Being myself – authentic leadership

VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100In 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.

360What 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 me to the moon

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.

balanceTaking 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.

authenticSo authentic leadership is, I believe critical; the ability to be myself and be human, not to be a robotic corporate being, to help others to understand the whole me, flawed as I am.

9 thoughts on “Being myself – authentic leadership

  1. Thanks for being so honest Anne, so many people think that they can not lead or manage without putting on the corporate mask. And professionals think they have to put on the mask with patients rather than share their humanity.

    Hopefully as more highly visible people like you show your whole self, junior staff will realise they don’t need a mask.

  2. Only just starting to learn about Authentic leadership, and you have helped clarify it beautifully. Do you think, if as the RCN says, we are leaders at every level, that we (I) can use the Authentic Leadership model in my modest role at work? Sorry if this sounds stupid

  3. Annie, thanks for sharing your experience of leading authentically. I’m interested in the relationships between emotional expression (‘exposing insecurities’) and the need, sometimes, to present an ideal professional persona. Say for example when dealing with bereaved relatives or perhaps when role modelling professional behaviour as a mentor for inexperienced colleagues when dealing with a crisis.

    Isn’t role modelling professional detachment sometimes an authentic behaviour? Emotional intelligence is part of authenticity but surely so is idealistic behaviour.

    How do these things hang together?

  4. thanks Anne for this,I remember starting my nurse training and even then putting on my cloak of almost aloofness, I now realise it was that what I experienced was too much too young ,and there it was my career was defined by my ability to appear on the outside to be (as you put it) unflappable but inside trying hard to process what Id experienced. In the 1990s (that long ago?!) management training was focussed on corporate behaviours ie being leadershipful and in control …….authenticity was never mentioned, sharp suits and shoulder pads were the order of the day and I had a few!!
    Its taken me a number of years to relax into myself at work, its OK not to be perfect and I agree that others will respond and learn from behaviours that we as leaders exhibit, its a bit scary being a role model (and yes I actually think I am) so I now try to show me the nurse leader and also Lynn the woman mum friend sister and singer!

  5. Hi Tim
    Thank you for your comment – made me think 😀
    I’m not sure I believe in the concept of an ‘ideal’ professional persona.
    I think that implies a robotic, formulaic approach to nursing. If I’m dealing with relatives who are bereaved it is right surely that I’m authentic? In this instance it may not be exposing insecurities (that was an example I gave) but it could be crying with relatives. In a crisis there is a need to get on with the situation but why not afterwards say ‘I found that really hard’?
    I think professional detachment is a different thing. A complex issue around the emotional labour of work but surely authenticity, admitting something was hard and seeking help maybe, would be a good thing to do?
    I feel sure based on my experiences of the last 10 years that I’m a better person when I don’t try to be something I’m not, a sort of sanitised version of me.
    That’s not to say I shouldn’t behave well, or with compassion, it just means do that with the whole of me and in my own authentic way.
    But a very interesting question 🙂

  6. Anne,
    For me authenticity includes professional detachment (if a part of the authentic self). By ‘ideal’ I don’t assume perfection or automated inauthentic impression management, rather ‘what does good look like’ in the context of whatever one perceives oneself to be, in your case a nurse in the NHS,. This, of course, links to your values, both professional/personal.

    Without an ‘ideal’ to aspire to how do we know what to do? I’ll bet you had a nursing role model who you wished to be like. I call this role model a values based leader.

    I agree that unless you have congruence between the various aspects of self, you will always have that rational and emotional dissonance which is transferred to others and prevents you from feeling great about what you are/do.

  7. Anne,

    As always a brilliant blog – you are very practiced showing you as you 🙂 I tried to write something personal yesterday and failed miserably. Just couldn’t – yet I can talk for ages around the same subject(not sure why the disconnect!).

    Personally, I feel more relaxed working around someone who I feel is genuinely them and not someone who is showing another face, kinda allows me to form a relationship around trust and that is not something that can be destroyed when the moment allows ie when it pays the other person to do so. Have come across a lot of them over the course of the years.

    SM is great at allowing this to happen.

  8. About being Kind and Adjectives | anniecoops

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