You're The Leader, You Go First (Authenticity for Leaders) Lesson #3
Lesson #3: You’re the Leader, You go First
If you are a manager at any level, you should know that people are watching your every move. I don’t mean that they are consciously, every second of the day, paying attention to your day-to-day habits and patterns. Rather, employees who work for you are simply tuned into what their supervisor does in a way that is both unconscious and insidious. They don’t even notice that they notice when you come to work, how you act under stress, and when your words do not match your actions. They just do.
Most of all, employees who work for us notice when there is dissonance between what you say and what you do. The executive who says she doesn’t expect her staff to work excessive hours each day and weekends undermines her own statements when people see her regularly sending emails late at night and working every weekend.
And as a result of how tuned in employees are to dissonance between what you say and do, it is really, really important that you go first with all the hard things. Especially with showing up. As I’ve launched my newest book (Bravespace Workplace: Making Your Company Fit for Human Life) and also host Dare to Lead™ workshops across the country featuring Dr. Brene’ Brown’s groundbreaking content about the 4 skills of a courage practice, I find myself in the room often with leaders everywhere who seek to strengthen their impact in order to make their companies brave ones in which people can show up, as they are, perfect and flawed and do great things together. It has become good for business (at last) to talk about feelings at work.
Here’s the thing I am noticing though: we all want connection and courage and to rumble with hard conversations and to do work that matters, but most of us would prefer if other people actually went first with revealing their hearts or their truth. One recent workshop participant put it this way, “I love it when my team is brave and talks about the hard stuff. But do I have to?”
Yes, I told him. Yes, yes, and double yes.
What do I mean when we say, “the hard stuff?” I see it as anything that you find talking about and that requires you to be present with people as a leader in ways that are real. This includes the emotional intelligence skills of revealing what you are feeling (“I’m struggling with this one,” I’m not sure what the best next step is,” “I feel so frustrated”) as well as having the willingness to stay in your lane and admit when you’ve made a mistake or do not know the answer. I watched a leader go first in an inclusion workshop lately that modeled this “hard stuff” beautifully.
He was a VP of a large company (Mark) and had committed to his team to work on being a better ally to women in meetings. At a recent team workshop, a female colleague shared an idea, and no one commented as the conversation migrated. When another male team member repeated her idea as his own a few minutes later, Mark felt his palms sweat. He knew this was a “showing up” moment, but he was anxious about challenging a peer for his unconscious act that minimized/ignored the women’s voice (a common occurrence.) He mustered courage and said, “Thanks, Bill for building on the idea I heard Susan share a few minutes ago. Let’s not lose that thread that she brought forward.” This simple statement made it clear that Mark was an ally to Susan, while also conveying with dignity that Bill needed to be more aware of attributions. When Mark did this, it spoke volumes to the team about his seriousness of wanting to be an ally.
The manifestation of courage for leaders starts with choosing to be out front, going first, with the behaviors you seek in your team, especially the hard stuff. As John Gerzema (Co-author with Michael Antonia of the best-selling book, The Athena Doctrine, says, “Everywhere, people are beginning to question masculine notions of control, aggression and black-and-white thinking - and instead are favoring more empathetic, nurturing and collaborative approaches. All leaders, male or female, innately possess feminine qualities like empathy, candor and vulnerability - the difference lies in which leaders choose to suppress those qualities, and which choose to leverage them as strengths.”
Gone are the days when leaders at work can be all-knowing and logical providers of answers. In order to inspire and draw out the best of the people who work for them, the good leaders today are going first with the behaviors they are asking of their people. I think of it sometimes as envisioning people at work as stick people, historically ones with big round heads full of knowledge and logic but tiny atrophied and invisible hearts. The leader of tomorrow has plenty of knowledge and experience, but these are balanced by a rich, powerful, open, and willing-to-go-first heart.
When a leader shows up in their workplace as willing to be vulnerable, take risks, admit mistakes, and share what is real for them, their actions speak volumes to employees. When they do this, employees are a thousand times more likely to reciprocate, which means they will speak up, innovate, challenge assumptions, and name mistakes. And when this happens, we really can achieve the phenomenal.