“Breaking” Into Authentic Leadership

Can you think of some words you seem to use often to describe someone you consider an impactful “leader”?  We say things like that person is wise, or they have high EQ..perhaps they have a lot of empathy…they’re strong…they stay level headed under pressure.  But how often do we wonder what were the life lessons that made them that way, that shaped those traits in them?

I’ve had the honor and privilege of leading people at various times throughout my career.  And as I reflected on this question recently, it dawned on me that the most authentic parts of me have been preceded by the darkest periods that have “broken” me.  Those seasons in my life where I felt like I was going through some heavy stuff I wasn’t sure I could see my way out of and couldn’t make sense of, where I was mad at God and the universe and everything in between.  And in that “breaking”, each time an opening was created where humility and humanity would come through to create greater unity, a oneness that allows you to lead the other as self…a reminder that whoever is before you, whether you are tasked with leading them or not, they too have “broken” parts.

How does this work?  What does it look like?  How is it balanced with the “needs of the business” when you’re an executive with expected deliverables and pressures of tight timelines?  Here are a few quick lessons I’ve learned along the way:

  • It doesn’t take much.  Taking even just a few seconds at the beginning of a conversation to connect with the other person on a “human” level before diving into work impacts how each of your brains “shows up” to the conversation.

  •  It builds on itself.  Your brain likes patterns and associations.  If consistently each time you approach me, you start the conversation with a personal connection, my brain associates you with a deeper level of engagement than just basic work needs and I’m able to shift to that deeper connection state more immediately when we meet.

  •  Make it matter.  Skip the chit chat.  Make your brief conversation about something meaningful, like asking about the person’s sick relative or their child’s soccer game over the weekend.  For decades now, my closest friends and I start our conversations with some sort of immediate “deep dive” question that allows us to get right into making the most of our time together…something like, “what’s good in your life right now, and what’s hard/what are you working on (personal growth area)?”  That way we can celebrate what’s good and offer support or a listening heart for what’s hard. 

Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of work in the space of Psychological Safety, a term coined by Amy Edmondson and popularized when a major Google study found it was the #1 factor that led to high performance teams.  You can check out Amy’s Book, Fearless Teaming, here.  Part of the principle of Psychological Safety is that people don’t want to have to show up with a different version of themselves at work than they do elsewhere, but rather want to know that they can feel comfortable being their whole self all the time. I’m grateful to Amy for creating a platform for a global conversation in this space. 

How can approaching our teammates in the ways discussed here contribute to better teams?  How can leaders model these steps effectively?    

ENGAGE: Want to discuss the questions above?  Click here to contact me and let’s chat. 

GO FURTHER:  I’d love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to comment below or send me a message.


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