The Adaptive Agency Blog

Without These 3 Things, You Aren’t Leading

by | Nov 11, 2022 | Culture

Author’s Note: Today’s episode is pulled from a guest lecture I recently gave to graduate students at the Korean National Defense University.

Are you that rare manager who’s pursuing greater leadership ability?

If so, these 3 leadership principles are mandatory, bedrock principles. Each is essential to actually leading people.


Imagine trying to reconcile these two statements from a boss:

“Follow me. And, by the way, I don’t trust you.”

Not possible, right? You immediately think, “If you don’t trust me, how can I follow you?”

Trust is essential to leadership.

Without it, managers become supervisors. They have to rely on arbitrary controls that frankly don’t work. Even if they did work, they can’t produce excellence—only compliance.

Employees hate being controlled or coerced.

If they feel like management doesn’t trust them, they stop caring about management. They begin to harbor resentment. They may even begin to act untrustworthily.

And that’s just the regular folks. High-performing talent won’t stand for it. “You don’t trust me? I’m out!”

Then you’re left with people who are willing to be treated like would-be criminals.

I hear things like this: “Matt, how can I be sure employees are doing what they’re supposed to do if I don’t keep an eye on them?”

So I reply, “When you were just an employee, did you need someone to keep an eye on you?”

“No, of course not. I didn’t need to be supervised.”

“So now that you’re in management, why do you think people south of you can’t be trusted?

It’s almost always the boss who has the trust issues. And those issues come from ego, insecurity, envy, and greed.

But let’s just suppose that it is the employees who can’t be trusted. That begs the next question:

“Why do you keep hiring people you can’t trust?”

If you can’t trust your people, you can’t lead them. You can only supervise.

2. Love

This word might feel awkward to you as a business owner or leader. Too bad. It’s a word that mature people use to talk about important things like:

  • empathy
  • compassion
  • care

Employees are people. Not a single one of them identifies as a human resource. And if they did, you’d know it, since they would immediately stop caring about your business.

People—even when they go to work—respond well to being treated with kindness and understanding. They find security in connecting, especially with people north of them.

The more they feel cared about, the more they care in return. And that’s important, because…

Employees can only care about your company as much as they think you care about them.

If you only want people’s time and labor, treat them like things. But if you want their hearts and their minds, treat them like people. Treat them with love.

Without love, you aren’t leading. You’re supervising.

3. Purpose

“Where the heck are we going?”

Leaders answer that question. Then they align the right people with that purpose and get them all moving.

Not many managers provide that basic function, unfortunately.

“Ok everybody, we’re not going anywhere, and I’ll take the lead.”

Doesn’t mean much, does it?

If you can’t explain the purpose behind your enterprise, people have to align to something else. So they naturally align to rules, checklists, manager temperaments, etc.

That means instead of doing amazing things, they’re doing just what’s necessary to keep their jobs.

If you can’t describe and recruit people to a purpose, you aren’t leading. You’re supervising.

So, to summarize…

If you want to lead people, you need to provide them with 3 things:

  1. Trust
  2. Love
  3. Purpose

Otherwise, you’re just supervising. Great talent wants to work for leaders, not supervisors.