Be A Better Leader: Be Genuine (by being yourself)

“Be Genuine” is the first category we’re exploring in our “Be A Better Leader” series. In this series, we are looking at a variety of attributes, characteristics, and skills that are essential to effective leadership, and discussing how they are reflected in practice. In addition to this month’s topic, the list of categories also includes “Be Relational,” “Be Trustworthy,” Be Knowledgeable,” and “Be Excellent.” This month, as we look at what it means to “Be Genuine,” we will be talking about the need to be authentic, be yourself, and be an example, and then I will share some thoughts on a recommended related book or two.

When I first became a teacher, I soon identified another teacher that I thought represented everything I wanted to be as a teacher. He was a master teacher, and had a tremendous influence on students, and I thought that if I could be just like him, I could also be a great teacher. The problem was, his personality and strengths were very different than mine, so try as I might, I couldn’t be a teacher like him. What I found, though, was that I had different strengths and attributes that worked well with a different style of teaching, and when I allowed myself to be myself and not him, I became an effective teacher as well, just in a different way.

People often take the same approach to leadership. They will read books or attend seminars so they can copy someone else’s pattern in every detail, or so that they can uncover the secret that no one else knows about. But there is no secret. Leadership is not a hidden, secret society that you are trying to uncover and imitate. Rather, you are a unique individual, so your leadership practice should reflect you, your personality, and your strengths. The truth is, if you try to be someone else, you are not being authentic and genuine. So, this may sound like a statement of the obvious, but you will be most effective in your leadership if you operate out of who you are. In order to do that, there are four steps you must follow.

Step 1 – Know yourself. Before you can lead in the way that works best for you, you first have to know who you are, which means identifying your predominant characteristics. Knowing yourself begins with identifying your “type,” the kind of personality or attributes that most represent you. There are a variety of ways to classify this – Type A or Type B; temperament types of choleric, sanguine, melancholy, and phlegmatic; thought processes of random-abstract or concrete-sequential; the range of introversion to extroversion; the DISC personality profile, StrengthsQuest team characteristics, and numerous others. Regardless of which format you use, you need to figure out what your personality type and characteristics are. (If you haven’t done this before, I would suggest starting with one of the most common personality assessments used in the business world, the Meyers-Briggs Typology Inventory (MBTI), which you can take for free here.) With an understanding of your type, you can then get an understanding of your particular strengths and weaknesses, so that you can more clearly identify what you do well and where you struggle.

Step 2 – Be yourself. Once you know yourself, with a clear understanding of your strengths and weaknesses, you can begin to operate as a leader out of your strengths. With your particular strengths in mind, you can capitalize on what you do well, matching it to your style in order to maximizing the effectiveness of your leadership. Leadership styles vary according to three different factors – the leader, the followers, and the situation – and so, armed with the knowledge of who you are and how you best function, you can fit your style to your followers and to your situation. I know that on the introvert-extrovert scale, I am more introverted; on the MBTI scale, I am an INTJ; my temperament is more melancholy/choleric; in my thought process, I am more analytical and logical. Knowing myself and my strengths, then, I use my strengths to lead in a way that works well for me. Therefore, I don’t try to the charismatic leader; instead I connect with individuals on a more personal level, and in the process build trust. I take the time to listen and gather information before responding, processing my thoughts before giving my input, and I communicate that tendency to people when we meet, so that they know that I am thinking (and not ignoring) when I don’t answer immediately. My organizational thought process helps me to be effective at connecting the dots to see the big picture for planning and vision purposes, so I make that one of the tasks that I am directly involved in, but I delegate the repetitive details to others to manage because it is difficult for me to stay focused in those details. I have learned to use my strengths to lead, using the style that reflects what I do well.

Step 3 – Help yourself. Now that you have determined and established your style of leadership, one that best matches who you are and uses your strengths, the next step is to identify the growth areas and weaknesses with which you need help. You need to compensate for your gaps, deficiencies and shortcomings, both personally and organizationally. That means you need to address your personal deficiencies by employing tools to help yourself, and minimize your leadership weaknesses by delegating the responsibilities that require those attributes to others for whom they are strengths, and by surrounding yourself with people whose strengths offset your weaknesses. I know that I am a more reserved personality, so I always include as part of my team someone who is more extraverted and communicative, so that we as a team are more complete than I am as an individual. If you are a detail-person, you need to include someone who is a “big-picture, idea” person; or if you are an organized analytical person, you need to included someone who is more relationship focused; and so on. You will help your leadership to be better if you involve other people and resources to offset those things that are not your strengths.

Step 4 – Make yourself. Even though you are operating in the way that best matches you, there will always be things that you need to do that fall outside your comfort zone, and you will have to learn to make yourself do them anyway. It may be something that makes you uncomfortable or something that is difficult for you to do, but they are still tasks and responsibilities that you have to be able to handle, especially because you are the leader. For example, because my personality type is more introverted and reflective, I do not enjoy conflict. Once, when a supervisor asked me in a performance review what I felt I were areas of improvement in myself, I mentioned that I didn’t like conflict and confrontation. He then noted in my review that I needed to learn how to be more confrontational, but I responded by saying that the problem wasn’t that I couldn’t do it and didn’t do it, but rather that I didn’t like it. Because I didn’t like it, I had learned to do it in a very tactful way and in the process had become very good it – but I still didn’t like it. It was one of those skills that is necessary for leadership, and I had had to learn to make myself do it, and to do it well. The point is, no matter your personality type, there will be some things that you don’t like but will have to do anyway, and therefore you must be able to make yourself do it.

Four basic steps: first know yourself (figure out your personality, characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses); then be yourself (lead from your strengths); next, help yourself (compensate for your weaknesses); and finally, make yourself (discipline yourself to do those things that you don’t like to do, but have to do as the leader). Following these four steps will help you to become the most effective leader you can be, because your leadership will match you and reflect you. So be the leader you are, not the leader that someone else is.

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