I had a "ta-da" moment recently. I was speaking with an aspiring young leader who wanted to know what traits I felt were fundamental to effective leadership. I lowered the bucket into my wisdom well and pulled up some of my standard go-to traits including authenticity. She responded with great enthusiasm. "Cool, awesome", she said. "So, tell me, how do I become more authentic?". It hit me like a ton of bricks. As soon as you try to be authentic, you are in fact being inauthentic.
I lowered the bucket into my wisdom well and pulled up some of my standard go-to traits including authenticity.
I looked back at her somewhat blank-faced, unable to formulate an answer. She returned my glance with a look of concern as if she sensed my current internal struggle. Either it was that, or she was worried that I was having a dissociative moment and was concerned about my mental status. I pulled it together and said, "I am sorry, I just gave you some really crappy advice. Forget about trying to be authentic and just be human."
"I am sorry, I just gave you some really crappy advice.
Being human is a pretty big part of being an effective leader. It is a given, that at its root, leadership is about getting things done through others. Since those others, unless you're living through a zombie apocalypse, are likely to be humans, it is pretty important to be one as well. As humans, we are all flawed. We all have our strengths and our weaknesses, our blemishes and our beauty marks. Effective leaders don't obfuscate, ignore or bury those flaws, they wear them in the open and put in the work to improve. I always tried to be real with my team, flaws and all. At times, I would over-react and at others, and more frequently, I would under-react. When I caught myself doing either, I would own it, make the necessary apologies and behavior corrections. When I missed it, my team felt comfortable enough to call me on it, and I felt grateful they did so.
Since those others, unless you're living through a zombie apocalypse, are likely to be humans, it is pretty important to be one as well.
Another thread that all humans share is the desire to be heard, cared for, valued and respected. A leader must recognize this common desire and meet it with empathy, awareness, and presence. It is important to note the difference between empathy and sympathy. Empathy is seeing a situation from behind the eyes of another. It is about understanding and grasping another's perspective. Sympathy, on the other hand, requires a victim. Feeling sympathetic for someone places them into the role of victim and elevates you into the role of benefactor. That separation does little to support that person's need to feel valued or respected. Empathy is an equalizer, it is about understanding another, and is a great way to show them that they are valued and respected.
Empathy is seeing a situation from behind the eyes of another.
Awareness is about comprehending how your actions, words, and behaviors can impact another. An effective leader sees how they can either support another's desire to be heard, cared for, valued, and respected, or impede it. Finally, a part of being a human leader is being present. We live in a world of information overload and multi-tasking. Meeting another person fully, without distraction, without a split focus, is a powerful way to validate their importance and show them respect.
An effective leader sees how they can either support another's desire to be heard, cared for, valued, and respected, or impede it.
So, stop trying to be authentic, you already are. As soon as you start trying to be, you become less so. Rather, be human, warts and all. What is cool about that, is that we share that with everyone else we come in contact with. We are all human, we are all flawed and we all desire the same thing. Start with that understanding and you are certain to be a more effective leader.
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Elliot Begoun is the Principal of The Intertwine Group. His articles appear in publications such as the Huffington Post, SmartBrief, and Linked2Leadership. He serves as a thinking partner, providing clients with the clarity, focus, and tools needed to make good people and product decisions. He helps clients build lasting relationships with their customers, develop leaders who make others feel heard, cared for, valued and respected, and most importantly grow.
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