The Most Powerful Note on Authenticity I've Ever Received

I was blown away by an email I received from a woman who recently read Winning Well.  I was touched on so many levels…by her brave journey toward authenticity in the workplace, by her clear sense of confident humility, by her gratitude for accepting leaders and an inclusive workplace, and quite frankly by the fact that there are Winning Well CEOs out there looking for other Winning Well leaders who have the ability to value competence and confidence over all the other crap that gets in the way of awesome results and incredible professional relationships.

I am so grateful that she took the time to write…and for her willingness for me to share her story with you. As you read, I invite you to reflect:

  • What would it mean for you to show up authentically with your team?
  • Am I creating a team environment where people can show up with their authentic best self?

Here’s an excerpt (shared with her permission):

“I just finished reading Winning Well (it’d been on my Amazon pre-orders list for more than a month, and I devoured it as soon as it arrived) and wanted to reach out to thank you and David for a fantastic book. Your book made explicit a lot of things I’ve been doing intuitively, and highlighted some places I can step up and do even better. I’m super excited to put those things into practice and to continue to grow my leadership skills as a result.

I also wanted to share with you my story about the power of authenticity and vulnerability, because I truly believe it is the key to everything I have achieved in my career in the last few years.

A bit about me: I am presently managing a technical team of what are essentially technically oriented project managers (and she shares her very powerful work history and accomplishments)

I am also a transgender woman, who transitioned while living in Silicon Valley 17 years ago, during the peak of the dot-com boom.

During the years my ex-spouse and I ran our consulting company together, I never talked about my past or my transition with anyone save a few close friends. My ex was scared it would cost us the respect of our clients and, ultimately, their business. It turned out that most of them knew anyway – and, as in your story in your book, it turned out that I’d damaged their faith in me and their trust in our relationship by hiding who I was.

When my ex and I divorced in 2012, I vowed not to make that mistake again. And, in fact, in my subsequent job search, I made the decision that I was going to be up-front and honest about all of my life experiences and how the lessons I learned from them – compassion, tenacity, determination – made me who I am. If a company wanted to look at all that I had to offer and then not hire me because I am transgender, I reasoned, that was a sure sign that it was the wrong company for me.

The final of five interviews for my first role at my current company was with the CEO and co-founder. “He likes to talk about our Core Values”, the recruiter had told me, so when I came into the office I’d already reviewed and thought about those Core Values. “So, tell me why you want to work here,” he asked me, and I just started talking. I talked about my experience as a transgender woman and the obstacles I’d overcome to becoming my true and most fully realized self. I talked about the myriad changes happening in my life at that time – 2013 was the year I divorced, moved to a new city for a new job, turned 40, and saw my adopted daughter turn 18 and move out on her own. I talked about my personal core values and where I saw alignment with my company’s core values.

In all, I probably talked for about 35 minutes. At the end of that time, the CEO looked at me from the other side of a small round conference table in his office. “I’ve scheduled an hour for our interview,” he told me, “and I’d like to spend the rest of the time getting to know you better. But I have to tell you, you’re the most interesting person who’s walked into my office this week, and you have to come work here.”

He still says that his conversation with me is the most memorable job interview he’s ever done. As a result of my willingness to be authentic I’ve built relationships all over my company, I’ve been promoted twice in three years, I have the respect of my leadership, my peers, the folks who I serve as a manager, and other employees all over the company. And as a result of that, I’m able to keep achieving the results I do,  for my team, for the company, and for myself. (One example: after 17 years of waiting, I finally had gender confirmation surgery last year – and, again, thanks to my willingness to engage in authentic dialogue, my company covered the cost on their health insurance.)

Authenticity is the key to relationship-building, I think, and relationship-building has been my superpower career-wise.

Anyway, since you talked at some length about authenticity in your book, I wanted to reach out to share a bit of my story, and to say thanks again for a terrific book. I really enjoyed it, and it’s definitely given me some new ways to think about what I do as a manager.”

This important note really made me think about all the other stories of authenticity I may be missing, even from my regular readers. If you, or someone you know, has such a story, I’m more than ready to listen. I’ll never share anything without your permission. Please reach out to me at karin.hurt@letsgrowleaders.com

FREE WEBINAR

Winning Well-3DJoin me on Thursday, March 31st at 2pm EST for a FREE Webinar: Winning Well: Managing the Art of the Tough Conversation With Your Employees. Click here to learn more.

6 Reasons Your Team Yearns For Authenticity

If you bring all of who you are to the leadership table, some people will hate your style. In fact, it’s likely that a few “important” people will not “like” you. Authenticity is intimidating, and scares those with the most to hide. Far easier to lead like everyone else and be groomed to fit a mold.

