I had a meeting last week about coaching, the individual had recently been appointed to a leadership position in a large organisation, but were struggling with “Impostor Syndrome” in showing leadership in the prevailing organisational culture.
What this conversation and potentially the coaching relates to is a highly authentic individual struggling to self identify as a leader in a highly “boss style” culture.
I am increasingly of the belief that many, perhaps even most leaders are in fact authentic, but due to the prevailing culture and a lack of support, training or understanding, they show up as boss style leaders.
Let me explain.
Boss style leaders are those who are primarily motivated by status. They get their status conferred on them from above and are loyal to those who give them status. They, in turn, gain loyalty by conferring status on those below them. Boss style leaders are not good at collaborating unless it helps to build their status or that of their own boss. Boss style leaders are good at getting things done, but they only achieve results by stealing from the future.
Authentic leaders are those primarily motivated by purpose they create results by aligning teams and getting the best out of people by creating an environment where they can be the best version of themselves. They create environments of psychological safety and trust where it is safe to experiment and be vulnerable. Authentic leaders can take longer to achieve things, but the results are sustainable.
Boss style leaders don’t recognise authentic leaders as leaders at all. They see them as weak.
So – if you are, at heart an authentic style leader, but all of your role models are boss style, it is not surprising if you don’t think of yourself as a leader. It is also not surprising if, in the absence of alternative input and appointed to a leadership position, a natural, but uncertain authentic leader would adopt boss style behaviours, especially if other bosses around them dismissed authentic leadership as weak.
Our path to authentic leadership is therefore challenging. In many places the existing leadership culture is actively resistant to it, there are few role models and it is not always easy to find teachers.
What helps is to focus on purpose. What is it that you are really trying to achieve – your vision? And why is that important to you – your purpose?
As long as your purpose can be aligned to that of your organisation you can lead authentically in it. The next step is to think about how you need to be in order to deliver on that purpose and vision.
As long as you can get your team to follow, this forms the basis of your leadership – the “why” and the “what” with the behavioural part of the “how”. This is the framework that you need to embody and keep explaining – What, we are trying to achieve. Why, is it important. How, we need to be in order to deliver it. As the leader you don’t need to be the author of any of this, but you do need to make sure it is clear and that the team are aligned around it.
The team can then work out and own the mechanics of the strategy to achieve it. While you, as the leader encourage, stay out of the way, provide “air cover” and look out for the future.
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