Leadership is mostly about being yourself and maintaining your personal authenticity rather than about learning some formula from a text book. Aspiring leaders need to be always true to themselves; not slavishly following other’s ideas. That is not to say that role models can not be powerful exemplars.
Authentic leaders are not only prepared to reveal their weaknesses, because they know they are not super-human, but to use them to their advantage. Obviously this doesn’t mean revealing technical weaknesses or functional failings as this would fatally flaw their performance. Instead, what is meant is that leaders can and perhaps should, reveal their personality quirks – maybe they are bad tempered in the morning, are somewhat shy with new people or even a little disorganized. Such admissions show they are human and this resonates with others confirming that the leader is a person – not merely a role-holder.
Revealing their true selves, leaders can allow others to know and help them and this makes for better teamwork; followers can also feel better if they’ve got something to complain about. Thus by sharing at least some of their weaknesses, leaders can prevent others from inventing damaging problems.
True leadership is therefore much more than a demonstration of strengths. Real leaders acknowledge their shortcomings and may even be able to make them work for them.
Good leaders always rely on their ability to read situations. They develop a ‘feel’ for an environment, and interpret soft data without having to be told. They know when team morale is patchy or when complacency needs shaking up. There are three levels of situational sensitivity, each of which has its own specific skills.
Effective leaders are continually learning about the motives, attributes and skills of their important subordinates. They get to know their people through formal and, often better, informal contact such as when travelling together.
Effective leaders read their teams. They analyze the compound balance between team members, the tension between the tasks and processes, and how the team builds its competencies.
Finally, they are concerned with defining the cultural characteristics of their organizations and keep their finger on the pulse of the organisation’s climate.
It sounds tongue-in-cheek to say that leaders care for their people. Ever noticed the cynicism in the workforce upon seeing a manager return from a people-skills training course with new concern for others. Effective leaders don’t need a training programme to convince their employees that they really care. They clearly empathize with their people care intensely about their work.
Genuine concern is difficult because it always involves some personal risk – showing some part of yourself and your most strongly held values can seem quite scary. It may also take some detachment – the ability to stand back, see the whole picture and sometimes take tough decisions. Authentic Leadership never was a popularity contest.
Effective leaders use their differences and move on to distinguish themselves through personal qualities such as sincerity, loyalty, creativity, or sheer expertise.
Using these differences is a critical leadership skill. But, as always, there is a danger – too much distance makes it impossible to sense situations properly or to communicate effectively.