Written by Nick Roud, Coach
Authentic leadership is the golden nugget when it comes to longterm leadership success. Too often I meet people here in my coaching practice who tell me that they are far away from being who they really are, far away from actually realising their true leadership potential and are standing in the shadow of others!
Welcome to today’s leadership blog.
How often do we hear…….oh that’s how so and so does it so I will do what they do as they are successful. What I encourage my clients to do is work on themselves, develop their leadership and be proud of how they lead.
We would all have met leaders be it in our careers, at a conference, on a walk, at a local club , leaders who have read cover-to-cover every single book and can communicate those leadership messages verbatim. They have read a so call bullet proof approach to leadership and that is the way they are going to lead. I love the very fact that we gleam so much wisdom, thought and insight from books but I’d encourage each and every one of us reading todays blog to stop short of then using that wisdom and tick the box……,These are bandwagon leaders, the ones who simply repeat that of others.
As a leader, be that of an emerging leader or a seasoned executive don’t you agree that its more important to remember that the #1 job of a true leader is to help others be better (period). People look to you for support, guidance and in some cases just to share conversation.
When you are dealing with people no matter who that person is, your priority is to genuinely connect with that person, that group and in doing so it’s imperative that you are being yourself.
By being yourself you will allow the other person to be themselves and thus the ripple effect takes place.
In the coaching work we do, we conduct leadership 360s, we spend quality time interviewing those key stakeholders who bring such rich insights into the day-to-day leadership of said person, these stakeholders are wise, they are smart and they can 100% smell a bullshiter a mile away. Very quickly we get a brilliant insight into how others perceive you as a leader – warts and all. No professional wants to be led by a person who is not being themselves, they are crying out to be led by a human (not a robot) and this is why being an authentic leader will pay off in the long run.
Leaders do not need to be ‘best friends’ with reports or peers, many clients who we coach do not like confrontation, they avoid the hard conversations and this holds them back. Sure none of us enjoy confrontation but having difficult conversations will be part of your leadership career. We must have relatable leaders – leaders who can connect at all levels of an organisation, leaders who can feel and sense what is going on!
Great teams be them on the sport field, in the boardroom or around the coffee table have something more than just title and area of responsibility. They have a meaningful connection to each other.
Case Study of a relatable CEO
It was a real pleasure to coach a CEO last year (2022), in the work we did together I got a huge ‘behind the scenes’ of a remarkable CEO. She ran a global business out of the US and I was fortunate to be hired by her as her executive coach. As we worked together over 12 months which has since extended I saw something very few CEs have but many should be aware of.
As our bond grew closer that little gem was shining bright, and that was her ‘relatability’!
Relatable leadership is not a term we often use or hear, we often see and hear words like he /she is an authentic leader. Here were my observations,
- She put the time into her day to be with her people,
- She put time aside to work on herself and shared her thoughts
- Her one-on-ones happened (never more than 55mins), never cancelled
- She was present
- 45mins were spent on the relationship between her and her direct report and 10mins on ‘business’
- She wrote to all her staff around the world monthly (she did it not a PA)
- She encouraged her reports to really challenge her thinking
- She built trust by listening not talking
- She shared meals with individuals and groups
- She visited their homes and got to know partners, children and pets!!
- She would have monthly dinners at her home and partners were invited along
- She let her guard down repeatedly and had this wicked saying, I just don’t know – what do you think?
- She developed her purpose (not company mission statement) and shared it with everyone she came in contact with internally and externally
- She encouraged quiet meetings and sharing roadtrip reports
Every human who leads people will have their own way of leading but this has really shone out to me for when someones asks what does best in practice leadership look like.
We all at some stage of our professional career will lose direction, our purpose and our spirit. With pressure comes narrow focus, with pressure we start acting differently. It’s important to get back to basics during this period. It will pass but understand the triggers and share with your close confidents what is going on, ask for help and support.
Personally I struggled for years wanting to live up to others expectations, trying to please others and fundamentally crippling my own being. If I take a look at my own leadership traits I am a very mature ‘helper’ but it comes with a cost. It wasn’t till I had that ah-ha moments one morning when Louie our 5 year old boy asked me this question as I was trying to get out of the door to the office, Dad are you happy dad!. Yes I snapped back I am and carried on trying to get breakfast on the plate for him and his sister. As I reflected a few days later I new my reaction was one of not being really present, trying to rush off to please/help someone else and not really helping myself or more importantly my beautiful boy. I was not taking my own advice!!
As an executive coach I hear many clients share how they too are on edge, not wanting to drop the ball, not willing to lose face and wearing a mask that if unveiled might not be what others want or even expect from them. But then as I reflected on the work I continue to do and the joy it brings me I realised I too needed to take some of my our advice. Play to your strengths, and my strength is that of a helper.
We must look at being ourselves and allowing ourselves to be comfortable. Life is hard sometimes and can be very challaging. Far too many of us trying to be something or someone else is a fools game. Don’t play that game.
Being an authentic leader comes in so many forms, shapes and sizes – what one leader may see as being authentic will be completely different to that of the next leader. Finding your own being is hard, and is work many of us push to the side – but for the few who really lean into that work, that voice, the rewards will far out-way anything else – why! because what you find is the most important find of them all and is yours to hold onto. Having the courageous conversation with yourself will start a process that over time starts to become your own norm and this is what I desire in all my leaders that work with me, be you and being ok – being you.
We hear a great deal about imposter syndrome, I don’t know anyone who has at some stage of life not been faced with this. For many of my CEO clients who I personally coach find themselves questioning literally everything that is going on around them…..and then I ask them to laser into what is going on for ‘them’……not the other people they serve, not their chairperson or board or founder or who ever but them.
Silence normally comes next, silence because for some time and even years they have only been thinking of others. This approach is beautiful and I commend those who put others first – but for the purpose of my coaching work is that it is ‘all about you’.
Many years ago I promised myself that I would at all times be myself and challenged myself from that day on not to lose sight of my values, my belief systems and who I am. Too often we all fall into the trap of not being authentic to ourselves and very quickly the ‘why’ becomes someone else’s ‘to do’.
Authentic leadership will enable you, your people and your organisation to greater success.