No one can be authentic by trying to imitate someone else. You can learn from others’ experiences, but there is no way you can be successful when you are trying to be like them. People trust you when you are genuine and authentic, not a replica of someone else. Amgen CEO and president Kevin Sharer, who gained priceless experience working as Jack Welch’s assistant in the 1980s, saw the downside of GE’s cult of personality in those days. “Everyone wanted to be like Jack,” he explains. “Leadership has many voices. You need to be who you are, not try to emulate somebody else.”During the past 50 years, leadership scholars have conducted more than 1,000 studies in an attempt to determine the definitive styles, characteristics, or personality traits of great leaders. None of these studies has produced a clear profile of the ideal leader. Thank goodness. If scholars had produced a cookie-cutter leadership style, individuals would be forever trying to imitate it. They would make themselves into personae, not people, and others would see through them immediately.
Over the past five years, people have developed a deep distrust of leaders. It is increasingly evident that we need a new kind of business leader in the twenty-first century. In 2003, Bill George’s book,Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value, challenged a new generation to lead authentically. Authentic leaders demonstrate a passion for their purpose, practice their values consistently, and lead with their hearts as well as their heads. They establish long-term, meaningful relationships and have the self-discipline to get results. They know who they are.
Many readers of Authentic Leadership, including several CEOs, indicated that they had a tremendous desire to become authentic leaders and wanted to know how. As a result, our research team set out to answer the question, “How can people become and remain authentic leaders?” We interviewed 125 leaders to learn how they developed their leadership abilities. These interviews constitute the largest in-depth study of leadership development ever undertaken. Our interviewees discussed openly and honestly how they realized their potential and candidly shared their life stories, personal struggles, failures, and triumphs.
The people we talked with ranged in age from 23 to 93, with no fewer than 15 per decade. They were chosen based on their reputations for authenticity and effectiveness as leaders, as well as our personal knowledge of them. We also solicited recommendations from other leaders and academics. The resulting group includes women and men from a diverse array of racial, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds and nationalities. Half of them are CEOs, and the other half comprises a range of profit and nonprofit leaders, midcareer leaders, and young leaders just starting on their journeys.
After interviewing these individuals, we believe we understand why more than 1,000 studies have not produced a profile of an ideal leader. Analyzing 3,000 pages of transcripts, our team was startled to see that these people did not identify any universal characteristics, traits, skills, or styles that led to their success. Rather, their leadership emerged from their life stories. Consciously and subconsciously, they were constantly testing themselves through real-world experiences and reframing their life stories to understand who they were at their core. In doing so, they discovered the purpose of their leadership and learned that being authentic made them more effective.
These findings are extremely encouraging: You do not have to be born with specific characteristics or traits of a leader. You do not have to wait for a tap on the shoulder. You do not have to be at the top of your organization. Instead, you can discover your potential right now. As one of our interviewees, Young & Rubicam chairman and CEO Ann Fudge, said, “All of us have the spark of leadership in us, whether it is in business, in government, or as a nonprofit volunteer. The challenge is to understand ourselves well enough to discover where we can use our leadership gifts to serve others.”
Discovering your authentic leadership requires a commitment to developing yourself. Like musicians and athletes, you must devote yourself to a lifetime of realizing your potential. Most people Kroger CEO David Dillon has seen become good leaders were self-taught. Dillon said, “The advice I give to individuals in our company is not to expect the company to hand you a development plan. You need to take responsibility for developing yourself.”
Bill George, the former chairman and CEO of Medtronic, is a professor of management practice at Harvard Business School in Boston.
Peter Sims established “Leadership Perspectives,” a class on leadership development at the Stanford Graduate School of Business in California.
Andrew N. McLean is a research associate at Harvard Business School.
Diana Mayer is a former Citigroup executive in New York. This article was adapted from True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership by Bill George with Peter Sims (Jossey-Bass, forthcoming in March 2007).
In the past few years, this question came up in my mind quite often; how can I see the impact my interventions made in the human systems I have worked with? People have given me ideas like having a follow-up meeting six months later and the like. I was never satisfied. What about two years later, ten years? I know that the goal of our process consulting work is to try to get at the root cause of an issue so that the result of our interventions would create a learning organization that can be independent enough to solve its own future potential problems. Thus, the point is not to be called again in the future, to avoid consultant dependency. But what if I really need to know? I believe in my work and in this method a hundred per cent, but sometimes I almost wish I can work for the organization later on and see how it feels on the inside.
I know that there are people reading this who would think that I am insane! “What do you mean you don’t want the client to call you back? That’s not the point of a ‘business’!” Well then, I guess I am not that kind of business. The one that solely thinks about how to make money now and keep the clients happy and satisfied only to make money later. I do not mean that it is either one extreme or another, but I do want to make those who only think on the one extreme to think about the other for a change. Are we selling hotel rooms; the customer is happy so he will come back? Or are we selling the philosophy of “teach a man how to fish”? Or are we even selling anything at all?
