In 2003 I was very lucky to be selected to be a participant on a Kings Fund Leadership Programme. It wasn’t a short programme; it was an intensive 2 year programme where we had the most fantastic experiences. We were just so privileged to be able to do what we did. At the time I didn’t know what a difference it had made to me – but I do now, now I know how it helped me to be a better leader.
We are all flawed. I have moments of greed, avarice, and impatience, and I suspect that you might do too, but despite that I believe I am a kind person. I do like to be seen to be doing well, always seeking to take on everything, to perform well, to be top-of-the-class. It isn’t about competing with others; it’s different, a need to be seen to be competent, unflappable and capable. Why I might be like that is another story.
What I didn’t know was what that meant in relation to the people I worked with, how it made them feel. It took the 360 feedback from the programme and my peers on the programme to help me to understand. Essentially people saw me as unflappable and competent to the extent that I seemed to be able to take on anything – ‘fly me to the moon?’ – ‘Yes, of course, no problem’. I thought accepting anything that life and work threw at me, without asking for help or seeming to be concerned, was the right thing to do.
What I hadn’t considered was how my Teflon ‘unflappable-ness’, which of course is a façade, made other people feel. They felt inadequate and I was making them feel like that. It created a tension that I knew was there but I didn’t know why. It alienated them from me.
So then I needed to learn to be authentic, which is according to Dean Royles: ‘authentic is the new black’. Authentic leadership is driven from your own beliefs and values and represents those put into action and I talk about it often when I talk about how I present myself online. I try to show the whole of me, flaws, challenges, passions and all. For authentic leaders there is congruence between their beliefs and values and the human passions and flaws that these create.
I had to learn to understand myself and how to let go. I started by practising showing my insecurities to work colleagues – saying when I was unsure, or needed help, giving a flash of Anne under the corporate coat. I literally used to visualise opening my coat then closing it again. I think it’s fair to say I began to change. Why did I do this? I did this because I learnt that the whole of Anne is better than Anne in a corporate coat, a coat that represents the unflappable, unstoppable Anne, a corporate version of me.
Taking risks like this takes courage and practice. It means that people are more likely to see the slightly more ugly parts of me too. Since then I have developed the best network of friends and colleagues, people who accept me as I am. This doesn’t mean my poor behaviours can be excused but more I can show the balance of Anne, the passions, the values and insecurities as well as my drive and good performances. I think I’m a better person for it, freed up to show some of my more personal intrinsic motivators and passions in a way that would never have been possible strapped into the corporate coat.