The People Who Lead the Best Try the Least
Leaders work too hard at the skills of leadership and not hard enough at becoming themselves.
Real leaders change us effortlessly. Who they are influences us more than what they do. Comfort with themselves and their belief in us gives us courage to open our hearts to their influence.
Authentic leaders give us courage to see strength in ourselves because they don’t need us to affirm their worth. Phony leaders fear power in others and work to control rather than release.
Jim Parker, former CEO of Southwest Airlines said his favorite word of advice to leaders is, “Be yourself.” Warren Bennis said, “Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself.”
The leader on a white horse is a myth propagated by our own fears and neediness.
Finding genuine leadership:
Jot down memories of people and events. Who comes to mind when you think of your past? How are they living in you today?
Authenticity consists of your responses to influential individuals and formative circumstances combined with your genetic code. You can’t change genetics. You can interpret and assimilate circumstances and relationships.
Say what you really think. “Candor says, ‘Here’s what I think. What do you think?’” Kim Scott, author of, Radical Candor. The courage to say what you think is formative. Our words impact who we become.
If you can’t say what you think, you can’t become who you were meant to be.
Abandon yourself to a grand idea and live it in small ways everyday. Don’t dabble on the edges of purposeful work. There is no authority except in submission to something meaningful that lies outside ourselves – a calling that finds expression in a cause.
I mentioned that our responses to circumstances and people combined with genetics constitutes authenticity. What other components of authenticity do you see?
How might leaders become themselves?
This post really resonates with me as a relatively new leader. It makes me think of times when I would like to turn to members of my team for their help and thoughts on something strategic, but I am worried to do so because it would make it appear that I am not a strong leader. I am naturally someone to ask for thoughts from others and then move ahead. So how do I “be myself” while not making team members feel that I am too unsure? Things to ponder. Thanks, as always, for stimulating my thoughts!
Thanks Katell. Your concern about not appearing weak is important. It brings up important questions about how to seek input and feedback and being strong at the same time.
The idea that curiosity is a sign of weakness is wrong. But, the way we express curiosity is important. One suggestion is to be sure to use the plural when seeking suggestions. Let people know you are gather several suggestions. This protects you from responding to every suggestion. It also protects you from a sense of obligation that might come from seeking one solution.
Ask second and third questions when receiving input. This indicates you are thoughtful and serious. Don’t criticize. Explore. You could ask, “How might….?” Or, “What assumptions are behind your suggestion?”
Curiosity is powerful protection against isolation and arrogance. I encourage you to use it. In my opinion, it’s one of the most desirable leadership qualities.
I think we can tell when someone is curious AND needy. That makes us seem weak. The need for affirmation is one problem. Asking broad questions like, “How am I doing?” is another problem.
Follow up and follow through are signs of strength. When seeking input/feedback be specific. Take action after seeking input. Let people know where you finally came down. Thank them for participating, even if you didn’t use their suggestions.
Best for the journey.
Thanks so much, Dan! I appreciate you offering these ideas!
Katell, I personally would look at you as a leader who is open to suggestion and who values the opinions of others if I was a member of your team! Maybe it is all in the phrasing? However, I am a relatively new leader as well and I know that the struggle is real! My team has all been here longer than I, so I am sure they think I know nothing and they bring up ancient history every time there is an issue.
Thanks, Margaret. I feel you with the ancient history thing. It’s challenging to come into a system like that where you need to acknowledge the past but not get mired in it!
How might leaders become themselves? Learning from Parents, Coaches, fellow workers and mentors has helped me during my journey, more important for me was pay attention. Getting to know your strengths and weakness can be a humbling experience for sure. Strive to do better in whatever you do, lead by example speaks out for many. If someone takes their time to Train you the correct way, then follow suit the rest of the way during your life.
Thanks Tim. One of the more interesting aspects of our journey toward authenticity is that we cannot make it alone. Your comment really helps in this area.
We seldom see ourselves clearly. We often need to see ourselves through the eyes of others.
Benjamin Franklin said, ‘There are three things extremely hard, steel, a diamond, and to know oneself.” Self-knowledge must be accompanied by self-disclosure. Jeff Immelt noted that “leadership is an intense journey into yourself. You can use your own style to get anything done. Its about being self-aware.” Authentic leadership begins with understanding the story of one’s own life.
Thanks Larry. I find the quotes you shared useful. Especially the one by Immelt. I didn’t want the title of this post to give the impression that leadership is easy, just that leaders often are working too hard at the wrong things.
Your insight that self-knowledge must be accompanied by self-disclosure is powerful. It prevents us from spiraling downward and inward. Leadership isn’t about contemplating the meaning of our navel.
Dan excellent post. You can improve as a Leader by learning more about the techniques and methods but first you have to be comfortable with yourself enough to try to influence others.
For me, personally, I had to Fail at something very important to me before I learned to deal with others better and then become a Leader.
