Don’t Mistake Spontaneity For Authenticity

This week, in my friend and colleague, Corey Olynik’s weekly column (go to www.coreyolynik.com to subscribe; I highly recommend it), he poses some great questions about authenticity and authentic leadership. To quote Corey, We hear so much about being an “authentic” leader. I believe that fully. You must lead from who you are; at the same time, authenticity does not give you permission to be a jerk. The most productive leader leads from her strengths and dials back those tendencies she has to react poorly… When might you mistake spontaneity for authenticity? When might your words or actions work against you or your organization? How do you protect your “inner jerk” from surfacing as you interact with your people?”

Authenticity is not the same as spontaneity. Being an authentic leader goes far deeper than living emotionally and compulsively with no constraints. There are at least six fundamental requirements to be authentic:

  • Self-awareness. When the seventy-five members of Stanford Graduate School of Business’s Advisory Council were asked to recommend the most important capability for leaders to develop, their answer was almost unanimous: self-awareness. To be authentic you have to be self-aware. You have to be aware of how your choices and behavior impact yourself and those around you.
  • Disciplined Action. With self-awareness, authentic people understand that there is a space between an impulse to act and their actual behavior. Within that space is found disciplined choice – to act in a way that will lead to the betterment of all constituents.
  • Care. Not only do you have to be self-aware, you have to care. Caring is everything, I write in my book (by the same title http://www.davidirvine.ca/shop/) To be authentic, you have to care about how your choices and behaviors impact those you serve. A service mindset is vital to authentic leadership. You have to be committed to add value to others. Authentic leaders are builders. They are continually looking for ways to encourage others. Do those around you feel supported, encouraged, and served by you?
  • A commitment to inner work. You have to be willing to invest in your own development to know yourself and your blind spots. Authentic people invest heavily in their own development, whether it is through study, personal therapy or coaching, being mentored, self-reflection, or a combination of these. They see all blame as a waste of time, and make it a habit to look at their side of the street when relationship problems arise. They see all opportunities to learn amidst the challenges of life. By looking within, you discover a sense of purpose along with your unique gifts, passions, and values. Finding your voice and helping others to find their voice is what authentic leaders are committed to. If you don’t go within, you’ll go without.
  • Honesty and respect. Being authentic means being honest. But honesty without respect – for yourself and others – is brutality, not authenticity. Authentic people are continually wrestling with the challenge of being both honest and Not only is being a jerk disrespectful, being a jerk is dishonest because it’s not taking responsibility for what’s going on inside of you.
  • Character. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “a [person] cannot do right in one department of life whilst he is occupied in doing wrong in any other department. Life is one indivisible whole.” Behavior in any relationship impacts every relationship. Authentic people set a high standard of behavior for themselves in all areas of their lives and that includes having a personal code of moral conduct. I wholeheartedly concur with Corey. Living congruently and with integrity in all aspects of one’s life excludes being a jerk or a bully to anyone at anytime.

HAVE VALUES LOST THEIR VALUE? When Can Respectful Be Disrespectful?

If you have walked through the hallways of many corporate offices these days, chances are you have seen a nice set of value statements or guiding principles proudly hanging on the wall. The problem with these fancy value statements is that what is so often misunderstood is that there is a difference between a value and a value statement.

For example, you may have had the experience of staying in a hotel where somewhere in the lobby there is a statement that in effect says, “our number one value is our customers.” And then when speaking to the front clerk you wonder if she even read this statement recently.

It’s relatively easy to develop a value statement. I’ve been hired to help write many of them. To develop such statements, most leadership teams go to a retreat center where they can get some inspiration. They then bring them back, and, like Moses, roll out their inspiring “ten commandments,” putting them on the walls, website, and computer screens.

But what’s important is not how inspiring your values sound, but how soundly your values inspire others. In other words, how are you holding yourself and each other accountable for turning these “statements” into real values? How are you making the values real? How are you getting those decorative statements off the wall and into the hearts of every employee? How are you making sure that no hire makes the cut unless they prove that they live the values? How do you ensure that no one gets promoted unless they clearly demonstrate the values in their leadership? If there are no consequences for not living the values or recognition or incentives for living the values, then you don’t have values; you only have statements.

Let’s use Respect as an example…

If you have seen a set of these value statements, you will in all likelihood have seen the word “respect” somewhere on the list.

I measure respect in two ways. You are welcome to borrow or steal my way of determining whether a leader is respectful. After all, I likely stole them from a leader I respect. Alternatively, you can come up with your own measurement. What’s important is that everyone in your organization understands precisely what respect means in their specific world and everyone is expected to live that way.

First, I expect myself to act in a way that you will feel safe in my presence – both psychologically and physically. You can define safe in any way you want, but I am accountable in all my relationships to create a place where people feel safe to be honest, to make mistakes, and to be who they are. If you don’t feel safe in my presence – for any reason – then I am not acting with respect.

Second, I expect myself to act in a way that when you are around me, you feel better about yourself. If you feel worse about yourself in my presence for any reason, then I am not being respectful. And anyone, at any time, can come and address their lack of concern without repercussions.

While I claim to have a sincere desire to act respectfully at all times, I also know that I’m human and am not going to be perceived as being respectful all the time. And I expect to be challenged by the people in my life when I’m not respectful.

It’s disrespectful to claim to be respectful and then not respect people for talking about a perceived lack of respect. There is always a gap between what an organization claims to be and how people actually behave. The key isn’t about perfection or even trying to be perfect. Instead, it’s about an open conversation when there is a perceived gap.

Until you can clearly measure your values with defined behaviors, until you can have respectful conversations about a perceived misalignment of values, until you can hold yourself and others to account for their choices, and actually have some defined consequences for not living the values, you haven’t got values. You only have statements.

What is your process for holding yourself and others accountable for living your espoused values? Drop me a note: http://www.davidirvine.ca/contact/ I can help you with that.