I knew very early in my career that I wanted to be a senior person in any organization I was part of. This desire drove me to seek out smaller organizations where I could rise faster. In addition, it forced me to think consciously about how to lead.
Leadership was an abstract concept for me for a long time. We read about leaders in the news and the press. We see them in the media. There's a profile that emerges where these leaders can take on super human attributes.
Over the years, I've amassed a collection of leadership books. Despite all this investment in learning about what it means to be a leader I have to say that looking back, I have led best when I have not tried to 'be' something else and instead have just been my authentic self.
It's often said that people join companies and leave their bosses. I have seen this pattern play out time and time again. The employees that you want can see BS coming a mile away. And they don't want any part of it.
There are a few trends in today's job market that I think call for authentic, transparent leadership:
- The job market is tight, especially in the technology sector where I am. The best people can choose where they work. They are more mobile and more sought after than ever.
- The tech sector is populated by young, smart people looking for more than a job. They are looking to learn and be inspired. They are looking for meaning and purpose.
- This younger generation wants and needs regular feedback to help them develop and grow.
The only way to keep and motivate these people is to truly connect with them. And I would argue that this is not possible unless you are being yourself.
I have seen many companies where the C level leaders meet to strategize about how to "message" things to the "troops". They spin up stories and angles that I think any intelligent person would see through quickly.
I have never done this. My staff, my peers, my boss, my friends and family all get the same me. The good, the bad and the ugly. I never spend cycles thinking about how to spin something. As a result my team members never spend cycles worrying about what is really going on. If they have a question they get a straight answer.
Being yourself goes beyond just being open and trustworthy to cover all aspects of HOW you lead. The leaders of some of today's most valuable technology companies didn't go to business school and couldn't care less for the tried and true management practices of the past. If Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook) can preside over a company worth $ 220B wearing hoodies and being himself, you can lead in whichever way is true to you and your values.
I believe that an open and authentic leadership style helps companies move faster by eliminating the friction that comes from mistrust. And in today's fast moving markets moving fast might just be the thing that helps you win.