Absent Leader! And there’s a high cost.

In our work with our clients we see lots of Absent Leaders. The interesting thing is how their employees cope.

Employees of Absent Leaders:

Don’t ask questions. They know their Boss is super-busy and they don’t want to make it worse by asking for help.
Solve problems alone. They decide on their priorities and resolve issues with no input from their manager.
Stress a lot. They wonder if they are doing the right thing, they doubt themselves frequently.
And the funny thing is – employees defend their Absent Boss. They tell us that they feel sorry for their Boss. They never complain. Most companies don’t even know they have a problem with absenteeism!

While you’ve got to commend your employees for their resourcefulness, this is very dangerous for an organization. Here are the risks:

Your employees don’t have the “big picture” to make the right call. They make mistakes, they focus on the wrong priorities. And you won’t know.
They play it safe. They don’t take on critical but risky tasks, they don’t perform as well as they could.
They miss out on coaching. They don’t grow as quickly as they could with your help.
And the crazy thing is – this makes you even more busy. Fewer things happen, your people don’t take things off your plate – no, they end up on your plate!

How do you stop being an Absent Leader?

You’ve got to make three shifts in the way you think and work:

Your job is to grow them. 80% of your paycheck compensates you for growing your people. Do you earn it?
You have to invest time to save time. A great team takes work off your plate. Investing time now will allow you to give them more freedom to work alone later. But you’ve got to get them there first.
Do less, delegate more. Spend less time doing things yourself. Give them more of your critical tasks but check-in and work together on the problems. Let them make some mistakes but be there to coach them.
Are you an Absent Leader? If so you are limiting your team, and making your life insane. Invest time in your team to save time for yourself.

Do you work for an Absent Leader? Are you one yourself? What’s the cost? Please share your story in the comments below.


Molding Future Leaders: 4 Tips for Mentoring Young Professionals — Todd Nielsen

Here on ToddNielsen.com, we often discuss how we can develop leadership qualities within ourselves and within organizations. Established leaders, also have an obligation to pass the baton and help develop leadership in others. This, more than anything, is the hallmark of good leadership. Just as John Quincy Adams once noted, “If your actions inspire others to learn more, dream more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” If you have young people in either your professional or personal life, lift them up and in so doing, inspire an entire generation of future leaders. Here’s how:

1. Impress upon your young charges the importance of constantly learning.
Perhaps the most important key to future success and personal fulfillment is developing a desire to constantly learn new things. If you are an employer and you supervise young people, give them tasks that require learning and applying new skills. Encourage them to learn outside of work, to learn for its own sake and enjoyment.

2. Put them in situations in which they have to make serious decisions.
Good decision-making skills are another important element in leadership. Of course, you can talk all day about the qualities inherent in strong leaders, but it’s important to put young people to the test so they can actually begin practicing leadership skills. If the young people in question are your employees, put them in a situation in which they make serious business decisions. Guide them through the process of decision-making, and show them how each decision requires compromise and give-and-take.

3. Emphasize loyalty and humility over personal gain.
If there’s one thing that many leaders in the financial industry learned, it’s that greed trumps responsibility to your clients and the common good. We often talk about ethics in leadership, but we all too often only pay it lip service. Talk to your young future leaders about the importance of loyalty and service. Financial greed never pays off, doing the right thing does.

4. Be the best example you can be. Actions speak louder than words.
Being a good example is the most effective way to mentor young professionals. That means always being aware that you are being watched by young people who look up to you. Never take shortcuts, own up to your mistakes and otherwise be the person you want others to see you as.

Inspiring leadership in younger people is by no means easy. But as a current leader, you must develop a vision for long-haul sustainability for your current enterprise and society as a whole. This can only be done by investing in young people. Soon enough, they’ll be running the world.


Finding Real Leadership Power

Humility is real power, arrogance façade.