Having the chance to have worked in the corporate, government and non-profit environments as an employee first, made me realize that I always craved feedback. Almost all workplace environments have some sort of performance reviews at least annually; that is definitely not only a “corporate thing” for those of us who thought so. Even beyond workplace environments; the educational system! I know someone who was not satisfied with having straight A’s. Until the day she won a prestigious award, she always felt she was missing that feedback.
How are we supposed to know how well (or poorly) we are doing if we are working solo, as a consultant or any freelance career that allows you to intervene in a human system and then leave, perhaps never to return again. What if you just need that feedback?
I knew someone who told me that she would never be able to work on her own since she is a “feedback freak”. She ended up working for a period of time as an internal consultant, and still felt that she lacked structured feedback. Some of us might think that this might be a personality trait, a lack of experience or even age. “Don’t worry, once you are experienced enough, old enough, confident enough, you won’t need anyone to tell you that you are doing a good job.” I haven’t proved it yet, but I am sure it’s not about any of these factors. Can it be that we are human beings and some need it more than others, but most of us need some form of feedback?
So finally, I am still going to tell you what I think might help those who are in the same situation as I: in need of feedback and curious to know what happened when I left?
Here is what colleagues in the field have suggested. Unfortunately, I was not satisfied with Dr. Google, since it all relates to what I said earlier, feedback so that you can get more business out of them.
This is not an exhaustive list of course (Do I have to say that?!) and I would love to hear more ideas from you.
Ask Directly: Perhaps the most obvious is to ask the clients in the system you have worked with directly. Apart from asking on the last meeting with them, see if they are willing to get together a few months (or years) down the road for an update. Go for conversations if possible (coffee) but if time is an issue, try to send a quick open-ended questionnaire.
Advisory Board: Yes, like a board of directors, you can try to have a board of advisors that are available to meet you regularly and who can not only give you feedback but also ideas and suggestions about potential clients. Meeting regularly does not necessarily mean on a monthly basis; it can be every three or six months.
Past Clients: I do believe that once you get the perfect client, you should do everything possible to maintain the relationship; not for future work, but for future needed feedback. You know, the client that makes you feel good all the time, is open, honest and doesn’t hide his flaws. The ones that admit his mistakes. That is really involved in whatever goal you both share. Yes they exist!! I once had the perfect client and I keep thinking of him from time to time. Should I call? Email? It’s too late now! I would have loved to have him on my advisory board.
Community Office: There is a process consultant in my area that I admire a lot. She rents an office in one of those shared office spaces and tries to get consultants in to rent there as well. Some people would never do such a thing. Having potential “competitors” in the same office space; they will steal the work right?! Wrong; there is actually more benefit in doing that. First, you get to chat about your work, inevitably getting ideas and suggestions from each other. You can end up exchanging feedback if you want. There is also a possibility of getting more work that way; you can work on the same contract or you can refer each other if someone has expertise in one area more than another. Did you ever notice that coffee shops open one next to the other, which creates more business for both? Think win/win. Read about the abundance mentality is Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Finally, it feels less lonely for us freelancers.
Finally, all these suggestions revolve around having a community for you to learn and grow. It’s up to you to create that learning community.
Author: Riham Ahmed for Process Inc.
This is a wonderful example of how self-managed teams can be a potential solution to common workplace issues. Click on the link above to download the article.
Three Things Leaders Can Do to Help New Hires Start Strong
by William C. Byham, Ph.D.
Philip, a frontline supervisor in a financial services company, hires a new person for his team, and it’s a great hire. The new person, Kelly, is bright, has the right mix of knowledge, experience, and skills, and is a good cultural fit with the organization and the team.
Excited to have Kelly on board, Philip looks forward to her really hitting the ground running and starting to produce right away. That is, once she goes through the company orientation program, where he assumes she will learn everything she needs to know to be successful in the position.
Eight months later, frustrated and no longer engaged in her job, Kelly resigns to take a position with a competing firm. Philip, for his part, is confused, but what he doesn’t realize is that he probably could have prevented Kelly’s departure. It wasn’t something he did; to the contrary, it was what he didn’t do.
Organizations today are becoming more aware of the costs associated with the time it takes for new hires to reach full job proficiency. These include the costs tied to recouping the organization’s investment in the new hire, including hiring costs, training costs, and the costs (which are often overlooked) the organization incurs by paying a full salary to a person who is not yet performing at an optimal level. But they also include the costs tied to the low employee engagement and turnover that occurs when new hires grow frustrated with the time it takes to get fully up to speed and contribute at a level commensurate with their more experienced coworkers.
