Be An Authentic Leader, Not Offensive One
A few weeks ago I listened to a podcast by Adam Grant, noted organizational psychologist, that grabbed my attention.
He talked in this particular episode about the subject of authenticity. Not just about being your authentic self, but in his words discussing the perils of “when we get real at the wrong time or in the wrong way, it can backfire”.
It caused me to think back on numerous people in leadership who have excused away their behaviors because of this short sighted notion that they just have to be authentic.
Some examples to illustrate the fallacy of being authentic at all costs:
- The chef or regional director of a restaurant chain who flies off the handle and excuses their actions becuae they’re “passionate“
- The top employee who is unkempt and might even have offensive body odor, but says that cleaning up cramps their style
- The pastor’s wife who is abrasive and charges ahead with opinions and pre-conceived solutions without fully listening to her parishioners, but “that’s just who I am”
- The film or theater director who is demanding and exacting and informs the entire cast and crew that if they want to get ahead in show business, they need to bear them out
Granted, there is difference in conforming to suppress individual thought and permission to speak freely, to dress or behave a certain way, or to act a part or partake in organizational functions because that’s what’s expected. But to summarize what Grant says, when you repel more people than attract, there is a fundamental problem with your approach to be authentic.
That’s where leaders especially need to be self-aware of how they come across. There is always an equal and opposite reaction to every action, every behavior, every opportunity to express oneself. When authenticity backfires, you will only have yourself to blame for not considering other people into how you act. Every interaction you create can have a positive or negative ROI. What you ultimately get in return is directly in correlation to how you relate to others, in spite of how you relate to yourself.
There’s a fine balance between authenticity and respect, self-aware and self-promoting, approachable and being an affront to others. Stifling yourself is not in anyone’s best interest. However being authentic to the point of disrespect will inevitably stifle others if one is not careful to consider the impact of their own personality and/or behavior.
Leaders who choose to understand that there is no bubble to protect them from the perception that they create will be able to bridge that gap between being themselves and allowing others to embrace that.
People come in various colors and it’s the tapestry of these colors of personalities and talents that leads to a diversity of cohesiveness that brings harmony to any organization. We need people to bring their best, true self to whatever organization, team or community they find themselves in. However, being a team player and being a leader means knowing how you influence people, for good or for ill, in spite of youself.
Authenticity creates a self that everyone needs to see. But the other side of the authenticity coin, self-centeredness, goes contrary to why we need authenticism in the first place – to bring the best out of everyone with the talents and personality that only they can bring forth.