15 Ways to be an arrogant leader:

Rush. “Important” people don’t have enough time.
Look serious. The more important you are the more serious you look.
Detach. “Arrogance comes from detachment.” Henry Mintzberg.
Take calls or text during meetings. Now we know you’re important. Ooooo!
Know. Act like you know when you don’t. Arrogance makes learning difficult.
Delegate dirty work.
Isolate. Be too good for the “little” people.
Insulate. Create protective environments.
Blow up. Anger and arrogance are relatives.
Tell don’t ask.
Speak don’t listen.
Complain and blame rather than solve and support.
Surround yourself with groveling yes-men.


Humility requires more confidence than arrogance. Fear makes us pretend we know, when we don’t, for example.

Humility is found, expressed, and nurtured in connecting. Arrogance pushes off; humility invites in. Withdrawal suggests independence; connecting expresses interdependence.

Humility builds trust. Trust fuels leadership. But you can’t trust arrogant people. They reject what’s right for what makes them look good, when necessary.

How to be a powerful humble leader:

Stand your ground where values are concerned. Humble leaders submit to noble values.
Realize you aren’t your title.
Demand excellence from yourself, first.
Call for, and enable excellence. (Emphasis on enable.)
Don’t believe your own press. People aren’t telling you the full truth.
Sit at the side not the head.
Brag about others. Fools make others feel they don’t matter.
Say thanks. Gratitude softens arrogance.
Invite feedback.
Ask as well as tell. Curiosity reflects humility. Warning: questions may be control-tools. I confess that I use questions to control conversations and divert attention from myself.
Do the opposite of the arrogant leader list.


Management Is (Still) Not Leadership

A few weeks ago, the BBC asked me to come in for a radio interview. They told me they wanted to talk about effective leadership — China had just elevated Xi Jinping to the role of Communist Party leader; General David Petraeus had stepped down from his post at the CIA a few days earlier; the BBC itself was wading through a leadership scandal of its own — but the conversation quickly veered, as these things often do, into a discussion about how individuals can keep large, complex, unwieldy organizations operating reliably and efficiently.

That’s not leadership, I explained. That’s management — and the two are radically different.

In more than four decades of studying businesses and consulting to organizations on how to implement new strategies, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people use the words “leadership” and “management” synonymously, and it drives me crazy every time.

The interview reminded me once again that the confusion around these two terms is massive, and that misunderstanding gets in the way of any reasonable discussion about how to build a company, position it for success and win in the twenty-first century. The mistakes people make on the issue are threefold:

Mistake #1: People use the terms “management” and “leadership” interchangeably. This shows that they don’t see the crucial difference between the two and the vital functions that each role plays.

Mistake #2: People use the term “leadership” to refer to the people at the very top of hierarchies. They then call the people in the layers below them in the organization “management.” And then all the rest are workers, specialists, and individual contributors. This is also a mistake and very misleading.

Mistake #3: People often think of “leadership” in terms of personality characteristics, usually as something they call charisma. Since few people have great charisma, this leads logically to the conclusion that few people can provide leadership, which gets us into increasing trouble.

In fact, management is a set of well-known processes, like planning, budgeting, structuring jobs, staffing jobs, measuring performance and problem-solving, which help an organization to predictably do what it knows how to do well. Management helps you to produce products and services as you have promised, of consistent quality, on budget, day after day, week after week. In organizations of any size and complexity, this is an enormously difficult task. We constantly underestimate how complex this task really is, especially if we are not in senior management jobs. So, management is crucial — but it’s not leadership.

Leadership is entirely different. It is associated with taking an organization into the future, finding opportunities that are coming at it faster and faster and successfully exploiting those opportunities. Leadership is about vision, about people buying in, about empowerment and, most of all, about producing useful change. Leadership is not about attributes, it’s about behavior. And in an ever-faster-moving world, leadership is increasingly needed from more and more people, no matter where they are in a hierarchy. The notion that a few extraordinary people at the top can provide all the leadership needed today is ridiculous, and it’s a recipe for failure.