Similarly, letting people see who you are and hear what you really mean makes you vulnerable. Rejection of your idea stings. Rejection of some company line you’ve practiced and perfected feels much less personal.

But easy leadership doesn’t change the game.

If you won’t bring every ounce of who you are and what you have to give to your leadership, your team will know. And, they’ll follow your lead.

Your team will hold back who they are and what they have most to give. The cycle continues.

Your team needs you to be you. They yearn to experience the rare game-changing results that happen in a genuine environment of candor, deep respect, and trust.

The world’s future depends on growing more leaders with the confidence to audaciously bring all their gifts and ideas to the table.

6 Reasons Your Team Yearns for Authenticity

1. They’ve been screwed before

Oh, they have stories. Trust me. I hear them. Assume somewhere along the line they’ve felt betrayed. Even if it’s not at your company or even under your watch, once upon a time a leader has lied to them. Guards are up. They need a good guy to restore their trust in leadership. They need reassurance in action, not words.They’re not going to tell you the truth until they’re perfectly sure you’ve been doing the same… over and over.

Your team also desperately wants to know that the good guys can (and do) win. There’s no better gift you can give your team than leading from who you are toward head turning results.

2. You’re wasting YOUR energy

Keeping up appearances is an energy-sucking, never-ending vacuum of misery. Trying to lead like someone else, or spin the truth, will wear you down and make you cranky. When leaders spend time working to show up differently than who they are, to win the game and keep up a facade, they waste precious energy that could be invested in creating breakthrough vision, developing people, and working on the work.

3. You’re  wasting THEIR energy

If your team senses you’re playing a game, they’ll spend a lot of time working to figure out the rules. In fact, if you’ve got surface success, they’ll be taking notes to learn to play it too. All that contagious facade building pulls hearts and mind from the important mission at hand.

4.  You’re their lifeline

Particularly in a big organization, the immediate leader makes all the difference. You can’t outsource leadership, not even to your boss, or to HR. They want to hear the story from you, and they want to know you’re not reading talk-points crafted from someone else. If they can’t trust you to be genuine where will they turn? That answer may be really dangerous.

5. They want to be like you- maybe

Some folks on your team have serious aspirations to move up in the scene. But they don’t want to lose their souls in the process. They’re watching you to see how you handle the pressure. Do you stay true to who you are, or are you being groomed to be “just like THEM.”

6. They have important news to share

They’ve got ideas and solutions, but your team wants to ensure they’ll have a receptive audience. If you’re afraid to share with them, they’ll be reluctant to share with you.

5 Ways to Lead More Authentically

How would you answer the question:  Do most leaders lead with true authenticity? Sadly, if you’re like my MBA students, the majority of you will likely vote no. You’d share stories of strategic ambiguity, or leaders letting greed and stock price trump once solid values. One student shared, “I honestly think most leaders start out being authentic, but after a while with all the pressures it’s just too hard to maintain.” When everyone’s playing a guarded game, it’s hard to win if you’re the only one playing the vulnerability card. Easier to blend in and go with the flow.

So, what if I changed the question just slightly and asked: Do YOU lead with true authenticity? I imagine the percentages would shift in the favor of yes. But if we’re honest with ourselves, for most of us the true answer is  “unless.”

  • Unless the other guy’s playing games.
  • Unless I have to salute and tow the company line
  • Unless we have to make our fourth quarter earnings
  • Unless the truth will lead to employee disengagement
  • Unless my boss is around
  • Unless…

Most of us don’t get up in the morning looking to fake it. Authenticity breeches are seldom blatant acts of self-betrayal, but more likely minor shades of grey which we convince ourselves (often unconsciously) are okay.

What does it mean to be truly authentic? I’ve been asking that question of everyone I meet lately (my MBA student’s answers are cloud sourced in the pic above). Most definitions involve the word “being:” being genuine, being consistent, being transparent, being trustworthy. Being is such a richer word than doing.

Authenticity stems from who you are which manifests in what you do.

5 Ways to Lead More Authentically

Know Yourself:  Be constantly curious about your leadership and the impact you are making, both good and bad. Have a good understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses. Don’t pretend to be someone you are not. Admit your weaknesses and how you are working to improve on them

Be Yourself : Be true to your leadership values and style. Avoid emulating someone else’s style to fit a certain mold. Strive for integration and consistency of who you are across various contexts (e.g. work, home, church)

Say What’s True:  Be trustworthy and honest. Do what you say. Don’t withhold information. Be willing to have the tough conversations.

