Home Leadership The Courage of Leader Authenticity

The Courage of Leader Authenticity

by Guest Writter
Chip R. Bell

Hundreds of employees poured into the giant hotel ballroom. Room lights dimmed as the spotlights bathed the massive stage revealing a colorful, themed background. Sounding like the voice of God, the sound tech spoke: “Ladies and gentlemen, the CEO of Acme Manufacturing, Jan Smith.”

The CEO, carefully scripted through a teleprompter and supported by dazzling slides, gave the financial history and the projected goals. The scene was a carbon copy of a gazillion other big deal meetings held in hundreds of ballrooms around the world. But, this one was different.

Without warning the CEO moved beyond the teleprompter to the edge of the stage. The speech changed from one of pragmatism to one of passion. As the CEO began to talk about the power of the company’s vision and the value of every employee, overflowing emotion necessitated several pauses to regain composure. As the CEO completed the final sentence there was a long silence. The audience sat overwhelmed by what they had just witnessed. Then, they leapt to their feet for an awkwardly long standing ovation. Even the “way too serious” contract sound techs were on their feet!

What charged the otherwise calloused crowd was the CEO’s courage to be unabashedly authentic—to be publicly real. Whether the emotion displayed is anger, compassion, pain, or joy, the authenticity of leaders changes the nature of the connection and invites a valued link with others.

Authentic Leaders Invite Engagement

Leaders too often associate their mantle of authority with a requirement for detachment. “I don’t care if my employees like me,” the swashbuckling ruler announces, “I just want them to respect me.” Such a view is often a preamble to emotional distance and calculated encounters. The headlong pursuit of aloofness as the expression of authority invites employee evasiveness, not employee enthusiasm. It triggers reserve, not respect. An open door policy is not about a piece of furniture but rather an attitude of authenticity.

Organizations populated by genuine leaders have more than their share of employee engagement and cutting edge breakthroughs. Their customers are loyal longer because they trust what they experience. Their suppliers give them better breaks because they view encounters as long-term investments, not short-term transactions. Notable CEO examples include Hsieh at Zappos, Schultz at Starbucks, Kelly at Southwest Airlines, Whitman at HP, Cook at Apple and Page at Google. They combine superior business acumen with sincere emotional intelligence enabling them to effectively connect, inspire and lead.

Authentic Leaders Don’t Wear Rank 

I invited a fellow consultant to assist me with a group of senior executives of a long term client. She had heard me repeatedly rave about the CEO of this high-tech company. Her flight was delayed and the meeting was underway when she arrived, preventing me from introducing her to the audience. After listening to the group in a lengthy, spirited dialogue over a strategic challenge, she whispered to me, “Which one is the CEO?” It was the highest compliment I could have bestowed on a leader fond of saying, “Never add any more leadership than is needed.” Leaders without rank busy themselves with the business of mission and course, not might and conceit.

Authentic Leaders Care about Spirit

“There is more to ‘turning lemons into lemonade’ than just a positive effort,” says Dallas-based motivational speaker Ed Foreman. “Lemons take very little energy, but lemonade is a creation you have to work at.” When Foreman was scheduled to do an all-day workshop at an invitation-only event in Scotland, he arrived only to learn the sponsor had been unable to enlist a single participant. “Don’t worry,” the sponsor told Foreman. “We’ll pay your daily fee and expenses; you can take the day off.” “Not a chance,” responded Foreman. “We’re going to call on your customers together and get as many as we can to enlist in you next training event.”  The sponsor learned a great lesson as Foreman’s passion turned customer resistance into customers registered.

Margery Williams’ Velveteen Rabbit is a children’s book many parents have shared as a bedtime story. The dialogue between the wise skin horse and naive rabbit contains great lessons for leaders. “Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you….It doesn’t happen all at once, you become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.”


About the Author 

Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker, consultant and bestselling author. His newest book is The 9 ½ Principles of Innovative ServiceHe can be reached through www.chipbell.com.

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