RRGwrites

On life…and learning

Posts Tagged ‘Unusually Excellent

Are You An Authentic Leader?

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AuthenticityOften in the corporate world’s setting around us, we hear the magic word, ‘trust’. There isn’t any dearth of literature on this subject, especially when it comes to importance of ‘trust’ in relationships at work; more so, in the manager-subordinate relationship.Trust me, please’ is writ large over every leader’s forehead; you must have observed nearly every leader wanting to secure his team’s trust; so much so, that we HR folks often end up conducting developmental workshops, engagement surveys and what not more around this area of organizational effectiveness.

I agree that trust can be easily termed as one of the most important pillars of organizational effectiveness. However, to my mind, there is an even more crucial aspect to work-relationships – authenticity. Being trustworthy and being authentic are often confused as the same attribute. It isn’t so, in my opinion; they are two distinct behavioural attributes that impact anyone’s leadership quotient.

While everyone loves the idea of a ‘trustworthy’ leader – both leaders and followers share equal appeal for it, very few appreciate the need of genuine leadership traits – ones that begin foremost from every leader knowing and acting ‘true self’, reflecting one’s true personality and thought process in everyday actions. What organizations need and what followers look for are authentic leaders who are themselves aware of who they are, what is their vision for the organization and how to make followers relate to them so as to help them transform their vision a reality.

Over last couple of years, I have extensively researched about what is authenticity and how this attribute plays a pivotal role amongst other leadership traits. In my last year’s blog of the ‘Leadership’ series, ‘Why Should Anyone Be Led By You’, one of the 12 questions that I asked the leadership aspirants was – Am I an authentic person and appear one too?’ Having spent some good time exploring this closely, putting the learning to test and subsequently experiencing the results it brings, I have come to a conclusion that this is the most primary trait of leadership.

Laying down the ‘necessary’ nine skills required for the practice of great leadership’ in his outstandingly simple and practical work, ‘Unusually Excellent’, John Hamm speaks at length about the credibility and character as a primary leadership imperative. He further splits credibility into following three dimensions – a leader being compelling, authentic and trustworthy.

Defining ‘authenticity’, he says,

“Being authentic – knowing who you really are, and holding true to yourself in the most difficult moments – is ‘ground zero’ of leadership credibility… Knowing who we are at the core is the project of awareness, courageous introspection, and thoughtful reflection.”

Hamm makes a strong case for this inquiry and poses a strong question to leadership aspirants:

“What informs and creates our capability to lead with real influence?”

A leader needs to not only know his own self, but also listen to self. His experiences, value-system, how he sees the world, how he sees other people, his feelings & habits, aspirations, all count big when it comes to leading others. They all form an integral whole when it comes to shaping the character of a leader, and we all know, character of a leader makes or breaks the followers’ faith and inspiration in him.

John stresses on the need of followers to identify with the ‘True Self’ of their leader,

“Trust the power of allowing others to know you. Even through it can seem scary… The real you – no limitations or role-playing – is what people want to know, and the real you is the person to whom they will commit.”

So true this sounds, specially when we see a lot of ‘leaders’ trying too hard to earn the trust of their teams, without actually giving any opportunity whatsoever to let people know what really drives & motivates them, what are their passions, and even sharing their failures – areas where they failed and that it is indeed OK to fail. In short, I have seen most leaders trying to appear ‘perfect’! Now, if that is the case and if that’s the perception they wish to build, how would they ever receive any feedback from their followers?

Feedback comes when people relate to you, not when they see you seeing yourself, portraying yourself as perfect. Specially your followers, who wouldn’t just risk it. Think of it; if your followers wouldn’t know how ‘authentically’ you take your failures, would they ever share theirs’ with you or tell you your own grey areas? Chances are rare, I would say.

John shares this thought on importance of seeking feedback,

“Unusually Excellent leaders find the courage within to be authentic- and that takes knowing themselves, accepting the disappointment of their past, and actively seeking feedback form their teams.

Try to use it (feedback) diagnostically, to improve, not as a threat to your self-image, self-esteem or self-worth.”

If your own image is a portrayal of ‘perfectness personified’, and your followers see you trying to keep it that way, I am convinced feedback isn’t going to come your way. And deep down our hearts, we know that can be ‘Hara-kiri’ of sorts in the pursuit of leadership.

It is this willingness and pledge to authenticity that is the bedrock of becoming trustworthy. Authenticity is a primary skill, even before a leader moves on to establish his trustworthiness. Once we are accepted as ‘genuinely authentic’, then only our followers shall accept our equity as a leader.

Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, the celebrated authors speak about leaders need to essentially act as ‘authentic chameleons’, in their very well researched book, ‘Why Should Anyone Be Led by You?’. They argue for leaders to,

“…consistently displaying their true selves through out the changes of contexts that require them to play the variety of roles.”

In my view, by saying so the authors dispel the fear that leaders need to be a different ‘person’ in different situations; they rather display their true self in all situations and only ‘act’ differently as per the merits of the situation. That would go far in securing trust and gaining confidence of their followers that to keep them guessing.

Rob and Gareth state further,

“The demand for authentic leadership is there and growing. As traditional hierarchies disintegrate, only leadership can fill the void…CEOs tell us that their most pressing need is for more leaders in their organizations – not the consummate role players who seem to surround them… Authentic leadership has become the most prized organization and individual asset.”