Commit to the Cause:  Be committed to the mission at a deep level. If your heart’s not in it, consider your motives. Doing what’s right trumps any personal agenda.

Connect With Others:  Be genuinely interested in other people as humans, not just for what they can do to make your life easier. Make extra effort to connect at a deeper level up, down and sideways.

I’m conducting a quick authenticity poll if you would be willing to join the anonymous research click here.

 

Saying It With Soul #meanit

As part of our Mean It Madness Month I invited Kathryn Cramer to share her approach to speaking with authenticity. Say it with soul.

A Guest Post from Dr. Kathy Cramer

Saying it with soul is about meaning what you say—and saying something meaningful. It’s about putting yourself and your message on the line. It is about showing your skin in the game.

This can be a tall order for leaders, even when the core of their message is something positive. But why?

It Exposes Your Vulnerability – Whenever you communicate what something means to you, you are revealing something important about yourself. You, not your words, are the message. Soul is something you already have—it is your values and beliefs, your character, your mighty cause, your unique, authentic leadership presence in the world. Communicating with soul is a matter of revealing and demonstrating what you already have.

A Sense Of False Modesty – We are socialized not to brag and to view ego as a turn-off. But authentic humility is also about having the confidence to own and express the best of who we are.

You Think That Nobody Cares – Often leaders think their teams are not concerned with what the leaders think is important; people only care about their own well-being. That statement is true. People do care most about their own well-being, but that is why they need to know that their leaders have personal skin in the game. If you are genuinely committed and personally invested in a cause, then it lowers the bar for your team to get on board. People have a built-in Geiger counter as to whether leaders are being true to what they value, and showing your skin in the game creates authenticity over time.

An Exercise

The more aware you are of when you are perceived by others as sincere and authentic, the more intentional you can be about demonstrating those qualities. The following feedback exercise from Lead Positive: What Highly Effective Leaders See, Say, and Do helps increase your awareness of these occasions by seeking feedback from trusted members of your circle.

Identify five people who have regular contact with you. Ask each person to answer the following questions:

  1. Can you remember a time when you felt like I was speaking sincerely and authentically?
  2. What was I talking about?
  3. How could you tell I was being sincere?

The patterns from this sincerity feedback process may surprise you. For instance, one sales executive who prided himself on his self-confidence found out, to his surprise, that it was when he opened up about his struggles that people saw him as most sincere and authentic. His respondents recommended that he reveal his critical thinking process when trying to sell to a potential customer.

For this sales leader, all he needed was the feedback about letting people into his thought process. There was no new skill he needed to develop; it was simply a matter of being more open and transparent. That is precisely what saying it with soul is all about.

Mean It Madness Month On LGL #meanit

Welcome to Mean It Madness Month on Let’s Grow Leaders. My sister, Jill Herr, works is a healthcare executive and speech pathologist, my nephew, Jared Herr (middle school) and son, Ben Evans (college), are active student leaders.

We’re all disturbed by a pattern we see across many contexts. The severe consequences of people not saying what they mean: damaged relationships, disrupted trust, missed opportunities, wasted time, frustration. So, we’ve joined forces to present Mean it Madness on Let’s Grow Leaders. We’re on a mission to encourage more sincere conversations.

Watch this less than 1 minute video to hear more about our movement, and join our Intergenerational and International Inquiry into why more people don’t say what they really mean.

Click here to tell us how a meaningful conversation has change your perspective, your relationship, or your life. We’re looking to hear your stories of when saying what you really meant, made all the difference.

How Do We Encourage More Meaningful Conversations?

Share your story on a particularly meaningful experience, where saying what you mean made all the difference. If you know people with stories or passion around this topic, please pass this along. We want to cast as broad a net as possible. If you have #meanit ideas, or see great examples of sincere leading and living, tweet it out with #meanit. If you’ve got something to say, why not send me a short video clip with your ideas?

Bloggers, another opportunity to share your views on sincerity is to contribute to the March Frontline Festival Click on the link for more information and to submit your post If you write other related posts this month, I encourage you to email them to me at karin.hurt@letsgrowleaders.com (don’t use the form for that). I’ll work to share it under our #meanit campaign.

Why Leaders Should Say What They Mean

To kick-off our Mean-It Madness, I wrote a post over at Switch and Shift:

Positioning, spin, strategic ambiguity – why do so many leaders fail to say what they mean? Leaders worry that if they say what they really mean.

  • Someone might panic
  • The truth will leak
  • Employees will make bad choices
  • They’ll become disengaged

Spinning the truth has all of those same side effects, only worse. When humans aren’t told the truth, the stories they concoct to fill in the blanks are far more dramatic than the actual scene.

