Unpacking Being Real (Authenticity for Leaders) Lesson #1

Lesson #1 Walk Your Talk

In my upcoming book (Bravespace Workplace: Making Your Company Fit for Human Life; Maven House Press; May 21, 2019) I define a bravespace workplace is one in which people can show up as they are, both worthy and flawed, and do great things together. Rather than being carte blanche for people to wear their bathrobes to work and blurt out their thoughts at the expense of others, being real at work means something completely different. What being real means is unique to each one of us. We know it in our gut when someone is showing up authentically, and we can sense when someone is faking it. No amount of reading, training, or degrees can guarantee that we’ll capably be true and real with others at work. This essential trait is a tricky one for leaders to land sometimes for leaders who read the books and go to classes and may unwittingly lose their way in being themselves while also leading.

The work of being real with one another at work requires, rather than piling on new skills, stripping away the protective layers that keep our feelings, opinions, and tensions hidden. Decades of politically correct, ingrained ways of being at work must be put aside in order to discover the unique, true, and honest story that we bring to work every day. There are seven practices for being real that work, and in this blog series, I will unpack each of them. First up:

Walk Your Talk.

The fastest way to erode trust is to espouse one thing and do another. We tune in to one another at work based on what we see done, not what’s promised. A client of mine was the general manager of a company. He told his team that family needs come first, so they should prioritize their families when it came to work-related impacts such as overtime and weekend interruptions. During a regularly scheduled meeting one Monday, one of the directors asked the GM if he had expected a response to his email, sent at 5 a.m. on the Sunday prior to the meeting? The director had seen the email when he came to work, hadn’t really read it, and worried that his boss expected an answer by the time they met Monday. The subtext of their conversation was answer by the time the met Monday. The subtext of their conversation was, “You say you want us to prioritize family, but you consistently work evenings and weekends. This tells me that you expect me to as well, despite what you say.”

To their credit, this was a fruitful conversation. The GM openly owned his own 24/7 working style and acknowledged that his direct reports might interpret his behavior as contradicting his words. They agreed that there were times when it was essential to go the extra mile, but that these instances should be exceptions and not the rule given what they valued.

People who work with us watch what we do far more than what we say. My mother used to say to me when I was young that if you really want to know the character of someone, pay attention to what they do, not what they say they are going to do.  This is the essence of walking our talk. Our behavior is the ultimate manifestation of what we value, and it is the visible evidence to others that we are consistent in the manifestation of what we believe.

What is a core issue today around which you need to demonstrate to others that you can and will “walk your talk?”  Why does it matter to the people who work for you that you do what you espouse?

Next Up: Lesson #2: Naming the Ugly, Scary and Hard

Jim MorrisComment