Authentic Leadership (Part 2)

by Jeff Johnson

We have all heard the phrase, “Do what I say, not what I do” at some point. As a leader you may have even found yourself tempted to usethat phrase from time to time. As we say in our last blog in this series, words are important. They become even more powerful when they are supported by actions.

An authentic leader is one who displays the same behaviors that they expect from their followers. One reason that leaders struggle with this is that they focus most of their time looking at what people do. The problem that quickly emerges is that what I do on a daily basis may not be anything like what my direct reports do. The larger our organization gets, the more likely that is true. As we grow we specialize, and all of us begin doing very different things. We can quickly lose sight of the more important factors in our daily behavior; how we do what we do and why we do what we do.

How we do our job speaks to our business philosophy. Think about the underlying assumptions you make when you see a nice long to-do list. Does your mind quickly go to the people you need to connect with to get things done? Do you think about technologies you need to access or develop to create efficiencies? Spend time thinking about how you go about accomplishing your daily tasks, not just what those tasks are. These are the behaviors that leaders need to expect of their direct reports. They can cross between many different specialties, and communicate across different levels of the organization.

Why we do our job speaks to our personal values and passions. It becomes increasingly important to communicate the “why” the longer your organization exists. If you think back to your early days in your current position, you likely asked quite a few “why?” questions. Why are they are biggest client? Why do we process things in this way? Why did we choose this feature over that feature? All of these questions helped you learn what is really important to your organization. Over time those questions dissipate and conversations revolve simply around what we do, not why we do it. People who join the organization in a mid-low level position 4-5 years into a growth cycle never get the benefit of walking through all of the values and passion that started that very growth cycle.

I encourage you to spend time this week talking to your direct reports about their actions; but first spend time remembering how you really go about your daily tasks and why you do what you do. Begin your conversation with those insights, and see how it opens up conversation beyond the details of day to day tasks.

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