I’m always surprised by how surprised employees are when they’re told the honest truth.  To continue reading click here.

In Other News

Don’t worry, we’ll return to our regular leadership programming most of the month, with occasional sprinklings of #meanit madness. Stay tuned, share your stories, and enjoy the fun.

Build Your Leadership Prototype

Your journey toward authentic leadership involves evolution and revolution. You’re in what LinkedIn Founder, Reid Hoffman, calls the state of permanent beta.

But, what’s your ideal leadership prototype? What are you working on becoming? Not some textbook leadership prototype, or what someone else wants you to be. Build your prototype of your leadership at it’s very best.

Design Your Leadership Prototype

  1. Name your leader. When you’re your very best, what would you call yourself?
  2. What does your ideal leadership self…

       •  Value?
       •  Think?
       •  Feel?
       •  Do?

  3. What are the greatest strengths of your best possible version of you?
  4. What are the potential downsides of your desired leadership prototype? Where will this guy get you in trouble?
  5. Now consider your beta version. Where are you closest to your prototype today? What areas still need work? What people and situations are helping you grow toward your ideal image? What (and who) is getting in the way?

    Be deliberate in your leadership prototype design. Test it across many contexts. Find the weak spots. Make them stronger. Test some more.  Acknowledge flaws. Learn. Grow.

Real leadershipThis post is part of a series on the third branch of the REAL model. If you’re not yet a subscriber, enter your email address to join the REAL conversation.

Real Leadership: Defining Your Personal Leadership Paradigm

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you…It doesn’t happen all at once,’ You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.”

It didn’t happen all at once. Somewhere along the line, I began the journey toward REAL. Lately, it’s occurred to me that no matter what, my calling is growing leaders. Extraordinary, fearless leaders, working toward great ends. Not just in my day job, but in the world too. There are so many humans “up to something” great. I want to help. Next came how. Then what. That’s the journey.

I used to dicker over competency models, what was more important, “results orientation” or “results focus.” Who cares. Now, I’m just pragmatic. For God’s sake (and others) pick one. NOW. Pick a framework and start growing leaders towards it.

What’s REAL Leadership?

In my upcoming posts, I’ll share with you my 4-pronged REAL model: Results, Energy, Authenticity, Learning.

More importantly, I want you to reflect on your leadership paradigm.
  • What’s growing on your tree?
  • Where did the seeds begin?
  • What are you growing toward?
  • What’s your leadership paradigm?

I’ll share my model as instigation. Fight with me, challenge me. Expand my thinking. Help me to be more REAL in my leadership and inspiration. Share yours. What’s REAL for you. Let’s grow together.

 Not yet, part of the LGL community? Enter your email to subscribe.

P.S. Tomorrow, I start a three part series on the “Results” branch of the model. Feel free to add links to any related posts in your comments as well.

*Image copyright 2013 Let’s Grow Leaders

Frontline Festival-May 2013: Trust and Transparency Edition

Welcome to the May Frontline Festival. Thanks to all the amazing thought leaders sharing their perspectives on Trust and Transparency.

Building Trust

Wally Bock of Three Star Leadership says you “can’t build trust,” in his post How do I trust thee? Trust is important, but it has more than one dimension. I like that he differentiates between being trusted as a person and being trusted as a leader, with salient examples of a newly promoted team leader.

New to the Festival, Henna Inam, of Transformational Leadership, shares her post How To Influence Others Powerfully. She explores the linkage between influence and trust. I agree with her statement, “influence expands in direct proportion to trust and connection.”

Jonathan Green, of Monster Leaders, shares The Three Rules for a Prospering Work Culture. Jonathan teaches, “Sharing is caring. It is critically important to keep people in the know and connect them through honesty, sharing experiences and promoting open dialogue.”

Trusting Your Team

“He who does not trust enough, Will not be trusted.”
~Lao Tzu

Lolly Daskal of Lead From Within offers great advice for building trust in her post, Just Trust Me. My favorite point, “Trust is a two-way street. To make someone trustworthy, you need to trust them first. The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”More leaders need this message.

John Hunter of Curious Cat shares, Trust Your Staff to Make Decisions. “Often the basic problem is managers don’t trust their systems to hire and develop people. The solution to this problem is not to give your staff no authority. The solution is to manage your systems so that you can trust your people.”

Mark Miller of Great Leaders serve shares his post Great Teams Take a Leap of Faith we must trust that building community will reap rewards.

Trusting Yourself

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
~Steve Jobs

Dan McCarthy, of Great Leadership shares, Authentic Leadership Development: Your Past, Present and Future He shares, “Becoming an authentic leader involves transformation. It’s not “doing” leadership, it’s figuring out who you are and who you want to be as a leader.”

