Leadership in the workplace starts with personal authenticity — bringing your whole self to the game, not just the facets which the work culture rewards
It’s tempting to show only the shiny, polished facets of ourselves — especially when those are the parts that made our fortune and success. It requires courage to embrace all of our resources and all of our facets.
Often, our greatest talents spring from the wounds and the less known and accepted sides of ourselves.
It is my personal experience that true growth derives from restlessness, creativity and the resolve to face — and embrace — all the parts of ourself, even the one we’d rather not share.
In The Whisper, my collection of poetry, I wrote: “It was like asking a rainbow to pick one color and be just blue.” Writing The Whisper represented my personal journey of learning how to lead. It describes an ongoing process of self-leadership before the leadership of others.
I was in the middle of a shining, fast-tracked talent program. I did not want to step off the fast track, so I could not slow down. I felt trapped by others’ expectations and by my desire to prove my own worth. Those fast track programs often don’t actually speed up growth as leaders in an organization; instead, they push them out the door or slow them down. This is an apparent paradox that, in my experience, raises from feeling both overwhelmed and underutilized.
In an age when companies continuously look for ways to attract and retain talents, it is hard to acknowledge this paradox. Aspiring leaders, like many other already affirmed leaders, work hard to live up to others’ expectations. Therein lies the challenge that buries the same qualities that made us shine. Today, companies constantly look for rapid changes to remain competitive and at the same time, they seek safety and predictability. Leaders feel pressured both to be revolutionaries and to win others’ approval. The inherent tension between those pursuits wears people down.
Rather than empowering people, some talent management programs end up increasing a sense of insecurity and a push to conform.
The term ’future leader’ then becomes a synonym for ‘exceptional follower’.
Why? The so-called future leaders become the followers of what they believe others want in an attempt to gain the status of leader now, not in the future.
People feel trapped by the organization’s expectations and start to carve out parts of themselves, trying to conform. Ignoring those expectations isn’t the solution either; at best, you will be seen as a rebel. This generates, without any surprise, a feeling of being inauthentic.
Is this a trap with no chance to escape? No! I think there is a possibility for resolution by having the courage to embrace all the aspects of ourselves. I had to do it for myself by defining the traits of my own unique form of leadership.
On the other side, organizations must create a space where people can show their whole self and not only their shiny self. A first step organizations can take in this direction is to stop referring to their talents as future leaders. In the end, one can only lead in the now, not in the future nor in the past.
Above all, leading will always require courage. We must find the courage to redefine the role of business in society. Likewise, businesses must take a lead in the development and progress that advances all of humankind.
I want conclude with a question, which I invite you to reflect upon, and I would love to hear your answer:
How can organizations and the people who run these organizations find the courage to revolutionize and create environments for everyone to show their whole complete self?
You may also enjoy reading 4 Leadership Lessons from the (Surf) Board, by Eric Kaufmann