Thanks Brad. It seems that the most formative moments in life are often painful. When you ask someone about formative moments, they often go to dark experiences. We are who we are because of the adversities, disappointments, and struggles we’ve worked through. There are many positive influences along the way, but it seems the dark ones have more weight. Cheers
What I love most about leadership is that there is no formula to become the best leader you can be, because everyone is uniquely and wonderfully made! So figuring out how to become you is so true and vital to becoming the best leader you can be.
When I first came into the position I am in, it was tough because I was listening to so many podcasts and reading so many books that I forgot who I was amid all of these great minds. I was trying to do what they do (carbon copy). What I found was that it’s not about being someone else, but rather taking in information, thinking on it, and then letting it •supplement• who YOU are.
Great stuff Dan!
Thanks Josh. Love how you shared your insights.
For me, a good book helps me think my own thoughts.
This was one of the best posts I’ve ever read. We all have to continually look to reflect and grow but even more important we must be ourselves. We must be true to who we are and what our moral purpose entails. You have to be authentic and you have to be yourself. Last night I was honored with the award of being selected Vermont’s Superintendent of the Year. In my career, I’ve always tried to grow, always try to model the importance of continual learning as a leader and as a human being. Thanks Dan, you are a great influence on leadership and for leaders.
Great post – thank you Dan…
>> What other components of authenticity do you see? <<
Core values/convictions that are our fabric; integrity, fairness; "listen" …
Thanks Ken. Yes. It seems like authenticity is living consistently with our core values.
What do you do with a leader who is reluctant to make decision?
Wayne, I would start with asking Why they seem to be reluctant. Get to the real answer in that questions and you will know what to do next.
Great question Wayne. Garret input makes sense.
Could you adopt a take action and apologize approach? How about giving them lots of lead time? Perhaps set a soft deadline by asking when you can check back with them for a decision?
Thanks for this post. I have a boss that strives to be a great leader.
He lives out a great many of the principles you share. I so appreciate his leadership and I tell him.
What I find interesting is after seven years of working with him I find my understanding of him as a person and a leader is sometimes skewed in comparison to co-workersâ perceptions. I wonder how to account for that disparity.
I have come up with two contributing factors, but I would like to hear your opinion.
First is we are each different in personality, personal goals and perspective. The “who you are” factor that shades how you see things can account for the difference.
But, I think the second and more important factor is the appreciation or gratitude factor. When an employee shows genuine appreciation and gratitude for the leadership provide to the person providing it, there is a change that occurs in both individuals. A rapport of respect is created that is foundational to building a relationship that can withstand the demands of work goals and objectives.
Love your thoughts on this on how those of us influenced by leaders can help them be even better leaders.
Michelle (Micki) Mensio
Project Manager, Creative Services Department
The Woodlands United Methodist Church
Thanks Micki. It seems like you are already on the path of helping your leader be a better leader by providing affirmations. You might try candid feedback about things they are doing that would serve them better.
The ability to speak truth to power is a great gift, especially when you are already being affirming.
Another option might be to ask them to teach you a leadership skill. Those who teach learn more than the student.
Excellent post Dan.
One benefit of some gray hair is one learns to be themselves. When I quit trying to force being a leader is when I became a leader. Authenticity is the one trait all great leaders share. Most people have pretty good bull crap meters, so being genuine is a big step in becoming an effective leader, don’t you think?
Two thoughts come to mind as I read this post and they both incorporate balance.
While being able to say what one”really thinks”, pausing to think about the words used makes a huge difference. I live in a world with people who are “just being honest” take that for carte blanche to say anything.
I also disagree with the statement about a leader on a white horse as a myth based in fear and neediness. It’s quite true we all have fears and needs. We all look for guidance, so what’s wrong with admitting it?
I think the blog site is evidence of that very element in our nature as human beings. Growing upward may change who we look to, but we are always leading or following.
I love this post – thank you for bringing it into the world!
I remember before I attained my first leadership position I had lots of ‘theory’ about what a leader should do… but very little about what a leader should be!
The first piece of advice I give to new leaders in my organisation is “know yourself” – what makes you tick? why are you here? what pushes your buttons? This requires mindfulness.
The second piece of advice I give is “know your team”. They are people – not two dimensional work-automatons!
When you engage with people as a person (sorry that sounds silly) then what you get is authentic human interaction. Who would have thought that could be so hard to find!
Really enjoy your blog!
Great post Dan, self-discovery is so important to being a good and leader and to aligning with the right profession – https://bytyns.com/2017/05/10/take-a-closer-look/
In my experience, the path to becoming yourself in leadership or any other aspect of life is vulnerability. We have to be willing to let our guard down, do what scares us, and be prepared for the consequences.
I love your daily inspirational about leadership and life. I do a daily email about positive coaching and leadership that originally started for my coaches. After word got out around the state I was ask to present at our state AD conference. Now my email goes out to about 200 coaches, AD’s and school administrators in six states. Small potatoes for some but a big deal for me. Many times I have used your words….thank you!
Center SD Athletic Director
Kansas City, MO