One day, decades ago, I endured an intimidated boss who realized I knew things about his leadership style that were, let’s say… unsavory. He thought it was OK to pace close behind me as I ran meetings. This “leadership” style led lots of people to ask questions, ultimately bringing his behavior out in the open. He was trying to shut down each voice of dissatisfaction but it led him to become more vulnerable than ever.
Then, many years later in a new job, I sat across from a boss who shared how he handled negotiations. I was negotiating and consolidating global contracts and he outlined his experience. He gave me the questions he needed answered: What key pieces must be in place to move forward?; What might I budge on?; and What would best-case-scenario look like? He told me never to worry about asking for what might seem ridiculous to the opposing party. He described an example of how that approach played out for him. At the time, I wasn’t getting to my best-case scenario and he was helping me excel with confidence – which I did, saving the company about a million dollars in the process. This leadership approach gave me the food for thought I needed to find my way to the best case. Knowing my boss had my back and supported my reach for excellence was the cherry on top!
On another occasion, I had the opportunity to give guidance to an executive who wasn’t quite winning the minds and hearts of his employees. After many interviews with them, I was able to outline some key problems and discuss an approach that would open dialogue around problem solving. He completely accepted the feedback, and grasped the ideas fully. We created an outline for moving forward and eagerly set up a meeting with the employees to begin the process. As with any major change, moving forward makes things messier at first. We anticipated it but momentum was on our side.
When push came to shove, he couldn’t take the leap. He stood in front of his employees and completely reverted to the old playbook of dominance. For them, this style demonstrated the same crap they disliked. It drew a collective groan instead a collective direction.
When you need people to follow you AND SUCCEED, it’s important that they respect and trust you. More and more, the term “Authentic Leadership” is becoming a tag line for companies that want to demonstrate, truthfully or not, that their leaders are doing things differently, better, than other companies’ leaders.
There’s no denying sound, authentic leadership has the strongest unique relationship with sales growth and employee engagement. I’ve seen it time and time again. The opening statement on my website is, “Businesses must realize that their bottom line will NEVER be as strong as it can be until they value each employees highest potential.”
Excellent leadership is, in fact, the top differentiator between the average company and the best employer organizations. (Oehler, K. 2013.) And the best employers drive twice as much incremental operating profit than companies with only high engagement. (2014 Trends in Global Employee Engagement)
But as we know, just because we say it’s happening, doesn’t mean it’s actually happening. Finding authenticity in your organization (and in life) is a beautiful thing! You’ll know it when you see it because you’ll FEEL it. You’ll experience a window of openness, connection and clarity. Eye contact will made, a smile will be exchanged, genuine encouragement will be present.
Maybe it’s because organizations wish so badly that their leaders would “get real” that they think defining them as authentic will make it so.
Like that boss who chose to hide and stamp out his detractors one at time, it’ll never work. Or the guy who chose to stay on his rocky course of disengagement, it didn’t work.
The best leaders use both the facts they have, and their gut – their intuition – to change their course. They use both. That works.
They’ll benefit from both sides of the equation: revenue increases and savings on disengaged employees and turnover.
I’m a big believer of ‘Walking the Talk’ but I also know you can’t walk it until you learn what the heck it is you’re walking (or talking) about. We all know the 80/20 Rule. If 80% of your outcomes come from 20% of your input, then there are certain things you can do to create outstanding outcomes!
I’d challenge leaders of organizations to a 90/10 Rule because there is very little they need to do to consistently bring a windfall of results. But here’s the kicker, and this is the hardest of all – leaders must work to understand themselves first – their strengths, their intuition, their values, their execution style, and their communication style. They need to understand their personal operating system so they can lead their strategic vision in top form, and manage their companies through change.
Authenticity is the inevitable upshot. There’s no getting around it. Employees will be able to feel and validate it on a regular basis. Know thyself – it’s the greatest asset you have.