Some people still argue that we must replace management with leadership. This is obviously not so: they serve different, yet essential, functions. We need superb management. And we need more superb leadership. We need to be able to make our complex organizations reliable and efficient. We need them to jump into the future — the right future — at an accelerated pace, no matter the size of the changes required to make that happen.

There are very, very few organizations today that have sufficient leadership. Until we face this issue, understanding exactly what the problem is, we’re never going to solve it. Unless we recognize that we’re not talking about management when we speak of leadership, all we will try to do when we do need more leadership is work harder to manage. At a certain point, we end up with over-managed and under-led organizations, which are increasingly vulnerable in a fast-moving world.


The Most Powerful Question a Leader Can Ask

I’ve worked for a lot of managers – good, great, average and awful.  In consulting, I would switch projects every few months.  More often than not, I’d have a new manager I was reporting to and just as often I would be assigned a new internal career counselor.

Have you worked with any of these managers?  You may even see yourself in some of the descriptions…

The Hoverer

I’ve worked for managers that were at my desk every hour asking me “How’s it going?”  What they really wanted was a status report.

The I Can’t Be Bothered

I’ve worked for managers that were harder to find than a needle in a haystack.   They told me, “I trust you, I’ll check in with you in a few days.  OK?” What they really wanted was for me to just get the work done so they didn’t need to worry about it.

The Just Like This

I’ve worked for managers that drew out all the details for the deck that they wanted me to develop.  They asked, “Do you get it?  Am I clear with what I’m looking for?”  What they really wanted was an extra pair of hands, not another thinker in the equation.

The Tell Me I’m Brilliant

I’ve worked for managers that would give me their high level vision and then ask, “What do you think?”  (But then work hard to discredit my ideas and suggestions.)  What they really wanted was for me to nod and clap and say how brilliant they are and how lucky I am to bring their vision to life.

The Smartest One

I’ve worked for managers (even when I was a VP) that told me that they’d do the talking in the meeting.  They asked, “If I missed something, can you shoot me an IM so I’ll be sure to say it?” What they really wanted was to be viewed as the smartest person in the room.  To be the leader.

While I have worked for a lot of managers, I’ve worked for far less leaders.  The leaders were as invested in my success, the team’s success, and the organization’s success as their own.  They weren’t concerned about credit or looking smart, they wanted to do great work and create a great place to work.

The Leader

The leaders I’ve had the privilege to work for delivered exceptional levels of support and service not only to the customer, but also to employees.  It was a few of these leaders that taught me the power of one very simple question; the most powerful question a leader can ask.

Four Words:

How can I help?

The leaders that asked me this question?  What they really wanted was for me to succeed.  For us to create something exceptional together.  To deliver the unexpected.  To empower the next generation of leaders.

How can I help you remove roadblocks?
How can I help you to brainstorm?
How can I help to connect you with others?
How can I help build on your work?
How can I help you to achieve your goals?
How can I help you realize your career ambitions?
How can I help to solve your problem?
How can I help shine the light on your effort?
How can I help to spread the word?
How can I help you be successful?
How can I get out of your way so you can do great work?  I’m here if you need me.
Try it for the next few days and see how it changes the conversation at home, in the office, with customers, colleagues, friends and family.  Ask how you can help.

Drive Accountability

People that waited to be told what to do will discover that they own their work, not you.  They will think about what they need and learn that you genuinely want them to speak up for themselves.  They own the work as much as you do.

Empower Others

Instead of shining a mysterious green light in the sky to let people to let people know that they can run with the work, this is it.  Let them walk, run, skip and jump with their own panache knowing tha
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Good Leaders Are Invaluable To A Company. Bad Leaders Will Destroy It.

