She didn’t look much like a leader. She looked like a middle-aged, friendly, somewhat absent-minded Nice Lady. Which she was.
But she was a middle-aged, friendly, somewhat absent-minded Nice Lady who was passionate about the business, had been working with it since its beginnings, knew the name of every person in the company, and on a daily basis came up with – and followed through with — ways to make the business better, stronger, more impactful in the community.
She didn’t try to be somebody she wasn’t. She knew what her strengths were and where she was vulnerable, she loved learning how to get better at her work, and she intentionally surrounded herself with others with different skills than hers.
Those who worked with her would have followed her anywhere. She was a servant leader to the core, before many of us knew that term existed, and she embodied the company’s most deeply held values before most companies ever began articulating their values.
It came from the inside. The passion Margaret had for the work of the company was key, but it wouldn’t have made her a strong leader on its own. She instinctively operated with great authenticity – not trying to behave according to some persona of “a leader,” but being truly herself, and leading from that place. Which included being a middle-aged, friendly, somewhat absent-minded Nice Lady.
Who I Am Determines How I Am
How do I know who I am? Perhaps it seems like a silly question. However, leaders who take time for honest self-reflection can avoid so many pitfalls – at worst, asking their followers to behave in one way – perhaps according to certain company values – while themselves unknowingly acting counter to those same values.
Hundreds of quizzes, assessments, predictors, and other tools offer lenses through which to look at ourselves. I may discover that I am an ISTJ rather than an ENFP (Myers-Briggs), an eagle as opposed to a peacock (DOPE), more red and green than blue and yellow (Personalysis), a Helper rather than an Enthusiast (Enneagram), have great Relator and Adaptability strengths (StrengthsFinder), and on and on.
Any and all of these can provide great insight and – probably – none will be able to tell the whole story.
Dan Webster, who founded Authentic Leadership, Inc., writes about listening to your H.E.A.R.T. in his leadership workbook, The REAL DEAL: Becoming More Authentic in Life and Leadership. It’s a helpful way to begin to name the elements that come together to define your authentic self:
H. = Heritage (where & who you come from)
E. = Experiences (what you’ve done and experienced)
A. = Abilities (what you can do)
R. = Resonance (what resonates with you – your passions)
T. = Temperament (how you behave among others)
Turn, Turn, Turn
If Who I Am Determines How I Am, what if Who I Am changes?
Throughout your life, you’re adding to the experiences and abilities that make up your H.E.A.R.T. Your basic personality may not change a lot, but people can discover new passions and have life-changing experiences at any age.
The key is to pay attention. Strong, authentic leaders don’t sit down once, do a bit of self-reflection, and decide they’ve figured themselves out forever and ever.
It’s a fluid and ongoing process. A narrative, a story, a journey. And the more you, a leader, know and understand who you are and the journey you have been on, the more likely it is that your leadership will reflect that knowledge. Your authentic leadership.