Toward helping to prevent or minimize these costs, leaders, specifically the supervisors of new hires, can and should take steps to help new hires get off to a strong start. Three things leaders can do: 1) encourage Courageous Networking, 2) provide complete information about the job and job expectations, and 3) help the new hire build self-confidence in their ability to do the job.
1. Encourage Courageous Networking
One of the most important things a supervisor can do to help get a new hire off to a strong start is to encourage Courageous Networking. Courageous Networking involves seeking the help of peers and others in the organization to answer questions and provide assistance with assignments and projects.
2. Provide a Complete Picture of What’s Required—Job Performance Expectations and the Boss’s Personal Expectations
Building on what was shared in the organization’s orientation program, a supervisor needs to share specific information about job responsibilities, why those responsibilities are important to the organization, and how they relate to the organization’s key business drivers.
Further, the supervisor needs to share how job success will be defined and measured, and how the new team member can evaluate, on an ongoing basis, his or her job success. New hires need to understand how the supervisor interprets and prioritizes the various responsibilities listed on the job description (“Here’s how I interpret ‘timely response to all customer requests’ . . .”).
An especially important part of clarifying and promoting the new team member’s understanding of expectations is working with him or her to begin scoping out and setting performance goals. While it might be weeks or even months before the new team member will be expected to set performance management goals, the supervisor will want to get the new team member thinking about the goals that will be part of this plan. By reinforcing the importance of observable and measurable performance goals, the supervisor helps to make the various job expectations “real” for the new team member, in terms of what he or she needs to focus on in the job and how success will be defined and evaluated.
In communicating expectations, individuals also should be alerted to pitfalls and mistakes that typically befall new team members—in hopes that they can successfully avoid them. Emphasis needs to be on the support the new team member will receive, from the supervisor, peers, and others in the organization, in meeting goals.
Additionally, new team members need to really understand what’s important to their supervisor, both in the short and long term. For instance, the supervisor might need the new team member to place a higher priority on tasks related to a short-term initiative the supervisor is charged with executing, such as the rollout of a new product. These tasks may differ from the tasks that will define job success long term—and from the tasks spelled out on the job description.
New employees also need to know the expected timeframe for reaching full proficiency. Sharing this timeframe is important so that the new team members are not too hard on themselves (as they often are expecting to be fully proficient on Day 1) and also so that they see they will have to move fast to meet the organization’s expectations.
Especially, though, new team members need to know about the supervisor’s personal expectations, leadership style, and particular likes and dislikes (e.g., communicating face-to-face as opposed to using e-mail)—those “off the book” expectations that will not be covered in a job description or in an orientation program.
Examples of expectations supervisors should share with new team members can include those related to:
3. Help the New Hire Build Confidence through Personal Development
New hires want to quickly learn what they need to do to hone their skills and become proficient in their current positions, and they want to quickly start developing skills that will move them upward in the organization.
An important part of the supervisor’s role in getting new team members off to a strong start is helping them develop confidence. Some new team members will need this psychological boost more than others, of course, but all will need the reassurance that they are, indeed, the right person for the job.
An excellent way of building confidence is to share information from the hiring process. During the hiring process a great deal of candidate data is gathered, including competency data, knowledge data, and information about the candidate’s past experiences. There is no reason a leader can’t repurpose and apply this information to help new team members see that they are qualified for the job.
We advocate that as soon as possible after the start date the manager should meet with the new team member to hold a selection review and development planning discussion to go over the data collected during the hiring process. The tone of this meeting should be extremely upbeat, with the supervisor emphasizing the individual’s various strength areas and reinforcing why those involved in the hiring decision felt positively about offering the job to the individual (“We could tell that you have what it takes . . .”).
This information can then be leveraged to create a short-term development plan (we feel that six weeks is the proper timeframe) for most new team members. This newly developed plan should focus on leveraging the new team member’s strengths. The plan also should cover the knowledge and skills needed to become fully proficient in the job. It also assures the individual that the organization will not put him into challenging job situations until he has the skills to handle them. By facilitating the process of putting together a short-term development plan, the manager provides the new team member with tangible evidence that he or she will grow in the job—and that the organization is committed to making it happen.
The process of developing a short-term development plan also sends an important message: We know you have some development areas. But don’t worry, we’re going to develop you in those areas.
Supervisors Have the Power
Organizations benefit when their new hires start strong, but it’s their supervisors who have the power to make a strong start a reality for their newly hired team members.
When new hires start weak, the consequences—low employee engagement, turnover, and the necessity of again going through what can be a lengthy and costly selection process—are significant. A better alternative is to provide the support needed to transform new hires into productive, happy, engaged employees who stay for the long-term.
Supervisors can make it happen. Given the alternative, they should make it happen.
About the Author
Bill Byham, Ph.D., is co-founder and Chairman and CEO of DDI. An internationally renowned speaker, educator, consultant and trainer, Bill is the author of 22 books, including Grow Your Own Leaders and 70: The New 50.