When good leadership is in place in a company, it can be felt throughout the entire organization. With good leadership, corporate culture isn’t forced, it is developed. Communication is daily and open. Everyone understands the vision and goals of the organization, and everyone has input into how they can be improved. Employees feel that they are an important part of the whole and that every job matters within the company. Decisions for promotions are based on picking people of integrity whose talents and experience best fit the positions. Employees are encouraged to compete with their own best to get ahead and they understand that helping their coworkers to succeed is the best way to get ahead themselves. The result of good leadership is high morale, good employee retention, and sustainable long-term success. Bad leadership can also be felt throughout the entire organization – only not in a good way. Corporate culture becomes a meaningless term where leaders claim it exists while employees shake their heads in frustration. There is a lack of clear, consistent communication from leadership to the employees. As a result, the office is run by rumor mill, politics and gamesmanship. Employees are uncertain of the company’s goals and objectives for success and they have no idea how they fit into that picture, or what their level of importance is toward making it happen. Decisions for promotions are not based on integrity or talent, but rather they are based on who can talk the biggest talk or who is deemed to be the least threatening to the current leadership team. Employees are taught play dirty against coworkers to get ahead by watching as it is continuously rewarded by leadership leading to the Lobster Syndrome of tearing one another down throughout the organization. The result of bad leadership is low morale, high turnover, and a decreased ability to have any sustainable success. To become a truly great company it takes truly great leaders. And there is a huge difference in bosses and leaders. Here are some great quotes that I love on being a great leader: “You don’t lead by hitting people over the head—that’s assault, not leadership.” –Dwight Eisenhower “Lead and inspire people. Don’t try to manage and manipulate people. Inventories can be managed but people must be lead.” —Ross Perot “Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.” —General Colin Powell “Become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily; even if you had no title or position.” —Brian Tracy “A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.” —Douglas MacArthur Companies cannot afford to have poor leadership if they want to truly succeed – and I don’t just mean in terms of financial success. I define success as far more than just money. I define success for a company as having a good product or service that adds value to the lives of its customers, while providing a positive working environment that allows employees to grow and flourish in their talents and abilities as well as their personal value system, all while generating a profitable return for shareholders. If a company isn’t doing all three of those then it isn’t truly successful. Employees cannot flourish under poor leadership, and when they are faced with having to follow poor leaders, companies risk losing their very best and most talented people. Don’t risk allowing poor leaders to lead your organization. For anyone who is ever granted the opportunity to take a leadership position, remember that being a true leader doesn’t come from a title, it is a designation you must earn from the people you lead. http://www.amyreesanderson.com/blog

Do You Know Why You Lead?

When was the last time, if ever, you asked yourself the question:

“Why do I lead?”

Notice I did not ask how you lead or what you lead, I asked WHY you lead. What is the ultimate outcome or purpose that drives you to carry on despite the many challenges that accompany leadership?

If you don’t know the answer to that question, maybe it’s time you put some thought into it. The answer matters because it will manifest itself in the choices you make about priorities and the ways you interact with the human beings you encounter every day. The answer matters because without a strong, internal compass to guide us, we easily, and often subtly, drift off course. And when leaders drift off course, the consequences can be…well “Titanic”.

Another reason to know your “why” is so that you can lose your title without losing yourself. Think for a moment about how you would feel, if tomorrow, you were removed from your position of authority. Would you cease to be a leader until someone gives you a new title? Leadership is not defined by what you are responsible for, it is defined by who you are. If your leadership identity is in the role then you will be lost when the role comes to an end. As all things do.

Your “why” will give you courage to carry on. Name a great leader. I bet they faced adversity. And I bet you know their “why”.

Consider this…your “why” may be the only reason people will actually allow you to influence them. People have a keen sense for what the underlying motives are in leaders. Over time they do a pretty good job of figuring out what you are really about. If your “why” is grounded in love, service and mutual success then there is a pretty good chance you will be heard. Getting that next promotion? Not so much.

So why do you lead?

