Some leaders spend their entire careers trying and failing to master a version of leadership that is predetermined by someone else. Then they retire. You are not going to do that. The only thing you need to master is being you.
People are naturally attracted to authenticity and starting with you will take you back to your true, authentic you. By spending your time and energy mastering being you, you can stand up to the pressure from your boss and the organisation. You can lead a team that wants to be led by you and move away from negative problems to positive solutions.
When things go wrong, you’re able to own your mistakes and ask, “How do we make it better?” and “What will we learn from this?” You can stop being a busy fool and just be you. There’s no need to have a ‘work version of you’, just your best version of you. Whoever and wherever you are.
The easy route for leaders is to imitate what they see around them and try to shape themselves to the mould. This is the habit that we adopt from a very early age and is part of our earliest experiences of the world, so we expect leadership to be the same.
Be consistently you
Consider the baby who learns to walk by copying their parents and siblings, the first words we speak come from others telling us how to say them. Then we go to school and our teachers tell us to learn by copying how and what they write or show us in a textbook.
These formative experiences create a perception in our minds that ‘being different’ is a threat and should be avoided. We should fit the mould that others and our environment create for us.
We have it built into us to learn how to behave by copying others and reacting to our environment. We’re even encouraged to do that by the organisation we work for (“here’s our values and behaviour framework – follow them”).
You will never be truly happy and successful as a leader while trying to copy everyone else.
I’ve lost count of how many times leaders have said things like, “I behave differently at work than I do at home”… Why?! Being a d***head at work isn’t OK just because you think you’re not being a d***head at home – you at work should be the same as you at home.
That’s why starting with you is so important; it’s how you break the mould. You can’t take accountability for doing what everyone else is doing. You will never be truly happy and successful as a leader while trying to copy everyone else.
Breaking the mould starts with you and empowers you to create your own perspective on how you should behave and build your relationships. Leaders who break the mould:
- Are their authentic selves
- Have the conversations that matter
- Build positive relationships
- Love their jobs
- Find purpose in their work
- See things from others’ points of view
- Respond well to stress and positively handle feeling overwhelmed
- Are happy
I want you to no longer start your days with a to-do list or a calendar full of meetings and calls that fill you with dread and stress. I want you to start your days with you and ask yourself, ‘What will I make happen today?’ and, ‘What impact will I have on others today?’
People who try to master leadership end up blaming others for their mistakes or become self-critical and allow results to ruin relationships. When you master being you, you have intrinsic motivation to keep rising to the challenge and to remain positive without feeling like you’re going to get found out as a leader. When you get found out being you, then all people find is a decent human being.
The only thing you need to take to work is you
Imagine if you could work in a place where what everyone takes accountability for is living up to what they stand for. Not jostling for authority or getting caught up in corporate bulls***. Just human beings as leaders who want to be their true, authentic selves.
We often leave our authenticity at home because we perceive work, and our leadership, to be a place where our positivity gets left behind. Someone genuinely once said to me that “you can’t be positive and professional”. Seriously, what are they thinking?!
“Your boss and the environment you work in won’t change just because you want them to – you have to change you.”
Someone is more likely to ask you why you smile at work or be curious about why you’re happy than they are to ask you why you never smile and are always miserable. People have asked me “Why are you so positive?” and “Where do you get your enthusiasm from?” … Honestly? … Miserable and ignorant are already taken so I might as well be happy and engaging!
I don’t want to be miserable and ignorant! And I don’t want you to be either. I’ve been there and it’s s***, for me and everyone around me. It’s actually much more exhausting not being authentic!
Trying to be something you’re not leads to feeling overwhelmed and feeling lost. Your boss and the environment you work in won’t change just because you want them to – you have to change you.
No-one likes a leader who is erratic, or who loses their s*** when the pressure is on, or when people make mistakes. The true, authentic you doesn’t behave like that and chooses a response that stops people turning against you as a leader and gives you the trust and rapport that you want with your team. By starting with you, you create a world where you and your team wake up in the morning and want to go to work.
Leaders who break the mould see emotional humans, not staff
You are an emotional creature – there, I’ve said it. You – whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you do – you are an emotional creature. Everything you do comes from an emotional reaction that triggers your thoughts and feelings. It happens naturally – instinctively.
You are surrounded by other emotional creatures too. Not Tim, Leila, Lynn, Matthew, Dave, Phoebe, Colin, Lucie and Margaret. Not even your mother, father, sister, brother, best friend.
In work, you’re not surrounded by colleagues, team members, bosses, execs, staff, employees, customers, clients, suppliers and stakeholders, but you are instead surrounded by many, many other emotional creatures.
“The success of your leadership comes from your ability to choose a positive response to the emotional reactions that arise in the situations you are presented with.”
That’s what you are leading – a group of emotional creatures. Stop seeing the people you work with as names and job titles. They are human beings with their own hang-ups and their own hopes and dreams.
In your next meeting or video call, look around the room or the screen and see the human, emotional creatures that they really are and engage with them as your true, authentic self. The one thing that you have in common with everyone you work with is your emotions.
The success of your leadership comes from your ability to choose a positive response to the emotional reactions that arise in the situations you are presented with. And those emotional reactions are triggered by what you and other emotional creatures hear, see, feel and do.
You can be as smart, cool or as good looking as you want, but if you can’t deal with people, then you’re knackered. Leadership is about getting the basics right, and the first basic is to win hearts and minds.
Even some of the worst experiences of leadership are determined by the emotional experience. People don’t get p*ssed off because you make them redundant, they get p*ssed off because of how you treat them while making them redundant.
Organisations spend time and money on creating initiatives to engage people. We’ve all seen them: free fruit, ping-pong tables, mindfulness and yoga sessions and the occasional ‘give-away’ of free stuff.
Then they moan about people leaving their organisation and their managers spend more time and money on recruiting to replace people who have left them than they do developing and leading their people.
All the free fruit in the world won’t make you feel better if your manager is a pr*ck.