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The United States Army says that leadership is “the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation to accomplish the mission and improving the organization.”

A cringe-worthy business leadership definition is “the capacity of a company’s management to set and achieve challenging goals, take fast and decisive action when needed, outperform the competition, and inspire others to perform at the highest level they can.”

Here’s the problem with these definitions: any jerk with a big enough stick can meet these standards.

Here’s the effect: the lack of standards that differentiate leaders from jerks can prompt you to rationalize bad behavior that gets results.

As you know, excusing tyranny is a devil’s bargain that rarely ends well.  

“Chickenshit” behavior, to use historian Paul Fussell‘s elegant term for toxic leadership in the Army, ends up pushing your top talent out the door, demoralizing your employees, and creating a toxic workplace.

Disengagement, presenteeism, and turnover are the highest costs most companies face.

Turnover, according to Gallup, costs somewhere between 50 and 200 percent of an employee’s annual salary.

That means a 100-person company with a 50k average salary that has a 26 percent turnover rate (the U.S. average in 2017) loses $660,000 to $2.6 million each year.

What options would $1.6 million give you?

Getting turnover to a healthy eight percent begins with good leadership.

Here’s SLA’s definitionLeadership is the art of inspiring people to contribute their best to the common good.

Here are five action steps to inspire people to contribute their best to your company’s common good:

* Lead with authenticity so that you get past imposter syndrome and stop allowing the red cape at work to make you comatose at home.

* Inspire people to do what’s right even when no one is watching so that you avoid micromanaging and focus instead on growth.

* Get the right people in the right roles doing the right things so that you plug the drain on employee turnover and boost productivity 2X – 3X.

* Adapt quickly to turbulence and uncertainty so that you can innovate and lead change – and avoid slow-rolling and risk aversion that kills your best initiatives.

* Set aside empty cheerleading and carrots-and-sticks so that you can spark a genuine commitment to results.

What do you think of our definition of leadership? Add your comments to the article or email me at [email protected]

Do you want a healthy, winning culture where people do what’s right even when no one is watching?

Focus on morale.

A lot of companies focus instead on mood – keeping people happy, all the time, at work.

You see this with games, parties, happiness stickers, motivational posters, and the like.

Like everyone, I enjoy being in a good mood.

Mood, though, is temporary dopamine.

It’s the sugar-donut approach to culture.

It does not inspire commitment to your mission or one another.

Without morale, your efforts to keep people in a good mood are mostly a waste of time and money.

Morale is about confidence, enthusiasm, and discipline – doing what’s right with a high degree of skill and care, even when no one’s watching.

Morale is your commitment to excellence.

Morale keeps you and your employees moving forward and bouncing back – able to handle both successes and setbacks.

To build high morale, start with these three principles.

1. Make sure everyone knows that their work is essential.

Create buy-in by discussing the thinking behind and the importance of your mission and vision, your goals, values, and strategy.

Get people involved in defining them.

Take the time to answer questions and challenges.

When someone asks why it means they care.

2. Get your employees the training, resources, and guidance to do their jobs well.

If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. If it’s not worth doing well, it’s probably not worth doing.

Set-up your employees for success.

Align work with people’s natural inclinations (see our PROM Servant Leader archetypes for a simple way to start).

People who report using their natural strengths each day are 2X to 3X more productive than their peers.

3. Let people know that you appreciate who they are and what they do.

Coach people to be the best versions of themselves (see our PROM Servant Leader archetypes for a simple way to start).

Do not subconsciously try to turn them into clones of you.

Nothing says, “I don’t appreciate you” quite like efforts to turn people into mini-mes or suggestions that they hide their identities.

Instead, help them contribute as their best and most authentic selves.

Take special care to ensure that your most vulnerable employees feel the safety and confidence that they can contribute as their best and most authentic selves.

Your most vulnerable employees tend to be those who look, think, or act differently than the majority.

Recognize people’s contributions in ways that they want to be recognized. It’s the morale-version of the platinum rule.

Take these three action steps, and you will develop an all-weather, high morale company that succeeds not just some of the time, but ALL OF THE TIME.

What’s your top takeaway? Let me know with a comment, DM, or email to [email protected].

P.S. I set aside time each week for strategy calls. We’ll discuss:

  • Your goals
  • The obstacles you want to overcome
  • 2-3 action steps to solve problems and get results

No sales, no bait-and-switch, no BS.

Schedule your call here.

I was burning out being whom I thought everyone expected me to be.

I tried to copy other leaders whom I respected because I did not believe that being me was good enough.

The inauthenticity affected my relationships and my peace of mind.

At work, I was good at being what I thought others wanted me to be.

It dawned on me that I could do even better by being the best version of my authentic self.

I came to that conclusion after being bullied by a general officer. It was the most toxic environment of my professional career.

He was all smiling in public; scathing and belittling in private. 

He could not tolerate anyone being different from him.

He wanted abusive people around him, so he could maintain the good-guy image.

I was used to being the extroverted leader that I thought everyone expected me to be. 

But becoming a clone of an abuser like him crossed a red line.

The rebellion led me to insist on being myself.

First, I had to confront the reason why I felt the need to copy others.

I was skinny and awkward in high-school. That made me a target. 

The harder I tried to fit in, the more awkward I became, and the bullying got worse.

This situation did not escape the notice of some high school faculty. 

One was an absolute angel. Whenever I get asked who was my favorite teacher of all time, I always mention Jeannie. 

Two others were resident priests with different versions of the bait and switch.

Comfort and assault. One pawed and groped. The other was a voyeur.

They counted on silence.

The experiences were so disturbing, so beyond the pale, and so wrong that I did not have a way to process them or a language to discuss them.

I knew I never wanted to be in that situation again and that I wanted to prevent that from happening to others, too.

Accepting an appointment to West Point, I took on the toughest programs and assignments I could find in the military. 

I could defend myself and others. 

That was all to the good.

The downside was this sense that being myself was not good enough and that I needed to be like others I respected.

I made my share of mistakes along the way, too.

It took over three decades to begin talking about what happened in high school and to understand how I responded to it.

A loved one asked me why I began to speak openly. Wasn’t I embarrassed?

Silence is the great enabler

The bullies and the predators count on people being silent, looking the other way, and burying their stories inside of them.

Some bullies are overt, like the groper. 

Most, though, are subtle, like the general and voyeur. They smile in public and abuse in private. They want you to compromise yourself; guilt and shame are self-silencers.

I discussed authenticity and my challenges along the way with internationally renowned author Dr. Mark Goulston.

Maybe shining a light on bullying and sexual assault will deter the creeps. 

Maybe it will help good people heal so that they can look forward and not worry about the rear-view mirror. 

If you or someone you know has experienced abuse, I hope this story will help stop the kind of copycat behavior that nearly wiped me out.

Share this article and podcast with your employees and co-workers and have a conversation. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Most people, I’ve learned, have experienced some form of trauma and abuse. 

You don’t have to be defined by bad or good experiences. 

Define yourself by the value and impact you want to bring to the world.  

Resources for you:

Here’s a very simple way to start being the best version of yourself. Begin with your authentic servant-leader archetype

Authenticity gives you more energy at work and home, amplifies on your superpowers (your natural inclinations), and tells you who your need around you for cognitive diversity. 

We’ll discuss these issues and more in my free on demand masterclass. Register here.