I lead to improve lives. That’s my “why”. It works for me because it always applies no matter the context or circumstance. I’ve greatly simplified it over the years but that has always been the core theme. I don’t always live up to it but I always come back to it. I make sure to let people know what I’m about. Your why may read much differently or contain a lot more words and ideas. There is no right answer. There is only your answer. The important thing…

Is that you have an answer.

As an exercise I recommend you get a notebook and write as many endings to this stem as you can think of, as fast as you can, without stopping or judging. Read back through the list to find a core theme that resonates with your heart and your mission.

I lead because…

Now you have a “why” that is bigger than any job, title or opinion. A “why” that is bigger…than you. Care to share?

Purpose is the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s needs. – Frederick Buechner


10 Traits of Courageous Leaders

Courageous leaders are in high demand and short supply these days.

Rampant fear has sent many organizational cultures into a downward spiral, the tenuous state of the economy creating untold levels of anxiety. According to a 2011/2012 Kenexa report , workplace stress is at the highest levels in four years, driven in large part by fear. In these situations, people tend to keep their heads down and their mouths shut in order to survive. This not only applies to the rank and file, but to management as well.

These are the times that call for bold, confident, courageous leadership. As history has shown, those with the guts to step forward, take some risks and lead change during downturns will be the winners as the economy rebounds.

But it’s not easy. Demonstrating leadership courage – whether it’s having an uncomfortable conversation, communicating when you don’t have all the answers, or making a decision to move ahead on a new project – can be scary. Yet it’s precisely the kind of behavior that fosters trust and sets a crucial example for others to follow at a time when they’d rather hunker down and wait for the storm to pass.

If you want to see more courageous action by your people, consider whether you’re modeling the 10 traits of courageous leaders:

Confront reality head-on. Ditch the rose-colored glasses and face the facts about the state of your organization and business. Only by knowing the true current state can you lead your team to a better place.
Seek feedback and listen. We all have blind spots that impact the way we interact with others. Unfiltered 360-degree feedback is not always easy to hear, but it can breathe new life into your relationships and leadership style if you listen and act.
Say what needs to be said. Real conversations can be awkward and uncomfortable, especially if conflict is involved. Having crucial conversations helps cut through the smoke and move through issues. This also means having the courage to put your opinions on the table, even if they are unpopular.
Encourage push-back. Many leaders feel pressure to have all the answers. By encouraging constructive dissent and healthy debate, you reinforce the strength of the team and demonstrate that in the tension of diverse opinions lies a better answer.
Take action on performance issues. Confronting people issues isi hard, which is why so many leaders ignore them until they become a toxic threat to the team or company’s performance. By taking swift action to reassign or exit underperforming employees, you are helping yourself, the team and organization.
Communicate openly and frequently. Keep the lines of communication open, even when you don’t know all the answers. Courageous leaders refuse to hide behind jargon and wiggle-words – they use straight-talk and are not afraid to say “I don’t know.” They also share information instead of hoarding it.
Lead change. In fear-based environments, it’s all about protecting the status quo. Envision a better way, a better solution, a better product – and approach it with determination and an open mind, knowing that it will be messy and that a mid-course correction may be necessary. Remember that you need to bring people along the change process for them to truly engage.
Make decisions and move forward. Especially in environments of fear and intense change, it feels unsafe to commit to a decision and move ahead. Avoid the crutch of ‘analysis paralysis’ and make the decision. Forward movement is always better than being stuck in place.
Give credit to others. Let go of the need for praise and instead give the credit to those around you. At first it feels scary – will I be rendered irrelevant or unnecessary if my people are doing all the good stuff? Remember that a good leader takes more than their fair share of the blame and less than their fair share of the credit.
Hold people (and yourself) accountable. Expect people to perform and deliver on their commitments, and have courage to call them out when they don’t follow through. Remember that accountability begins with you – holding yourself responsible for modeling the behaviors you expect of others.