I love this post from Eric Dingler of ericdingler.com, because he starts by considering how you trust yourself. Are You the Leader The Team You Are Looking to Lead Is Looking to Follow? He asks provocative questions: “Would you follow you? Are you trustworthy? Do you really want what’s best for your team? Are you in it for them? Do you let your team get to know you? Would you want your kids to grow up and work for you?”

Matt McWilliams of Life. Leadership. Love. Learned the Hard Way. Shares his journey toward becoming a better leader in, Feedback for Leaders (Or, You Suck, Sincerely, Your Team). I admire his candid insights.

Leigh Steere shares her Lead Change post, Your Executive Title Does Not Make You a Leader. She interviews an exec who chose to leave her leadership post, in order to remain a leader. “Laura concluded, “I was actively uninspired. I could not stay, because I am a leader.” Powerfully provocative.

Elements of Trust

I love the angle taken by Joan Kofodimos of Teleos Consulting in her post, The Dark Side of Trust. She provides specific actions we can take to “take responsibility for identifying your own interests and negotiate to get them met.” Sometimes what feels like a breach of trust, may be a gap in expectations.

Tal Shnall of Habits of the Heart, breaks down several components of trust in his post, The Meaning of Trust. My favorite, “if you are willing to place other people’s concerns and aspirations on the top of your agenda, you will be able to expand the trust with them for the long run.”

Linda Fisher Thornton of Leading in Context asks What Variables Impact How Freely We Extend Trust. She has a nice list, what would you add?

Greg Marcus of Idolbuster shares a chapter from his excellent book, Busting Your Corporate Idol, Who to Trust at Work.

When Trust Breaks Down

“Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain.”
~J.K. Rowling

New to the Festival, Skip Prichard of Skip Prichard Leadership Insights, interviews Scott Weiss on the “crises of trust” in his post, The Challenge of Trusting Leadership. He invites Weiss to “speak to the new graduate who is just starting out. What can he or she do to avoid the shocking experience you had when you first were exposed to these concepts?”

Blair Glaser  exposes the risks of following in Are You Strong Enough to Be My Fan. My favorite line, “There is a way to follow that won’t set you or the leader up for a fall. You’ve got to be strong. You’ve got to recognize the human fallibility in all of us.”

Bob Winchester shares  Five Reasons Your Boss Doesn’t Trust You– How To Break Through Corporate Culture Revolution. He also offers tips for recovering when you screw up.

David Dye, of Trailblaze shares, Can We Really Trust Your Leadership? He’s got an interesting story that will make you feel better about your driving, as well as tips for building trust in the midst of a mistake.

Transparency

“What passes for woman’s intuition is often nothing more than man’s transparency.”
~George Jean Nathan

Dan Rockwell of Leadership Freak, exposes the dangers of hiding your views in Death to Bobble Head Leaders. “Leaders become bobble heads to protect position and get promoted. It’s dishonest and disingenuous. Look around. How many bobbing heads sit at the table?” The best question, “Is anyone disruptive?”

Jennifer V. Miller of The People Equation says that leadership bloggers are fond of touting “transparency” as a path to authentic leadership. But are there times when disclosure is not the best policy? Find out in her post Is Leadership Transparency Always the Best Policy?

Also new to the Festival, Randy Conley,shares Four Strategies to Increase Organizational Trust & Transparency. In today’s fast-paced, globally connected business world in which we live, an organization’s successes and failures can be tweeted across the internet in a matter of seconds. A knee jerk reaction of many organizational leaders is to clamp down on the amount of information shared internally, with hopes of minimizing risk to the organization. Many times this backfires and ends up creating a culture of risk aversion and low trust.

Jon Mertz, of Thin Difference shares Trust: At the Speed of Social Media. As Generation Y or Millennials grow in workplace presence, this new definition of transparency (Transparency = Accountability) is a reality. Jon shares some of my same concerns over the over-use of the word “transparency.” He writes, ” personally, I never like the word transparent. It seems so flimsy; something high-priced people say. It has become bureaucratic-speak or position talking points. With social media, transparency turns into immediate accountability, which is what it should be.”with social media, transparency turns into immediate accountability, which is what it should be.”

Becky Robinson, of Weaving Influence asks, what is the right level of transparency, in her post, Transparency. The post elicited an excellent comment, worth reading, it begins. “I think that there is a danger here of mistaking transparency with openness (and lack of discretion for that matter)”

Thanks to all the contributors. June’s Frontline Festival is all about Conflict and Conflict Resolution. Submissions due June 7th.

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