Authentic Leadership, Vulnerability and Procrastination

Holos is a leadership and change consultancy with no employees and no offices.  We have 160 brilliant faculty members around the world and 20 Agents who work closely together to help transform organisational cultures so that they enjoy sustained success even in a disrupted environment. 

One of our Holos Agents is Dr Fiona Beddoes-Jones, a Chartered Occupational Psychologist.  She is the originator of five psychometric tools and the author of four books, all of which have been written to assist people in understand themselves and others and become the best that they can be.  Her doctoral research explored authentic leadership and how to develop it

“Getting stuff done” is a crucial aspect of leadership. Critically when we deploy the skill of leadership the stuff we get done is stuff that we have not done before, because leadership is fundamentally about change.  That change will only happen if followers follow the lead offered and therefore leadership and vulnerability go hand in hand.  When we take a step into the unknown, doing something we have not done before and with an unknown outcome, we don’t know if anyone will follow us,  This uncertainty makes us feel vulnerable and the very natural reaction to that emotion is to step back.  It is only when we lean in to that emotion of vulnerability that we choose leadership.

Understandably in the context of that vulnerability and uncertainty, it can take us a little time to fully step in to that leadership space.  It can take time to evaluate options and also to convince ourselves that we are OK with the vulnerability that will create for us.  Vulnerability – both an emotion and an action. 

We asked Fiona to write a blog post about Authentic Leadership, it turned into a post about the relationship between Authentic Leadership, vulnerability and why Authentic Leaders can end up delivering results more slowly, but more reliably than Boss Style Leaders.

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This isn’t the blog post I meant to write.  I had meant to write something noble and inspiring, but instead, I kept putting it off, managing to make myself feel worse about letting Neil down as the weeks passed.   Then I came across a TED talk by Adam Grant about procrastination.  Apparently highly original thinkers do five things in particular that other people don’t do, and procrastination tops the list.  So I immediately felt better – obviously I must be one of these original thinkers!   But then I thought about it some more and I started to ponder two things: firstly, what ‘allowable weaknesses’ might authentic leaders have? (Obviously I was hoping that procrastination might be one of them), and secondly, from a different perspective, what would a truly authentic leader do in a situation where they had promised someone something but hadn’t yet been able to deliver?

Before we explore the answers to these two questions let’s consider what Adam Grant has to say about original thinkers.  What he calls procrastination I prefer to call ‘incubation’.  Once we’ve formulated an idea we look at it from every perspective and add to it over time.  Whilst this stops us from shutting ideas down or acting too soon, it does lead to delays which can be frustrating, for both us and others.  Secondly, original thinkers often doubt their ideas.  Paradoxically, rather than paralysing us as self-doubt can do, doubting our ideas gives us the energy to research them further, to test and refine them until we’re certain that they’re robust and can stand up to scrutiny.

The third thing original thinkers do is avoid taking the first option that presents itself, but rather, we look for the best option from all areas of our lives.  For example, if we want some heavy duty rope for the garden to make a wood and rope trellis, we don’t limit our search to the garden centre, we also go and investigate the boat chandlers where they will have other kinds of rope.  Vuja de is the opposite of déjà vu.  Original thinkers somehow seem to have the ability to look at things in ways which allows them to make connections and see things that no-one else has identified before.  I experienced this with Thinking Styles, the first cognitive and behavioural measurement tool I designed, it was the trigger for my doctoral research into authentic leadership and also for Leadership Temperament Types, a new concept which takes a psychobiological approach to considering how the four hormones of testosterone, oestrogen, dopamine and serotonin influence management and leadership style.  Vuja de was also one of the drivers for Neil and his business partner Mark when they conceptualised Holos as a challenger consultancy to support the development of authentic leadership within organisations today. 

Finally, the fifth thing that original thinkers do is practise.  Their creative output is much higher than other peoples’.  At 18 I went to Cordwainer’s College in Hackney, London and studied handbag manufacture and design.  I would always make two bags to everyone else’s one.  I worked more quickly than other people and I liked to use my time in class productively.  Rather than standing around chatting and waiting for a sewing machine to become available I would use the time to design a slightly different bag and cut out the pieces for it fitting in its assembly in otherwise wasted minutes.  So I got twice as much practise compared to the other students, which consolidated my learning and helped me to become quicker, more creative and more confident.  I learnt to trust myself and my abilities; life skills which I’ve been able to transfer to my roles as an organisational development consultant and psychologist.       

So back to our two questions about authentic leaders.  How would an authentic leader handle procrastination and can we consider it an ‘allowable weaknesses’?  I’m going to suggest that it depends on the situation.  Is it procrastination or is it incubation?  Is the output required by someone else so that they can achieve their objectives and if so, is there a deadline and how urgent and important is it?  Is the task something only the leader can do or can it be delegated?  Are they putting it off because they are scared of getting it wrong or of not being good enough, or have other things simply taken priority?  Authentic leaders do their utmost to be their best selves.  They always deliver unless circumstances change and they are unable to.  They are however, only human, and like all of us, sometimes it can take them longer to do something than they might have hoped.  I believe that they are worth the wait.            

Holos helps make change easy. We help organisations develop their leaders, map out and deliver the changes required to achieve sustained success even in a highly disrupted environment.

At Holos we have been studying change leadership and leadership training in the crucible of reality for years. We know what great leadership looks like and we know the journey to achieve it. We have developed a suite of diagnostic tools to understand where companies and teams are on this journey and how to take them from there to sustained success.

Holos has a wealth of specialist leadership and culture coaches and consultants with decades of experience working with a huge variety of leaders. Holos can help you or your organisation to upgrade it’s leadership to flourish even in a challenging business environment.

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Neil Crofts

+447803 774239



About Neil Crofts

Writer, coach and consultant on authentic business and authentic leadership. Neil has inspired and motivated hundreds organisations and thousands of individuals to their highest potential. Neil has written three published books and numerous e-books. Neil is a coach, facilitator and consultant helping people and businesses find their authentic purpose and use it to inspire and motivate them to be everything that they can be. Neil has raced cars, been self-employed, run a company and sold it, been employed by large companies, experienced growth and contraction at the heart of the dotcom boom, tried changing companies from the inside and from the outside as European Head of Strategy at internet consultancy/rock band Razorfish. Neil has been independent for over 10 years and delivered his Authentic Leadership message to a diverse range of business audiences including people at BP, Shell, Microsoft, Kraft Foods, MSN, Jamie Oliver, South Gloucestershire Council, National Blood Transfusion Service, KaosPilots Business School, Fashion company By Malene Birger, German technology company Eleven.
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