Authentic Leadership (Part 1)

by Jeff Johnson

The authors of “Crucial Conversations” conducted a social experiment with one of the author’s sons and some of his friends. The son paid his friends a dollar to participate in a taste test. The test was between two brownies. The first was made from his favorite grandmother’s home recipe; his recently deceased grandmother. The other brownie was a regular box recipe.

What the children did not know was that there was no grandmother, and the recipe he was using had substituted salt for sugar. In other words, there was no way that these brownies were going to taste better than standard brownies. Yet, with video evidence to prove it, when asked which brownie was their favorite, each child chose grandma’s recipe. It was as if they believed that they could not both tell the truth and maintain their friendship.

This tendency does not end when we grow older. Our organizations are filled with leaders who avoid difficult conversations because of the impact they assume it will have upon their working relationship. Many times they find it easier to just terminate the relationship rather than have a conversation that could bring solutions and create change.

A friend of mine was once bold enough to allow his organization to put part of his annual review online as part of a blog series. I remember watching it and then calling him to ask if he still had a job. It was that rough; at least from my perspective. From his perspective he had experienced a healthy and helpful time of encouragement and exhortation. His example showed that there is a way to say difficult things in an encouraging way. “Crucial Conversations” writes of the need for mutual purpose and mutual respect. When those two things are maintained you can have highly emotional, highly important conversations in such a way that you both speak authentically and maintain relationship.

Is there a conversation you have been avoiding due to the high potential for relational fallout? How can you bring the conversation around to mutual purpose while showing respect for the other party? Authentic leaders learn how to speak the truth in a respectful way, and their organizations are better for it.

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