There are a lot of leadership books out there, but given that the etymological definition is ‘the one who carries the compass’, are people choosing to follow you, or should you give the compass to someone else?
In the evolution of management thinking, we seem to be moving away from earlier models of ‘charismatic’ and ‘visionary’ leadership towards one of ‘Authentic leadership’. Is this related to the times we now find ourselves in and a greater focus on trust and ethics?
We may think of ourselves as being true to ourselves and our values, and hence ‘authentic’. However, combining the notion of authentic leadership with that for ‘followership’, ie placing the power of getting things done, or not, with our audience, then it is really for them to judge whether they think we are authentic, or not. Perception is the only reality, and if they do not believe us to be authentic then they are probably not going to go out of their way to deliver a so-called joint vision that they think you don’t really believe in. Even more so when the change involves more uncomfortable transition period and uncertain outcome as for transformation projects.
So, what makes people believe in us, or even trust us? Professor Donna Ladkin from Cranfield uses a three tier model of: how we feel, how we behave towards others and what we do. (Being academic, she terms these: somatic level, micro-behaviours and symbolic level).
If we do not feel comfortable inside ourselves when making a presentation or engaging with an audience, perhaps through lack of confidence as much as any internal conflict, then this is readable at an unconscious level by observers. (For those trained in sensory acuity and body language, it will also be picked up at a conscious level). Remember the famous experiments conducted by UCLA professor Albert Meherabian demonstrated that body language accounted for more of the message than words and tonality combined, with the actual words accounting for less than 10%. If you do not feel confident then your audience will naturally pick it up and not be confident in you or in following you.
Micro-behaviours are those nuances of behaviour that make us like to be around some people, such as the way they smile when they engage us, the level of eye contact, affirmations through body contact, etc. They are a part of what gives people like Bill Clinton the gift of making whoever they meet feel like the most important person in the room. These are the natural behaviours that we adopt around people that we like, and effectively announce what we think about you. Are you at ease, or are your actions forced, and hence perceived as artificial?
And finally, do we ‘walk the talk’? When we talk about change, are we ‘living the values’? In an extreme example, I worked for an MD who was quite keen on orating about the need for efficiency and economising, while insisting to me as his transformation director that he needed a parking place right outside the front door with their name on and requesting an even bigger office with an ante-room for their personal PA. To cap it all, they wanted an extra set of security doors between the workforce and them so that people could only get near if their PA granted an appointment. All while talking about an ‘open door’ policy. Authentic? Of course, it is usually more subtle actions that give the game away. Do they demonstrably do what they are asking you to do? The person trusted with the compass who guided ships across the north seas sat in the boat with the rest of us, not receiving progress reports from the executive dining room.
All of these aspects can actually be trained, including believing in yourself and acting with confidence, connecting with yourself, mastering your inner dialogue and even conquering limiting beliefs. At the end of the day though, are you reading from a script or speaking from the heart?
Dr Peter Parkes MBA is extensively qualified and experienced in technology enabled transformation in the public sector, private sector and public private partnerships. He is also an NLP Master Practitioner, Certified executive coach and author of ‘NLP for Project Managers’, listed for management book of the year by the Chartered Management Institute, with whom he is also a Fellow.