Authentic Leadership

September 21st

In the new age of interactive communications one of the most significant implications that will be seen in coming years will be growing pressure on the leaders of organizations to present their authentic selves to the organizations that they lead.  Whether this will mean the CEO, the President of the United States or a division manager, the executive self will be on display in a fishbowl.  Just as HR recruiters will be checking Google on their applicants to compare statements that they are making on their applications with their Facebook pages, so too will employees be checking their leaders.

One of the sins of the modern 24/7 news culture is hypocracy.  These Google checks are going to be important because they will impact the effectiveness of the leader.  In an age in which everyone can have a blog, every employee is Woodward or Bernstein.  For the CEO to present a false or at least hypocritical statement  is likely to ignite the appetite of the blogosphere and lead to more trouble down the road.

The implication of this modern phenomenon is unlikely to be comfortable for leaders.  But there is tangible value in candor.

One of the most famous examples of leaders who demonstrated his candor and his authenticity was seen in the well known Commencement Speech that Steve Jobs delivered at Stamford University in 2005.  He started by explaining that he was going to tell 3 stories and keep it simple.

His first story would have been embarrassing in any celebration of graduation.  He started by explaining how he came to be a college drop out.  For an extended period after he dropped out of Reed College, he floated, staying there at Reed and auditing courses.  “And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on”

His advice was to follow your gut, to do what you love and have faith that this process will bring you to something valuable. You may not know at first why something is valuable to you .

“Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”

Having begun by explaining that he had been an orphan and a college drop out, he went on to describe how he created Apple and then was fired.  Having to leave Apple, he said, was like love lost.

“I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over. I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”

His third story about himself had to do with hearing that he had been diagnosed with cancer.  Recognizing that we are all on a path to the end of our lives, he said, offers the blessing of confirming how little time we have.  “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”

Indeed, for Steve Jobs, recognizing his mortality confirmed his intense personal focus.

“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘no’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

What worked for Steve may not work for everyone.  But there is no question that his case is notable for its candor.

Comments

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