He is one impressive dude.  Every time he speaks I’m both impressed and envious.  I get paid to speak before groups; he doesn’t.  And yet he could make his living that way.  He says, the higher you go in leadership, the more you do people.  Please allow me to tell you more.

He is the Executive Director of a Department of Defense agency.   I co-facilitate (with a partner) a 4.5-day leadership program The Higher You Go in Leadership, The More You Do Peoplefor their mid-level leaders several times a year.

He works out of Washington, DC, at agency HQ. 

Yet, he makes it a point to come to Huntsville, AL and speak to every class, in person, even  though he could appear via web conference.  This alone impresses me and the participants.  The Woody Allen quote always comes to mind: “80% of life is showing up”.

He always makes a number of good points about leadership. 

Usually he makes each point through an interesting story.  The story is usually out of his own life and career (itself a lesson for public speakers; everyone likes a good story). I’ve heard his points several times.  I will prompt him if I haven’t heard one of my favorites, especially if it fits with discussions we’ve had in class that week.

One of my favorites is this: “The higher you go in leadership, the more you do people”. 

He goes on to tell several stories to illustrate his point.  He describes how finding, hiring, retaining, and engaging people is a major part of his job.

This is especially true in an agency like his.  Michael Eisner, the former CEO of Disney, famously said, “Around here, the assets of the company go home at night”.  This describes his employees too.

He stands in stark contrast to the leaders who like the job title, the pay, and benefits that go along with leadership.  And yet, they’ve never come to terms with that simple but important fact: “The higher you go in leadership, the more you do people”.  These “honorary leaders”, as I call them, look at that part of the job as a necessary evil.  In fact, they may even believe that if it weren’t for the damn employees, their job would be a whole lot easier!

Typically, they take the notion of leadership very much for granted.  They probably never sharpen those skills.  In fact, they may not even recognize leadership as a set of learned skills.  Nor do they realize that their development is a career-long pursuit.

These leaders have missed the whole point of leadership.

Well, here’s a flash for those “honorary leaders”: Leadership is ALL about people!   And, it’s all about relationships with those people! 

Leadership is not easy.  Why?  Because, by definition, you’re leading human beings.  And humans are complex.  Yet, that’s why we pay leaders more than other employees: because they’re expected to figure out those human dynamics, and use that learning to lead.

Any leader who isn’t willing to do that should find a new line of work.