Gene was upset with his new team’s quarterly business results, and his withering criticism of their performance during the staff meeting had brought a stunned hush to the room. Not one of the ten people sitting around the table had been exempt from having their deficiencies cruelly described and even mocked during the meeting. As he strode from the room, Gene mentally congratulated himself for telling it like it was. He prided himself on being authentic.
Have you ever worked for a boss like Gene? One who confused realness with rudeness?
The word authenticity has its roots in the Greek philosophy of to thine own self be true, and is one of the hallmarks of good leadership. Gene’s behaviors went awry, however, because he failed to consider that truly authentic leaders are “aware of the context in which they operate” (Avolio, Luthans and Walumbwa, 2004) because “authenticity is a quality that others must attribute to you” (Goffee and Jones, 2005).
Authenticity, like leadership, is relational. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It begins with you, requiring self-awareness, self-regulation and self-discipline. Under the guise of being genuine, one shouldn’t blurt out those first unfiltered thoughts. Transparency can come with tact.
3 rules of the road for leaders to be authentically real without being rude
Be candid without being insensitive. Providing forthright feedback is critical for career development, yet one doesn’t have to shred another’s self-confidence in doing so. While you may think what someone did was stupid and laughable, using those words only makes others defensive. When they become defensive, they close off, thinking you’re a jerk rather than focusing on what they need to change. Authentic leaders speak their truth yet deliver constructive, concise and compassionate feedback that leaves self-respect intact.
Have a strong opinion without being judgmental and unyielding. Nowhere is it written that others must perpetually agree with your point of view. Others seeing things differently than you do doesn’t make them wrong. Before you categorize someone as being difficult, determine if they might not be thinking the same about you. Authentic character-based leaders accept differing positions with positive unconditional regard, practicing Ben Zander’s Art of Possibility Rule #6: don’t take yourself so seriously. They don’t use authenticity as a mask for rigidity.
Be true to your nature while keeping possibilities open. We all have a default setting where we feel most comfortable. Yet using that “take me as I am” mindset limits creativity, innovation and communication; plus it breeds arrogance, fosters stereotypes and perpetuates biases. Many options were open to Gene for sharing his performance concerns with his team without publicly belittling them. Tactfully voicing his disappointment, expressing his desire for better results, and inviting input would have yielded a more productive outcome. Authentic character-based leaders look for new solutions that still align with their values.
Layering in thoughtfulness when dealing with others doesn’t make one inauthentic. Rather, it shows strength of character and demonstrates real self-control in leading yourself so you can lead others.
What say you?