Authenticity is a powerful force… that most leaders fake. The concept is one we strive for, ask employees for, and talk about trying to implement, but most of these efforts result in people only acting as if they’re being authentic. With the Facebook emails from Sheryl Sandberg, a daring book from Brene Brown, and a few stories of my own, I think it’s time we address the authenticity issue head on and without shame or games. The question is are you leading in a way that is truly authentic or are you giving employees a tough act to follow by faking it ‘til you make it? Here’s how you can tell:
Brene Brown has written a truly daring and aptly named book: Daring Greatly Book by Brene Brown. Infamous from her TED Talk on shame and guilt and known to be a brazen Texan, this woman is my kind of chick, but her book also makes me mad. No, really. Every time I read a chapter, within me stirs an irritation that I’ve discovered is born of guilt. I’ll read and find out “Snap, I do that” and then feel guilty. Her premise is that in order to be truly authentic we have to be vulnerable and being vulnerable means we have to overcome the rampant shame and guilt in our culture and in many of the ways in which we were raised. It’s easier to cover shame with irritation than admit that we might have some shame. NO one talks about shame, except Brene Brown, but leaders need to….now. If you are a leader and you fail to be vulnerable, it’s because you’re ashamed about what others might think if you do. Ask for help? No, we couldn’t do that. They might think we don’t know. Delegate? No, we couldn’t do that. Others might not get it done right and then we’d look bad. It’s about shame and taking a risk and feeling guts. Authenticity is about courage to trust your own gut. If you are instead feeling guilt, then it’s due to covering up your own authenticity. That makes you a hard to read leader and a real tough act to follow.
When I was a manager in corporate America and a leader of a team of 22 amazing trainers, we got word one day that lay-offs were inevitable. The corporate line we were given to share with our teams was that “due to cost cutting measures and… blah, blah, blah”. It was a script and had nothing to do with the real reason, much less the real people we were about to let go. Lay offs and legal departments work together so there is a caution in what I’m about to say. Sometimes as leaders we cannot divulge our opinion, nor our real feelings nor confidential information shared based on a level of access to information. Do not cross that line in an effort to be authentic. What I did with the news was a bit different. I reiterated the corporate guidelines and… what I ALSO said to the ENTIRE team was that regardless of the reason, this layoff was going to be tough for all of us and that we were going to make the decision of which two team members needed to be cut from our team…together. We’d been through 9 mergers and had bonded so we had the rapport and relationship where this was possible. A full weekend, twelve different phone calls, and untold pages later (texting didn’t exist) we, as a team, made a decision…with no script, a lot of strength and no damage control needed when the decision was implemented. Authenticity requires the strength for a leader to be vulnerable and to lead the team to be vulnerable in order to communicate openly and make the best decisions. If you are using a script, it means you’re not giving yourself permission to speak form the heart.
There are kudos shared for strength in most cultures, but in America it’s about “never let ’em see you sweat”. This causes honor to be felt when we say “Fine” in response to “How are you?” When what we’d like to say is “my world is crumbling down around me”. In late Spring of 2015, Sheryl Sandberg, of Facebook and Lean In book fame, tragically lost her husband, unexpectedly. Her world crumbled down around her. And she shared. Now you might be thinking “She’s a senior executive at Facebook. OF COURSE, she shared”, and I have to say, I’ve not always agreed with every Lean In principle, but on sharing her struggle, I have to give it to Sheryl. She could have “sucked it up”, “stayed strong”, and fallen apart only in private, but she didn’t. She’s been vulnerable on a number of Facebook posts. She’s been an authentic grieving widow and mom and executive. She’s been human and the response is telling. How human are you when you lead? Do you go through a divorce and never tell anyone, but leave them to wonder what you’re hiding? Do you lose a loved one and say that you’re okay? No suggestion is being made to buy stock in Kleenex and introduce your therapist to the team. I’m simply saying be real. We’re all human in this journey called life and whether you lead a team of 2000 or 2, they want to know you’re human, too. Share a little and you’ll earn a lot.
In recent reading, which I do a good bit of, here are some additional examples of the power of authenticity:
A failing company figured out how to recover by telling the employees they needed their help and why.
A struggling entertainment company faced a tragedy and brushing it off hurt attendance. Asking for help made it soar.
Brene Brown was afraid her work on shame and guilt and authenticity wouldn’t sell. Google her.
As a final thought on leadership authenticity. 837 THOUSAND people liked Sheryl’s vulnerability shared on Facebook. Does that tell you how much people are craving for you to be real, human, and real authentic….but perhaps embarrassed, ashamed, or flat out afraid to tell you? Maybe it’s time to set down the script and avoid being a tough act to follow and simply embrace those who follow you by letting them see the real amazing you.
I’m Monica Wofford and that’s your Monday Moment. Have a great week, an even better Monday, and of course, stay Contagious !