3 leadership rules for being authentically real without being rude
June 11, 2012
Executive Director, The Jane Group
TopicsAuthentic leadership, authenticity
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?
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Jane, great post and wonderful reminders. We often forget that humility is a great lubricant when it comes to removing friction between people. Beginning with the possibility that I might be wrong, is one way I try to avoid being rude. And another is that I try to stick with facts. Any fact about my own interpretation of an action or a result is simply an opinion. I can talk about how something made me feel, but once again, then I must realize my feelings aren’t the only ones in the conversation.
Mike – thanks much for your kind words and spot-on comments about the value of humility and self-awareness. Too bad more leaders don’t follow your example of focusing first on the other!
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Good stuff, Jane! True leaders recognize that they must earn and retain the trust of their teams, and degrading people does nothing to further those aims.
Dave – you are so right: trust is the glue that holds it all together. Thanks much for your kind words!
Great post. I believe that basic human values should always come first.
Have you read “The Four-fold way” by Angles Arrien ?
Renato – so appreciate your kind words. Yep, I’ve read “The Four-fold Way” along with nearly everything else Angeles has written! Perhaps of where I am in my life journey, my fav is “The Second Half of Life.” Thanks for sharing!
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Jane, Well written. Thanks for a great reminder. It is very easy to convince ourselves that poor behavior is a virtue. I also appreciated the suggestions about how to deal with it on a personal level. The next step is what an employee or a colleague does when they see this happening. Another topic for another day.
Lyn – love your great suggestion for a follow-on article! Bad workplace behavior gets overlooked way too much in the name of results, authenticity and a whole host of other reasons. Thank you for sharing!
Insightful I must Say. Thank you. Humility, tackle the event not their personalities. I’ll walk with this.
Thanks kindly for your comments and feedback…humility is a powerful tool!
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Great reminders Jane. Leadership can be displayed without being rude. I appreciate you and your insights. Keep up the good work.
Dave – thanks much for your kind words!
It sounds like it is possible to confuse arrogance with authenticity. I also think it is easy to do then must of us think. Along with being flat out rude, it can be done with a look or other body language. We may even say the right things, but with a condescending tone. Thanks for an informative and very readable article.
Alex – great reminder that rudeness can be conveyed in multiple ways besides the spoken word. Who hasn’t experienced someone “saying” the right thing yet communicating a totally different message by tone of voice and demeanor…reminds me of a boss I used to have! Thanks for sharing!
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