To Thine Own Self Be True
The words from Shakespeare’s Hamlet ring true in many circumstances but none more so than for the authentic leader. Have you asked yourself who you are deep inside and what drives you? How you feel internally, and how you present yourself externally needs to match up for you to be authentic in every situation.
No matter how you think about this topic, one thing is clear:
Before you lead others authentically, you need to understand the real you.
Stephen Joseph, Ph.D. a professor of psychology, health and social care at the University of Nottingham, UK asks the following questions:
- How much of the time do you feel that you can be the real you?
- Are you easily influenced by other people?
- Do you always stand up for what you believe in?
- What are the barriers to being yourself?
- How well do you know yourself?
I am not a psychologist, but I work with several such highly skilled individuals, and I have learned to appreciate understanding what makes a person tick. There are multiple ways you can act publicly: a) as someone that you think you need to be, or b) as someone that others want you to be? These kinds of questions typically manifest themselves in the following situations:
Becoming a leader for the first time
Your first leadership position is critical to setting the foundation for your future growth. One of your first goals should be to fit into the organization’s culture in a positive manner. You will also want to make your mark and establish your authority. Additionally, let people get to know the real you, and what they should expect from your leadership style. I had to tell my first boss that I needed to lead with my own style NOT on how he would do things. It wasn’t an easy conversation, but it worked out well in the long run.
Interviewing for an Executive position
When you reach the C-Suite level the expectations are increased exponentially. You still need to be aware of the culture, but the future direction of the organization will dictate how you need to lead. Boards will have specific criteria that they are looking for in a C-level executive, and the savvy ones will spot a “phony” quickly. Being authentic means answering interview questions in a manner that you truly believe in, and not in a way that others want to hear. Be specific and be able to back up your answers with facts and logic. A very self-aware person might say that “if you’re looking for someone to do “X”, I’m not that person, but if you’re looking for someone to do “Y”, that is where I excel”.
Struggling in your current position
This is an area where self-awareness is likely not present. The leader does not understand how their behavior negatively affects others. When asked to work with such individuals, I always ask two questions:
- Have you told this person what they are doing that needs correction with specific examples?
- Have you explained that there are consequences if they do not change including dismissal?
In most cases, both answers are no. If those two questions are not adequately addressed, there is little hope in correcting a bad situation.
There are psychological assessments that are grounded in solid scientific research that can be beneficial in helping you understand the “real you.”
Here are a few results that such assessment can reveal:
- Understanding your true motives, values, and interests
- Understanding qualities that promote success in work, in relationships, in education, in training, and in life
- Understanding your interpersonal behavior that tends to appear when you are stressed, tired or distracted.
A professional trained in interpreting these results can give you insights into how you show up in a leadership role, and where you might have blind spots about yourself.
Having this knowledge will help improve your self-awareness and identify areas that you as a leader need to focus on for improvement. Numerous executives have had “eye opening” experiences after seeing the assessment results because no one has told them those specifics.
So, look “inside yourself” to find out how you can be better prepared as a leader. To quote the late Steve Jobs “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”