The new year is upon us and I am guessing we’ve all made the proverbial resolutions, or perhaps you haven’t but you’ve started the year with gusto. You possess a sense of determination to perhaps be true to yourself a little more. Take that long weekend when you need to. Take a lunch break. Spend more time with the kids. Exercise a little more. Secure more business. Work to get that promotion. All-in-all we want to be a little truer to ourselves. Authentic?
Most people can agree that authenticity is of great value. We'd rather be — or follow — a leader who is for real than one who is faking it. Acting in a way that feels truthful, candid, and connected to who you really are is important, and is a leadership quality worth aspiring to.
On the other hand, being who you are and saying what you think can be highly problematic if the real you is a bit of a plonka. In practice, we've observed that placing value on being authentic has become an excuse for bad behavior among senior professionals. It's important to realise that what makes you you is not just the good stuff — your values, aspirations and dreams; the qualities others love most.
For most people, what comes naturally can also get pretty nasty. When you are overly critical, non-communicative, crass, judgmental, or rigid, you are probably at your most real — but you are not at your best. In fact, it is often these most authentic parts of a leader that need the most management. When encouraging executives to become their best selves, we often encounter resistance. People don't want to change the behaviours that feel most natural, even when everyone agrees that change would be good. One recent client, who heads up a national IT Systems firm, insisted that her staff use her process — the one that felt most right and most natural to her — to get each issue to bed. When asked to consider changing her process to make life easier for everyone else, she replied "Look. This is just how I work." She was being authentic, staying true to herself — and blocking her team from moving to a happier, more productive place. Her excuse, this is just how I work, can easily be justified by the hype around authenticity that cautions leaders: don't pretend to be someone you are not. But hiding behind the authenticity excuse is a convenient way of avoiding the truth about who we really are, how we actually behave, and why.
Instead, we recommend the following:
- Find out how you seem to others. Ask a trusted co-worker what is difficult about working with you. Listen carefully, and write it down in the speaker's words. You are not allowed to explain, justify, or defend.
- Talk back. When you are alone again, respond to your co-worker's accusations, in writing. What was going through your head while you heard what is wrong with how you are? What are your justifications and excuses for what you do? List all of them. Put it in the crankiest, brattiest, most self-righteous but authentic voice you can muster. Read it out loud, to yourself. Acknowledge that this voice is yours.
- Find an alternative. The next time you feel the urge to do this thing that makes you difficult, what will you do instead?
- Clean it up. Reconnect with the co-worker and apologize for being difficult. Commit to a clean-up plan. If you do this difficult thing again, despite your best intentions, how will you clean up the mess you make?
- Raise the stakes. Commit to a consequence for misbehaving. If you do the difficult thing, again, what will it cost you? An offer of coffee or lunch to the "victim"? A poem of apology? The consequence should have a cost to you, but it should be constructive.
Your authentic self should be the basis of your leadership style. But, it is better to take a good hard look at who you really are before showcasing and defending everything that comes naturally. It is one thing to admire Lord Sugar. But don't kid yourself into thinking that your authentic self, unleashed in all its glory, is your key to effective leadership. Improving your presence - the way you connect - with others and how you pitch and present is authentic leadership
Being You - The ONLY New Year's Resolution - 31st January 2013
Join us on Thursday 31st January for our bi-monthly speaking event. Hear our members share their experience of the impact authenticity can have for success. EarlyBird tickets are available until 5pm on Friday 11th January for £25+VAT. Book here >
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