“Can people trust you?” asks Linda Hill, the Wallace Bret Donham Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. She chairs the HBS Leadership Initiative; and poses this question in her widely acclaimed book, ‘Being The Boss’. When I read this gem of a book few years ago, this one question stayed with me and it has been instrumental in shaping my thought process on ‘why would people trust me in first place if they don’t know me? To my mind, this ‘Why’ is primary and fundamental over the ‘Can’ part.

To this point, Linda emphatically says,

“The quality of work they (followers) do, the care and commitment they devote, their willingness to expend extra effort, all depend in significant part on the kind of person you are.

To be trusted, you must reveal yourself in order to demonstrate your competence and character. To create trust requires that you take pain to be explicit what you value as a manager, how you work, what you want from others, and not least, who you are.”

Needless to say, I am more than convinced that people won’t trust you completely if they don’t know the real you. And that certainly needs you to put in special focus on ‘who you really are and do your people know the real you.’

And it is here where John cautions us in a rather straightforward manner,

Be careful about ‘trying’ too hard to be authentic. Being yourself should feel easier that being the image you think others want of you. Don’t be authentic in the way someone else is – do it your way.”

 

My message – don’t be a copycat leader; be you. It works better.

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Photo-credit: createpresence.com

Prime Minister. Is He A Leadership Material?

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Listening to Barack Obama’s spirited election speech yesterday, I could not help recall the pride our own Prime Minister takes in speaking less. Well, I am myself not an advocate of leaders’ babble and ranting without a cause and I am also not falling prey to the Time and Outlook magazines’ works on the respective ‘Underachievers’. However, as an ardent student of the idea of leadership, I cannot fathom as to why would the leader of world’s largest democracy fails to communicate and motivate his nation!

Then, another questions comes to mind, is he actually a leadership material? Or, was he, when he donned the cap of the PM in 2004?

However, I am not writing this blog blindly criticizing the Prime Minister; so many of them seem to be doing that off late. Nor is this blog aimed at hailing Obama as a better leader than Dr.Singh. I am rather thinking aloud; is this good man, the genius academician and a man of indisputable repute in Indian economy and polity, a real leader? Does he possess what we call the skills of leadership? Or, is he a sad case of Peter’s Principle, where he was mistakenly promoted to his levels of incompetence?

My mind says; he was never a leadership fitment. He was always an academic genius, who excelled in all he did, albeit as an individual contributor. Those who carefully noted the happenings in early 1990s in India, a period that credits Dr.Singh as an architect of liberalization of the Indian economy, would certainly remember it was the might and backing of PV Narasimha Rao, the then Indian PM, under whose leadership and guidance Dr. Singh, the then Finance Minister could take those bold decisions the nation thanks him today for.

In my assessment, he was never a leadership candidate, not at least for this crucial responsibility. Retuning back to power in 2004, the Congress Party found him as a befitting person to be given the top-job, with a clever agenda of ‘remote-control-ruling’ by the Party President. He possessed all qualities the common man would look in a chief of our nation – unblemished track record, authenticity, credibility, knowledge; he enjoyed the trust of the masses. After all, we saw him as a messiah of the economic reforms. In him becoming the PM, the party found a silent front, and the nation was led to believe that with all these qualities, he would but obviously be the true leader we always wanted.

Eight years later, we find things so starkly different. He is just not THE leader we assumed him to be. Authentic and trustworthy still as a person, he emerges a fit case of poor leadership. He just doesn’t inspire, just doesn’t invoke confidence in the masses. We still believe he is a great man. But a leader? We doubt. Many don’t even doubt; they believe he isn’t.

When I heard Obama speak with passion yesterday, I found his words compelling. Not just plain oratory it was, it appeared authentic to me. It invoked enthusiasm. It inspired me. Something that one always misses when our own PM speaks.

What does he lack, then? Why don’t we feel compelled or inspired by him?

John Hamm, the celebrated author of the bestseller ‘Unusually Excellent’, speaks at length about leaders being compelling. Parts of this book are so befitting in the current case,

“People who are authentic and trustworthy are usually good and fair…. They might be candidates for a good friendship. But it is not obvious that we should follow them – anywhere.

 …We (followers) must feel compelled (to follow)… there is no such thing as an unwilling follower, only one who has not yet seen a compelling reason to join…

 Hamm continues, and speaks at length about the five E’s of excellent leadership:

  • Great leaders know how to engage
  • Great leaders enroll people
  • They energize the troops, to forge them into a cohesive unit, orient them towards the common goal, and marshal the resources to support them in their task
  • They empower; build leaders under them
  • They enthuse…making their mission exciting for their followers, compelling them to follow…

Does Dr. Singh possess above qualities? I wonder, as I don’t see them, howsoever hard I try to locate them in him. I don’t get answer to the crucial question – ‘what’s in it for me’, in his leadership.

And how would I see these qualities in him, even if he possesses all of them!! After all, I don’t just see him talking; I just don’t see his passion. Being nice & introvert is all fine; when would he start building confidence in his followers? When will he start to engage and enroll? When will he, like a strong leader, reprimand and rein his rather notorious ‘gangs of ministers’, who just don’t do him any good in the failing attempt of governance? Will I ever see him as bold and courageous?

Does he even know that he NEEDS these skills to be able to lead us? I doubt yet again.

Failing me on all above, PM is just another ordinary replica of a corporate world’s manager, who got promoted to a role of ‘leader’, without anyone caring whether he had it in him to be one or not.

One thing that I am confident of – I’m not the only one thinking aloud like this.

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Photo-credit one: economictimes.indiatimes.com

Photo-credit two: firstpost.com

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are author’s own and not of the organisation he is associated with.

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