4 dilemmas of Leadership

4 dilemmas of Leadership – Have you experienced it?

There are several programs, research papers, coaches and facilitators which direct your leaderships attention towards being authentic. In fact in all of my leadership development programs I encourage leaders to be their authentic self in order to be effective. While this seems to be a great idea to talk about and has a feel good factor to it, it has its own downside. Over the years having worked ancareer-change-dilemmasd surveyed leadership effectiveness amongst thousands of leaders across industries, I found that in their attempt to being authentic, somewhere leadership productivity suffers. This leads to a lot of conflict in the minds of today’s leaders. The common refrain I hear from the leaders in our programs – “Is it really practical?” Should we in the attempt to being sincere (without wax, in Latin) expose ourselves so much that we lose control? Let us look at the common ‘authenticity dilemmas’ for today’s leaders and see ‘Is it authenticity or effectiveness or both which is demanded from them’. Is leadership all about being ‘authentic’ or ‘effective’?

  1. Authentic leadership demands high level of self-awareness While this is definitely useful to understand one’s own personality, the strengths and weaknesses and its impact on the environment, focusing inwards has its own downside. In the attempt to remain authentic, people tend to start believing that ‘this is the way I am’ and people need to ‘accept me the way I am’. It can be limiting as it can come in the way of looking for possibilities beyond your comfort zone. Leaders have to be willing to operate outside of their comfort zone and also perceived to be exploring newer territories . In fact, that is what their jobs demand of them all the time. When they see that what their work demands and who they are really does not match, it leads to self-doubts – which is not so good for their leadership effectiveness.
  2. Authentic leaders must be true to their self also creates a lot of confusion about which ‘self?’ are we talking about. We grow up with so many identities that it is difficult to choose one from the many. Your identity as a child, student, sibling, mother, father, manager are all not just based on what you have realized. It is what others have seen in you and confirmed. Therefore, it becomes difficult as in leading a team or a social group you end up fighting this battle of ‘true-self’ vs. ‘need-of-the-hour’ self. I have found this dilemma being expressed in each and every class of my leadership programs where we use psychometric tests to identify personalities. The effort taken to reconcile the so called ‘true-self’ and multiple identities is so much that people tend to get frustrated and confused in the end.
  3. Authentic leadership demands ‘integrity’ while there is no denying that being true to yourself and the people around you goes a long way in building trust, being so at times can also lead to the opposite – that is ‘no trust’. Integrity demands that what you say and what you do should be coherent, taken too far this can be unproductive. We all would want a leader who is willing to express himself freely, but if he starts to do that for all the doubts and fears that comes to his head in the name of integrity can lead to doubts in the minds of the people who they lead. So relevant – for example when you are leading a team of soldiers in the battlefront. You can’t keep expressing your fears even if you know the dangers that lurk around the corner. Your soldiers look up to you for motivation and confidence to do battle. In such instances you may have to ‘fake it’ till you ‘make it’. This does not necessarily impact your leadership effectiveness, on the contrary may go a long way in achieving your goals.
  4. Authentic leadership demands ‘vulnerability’ is the most discomforting of the aspects people don’t relate to. I have found that when I say that leaders need to be comfortably vulnerable with people who they lead, there is always a discomforting glance which I get. Our natural instincts as humans is to mask our vulnerabilities. It is the pure need for survival. This applies especially so when you are faced with many challenges in your path towards success. You will find that there exists continuous pressure on your leadership effectiveness from various quarters and importantly so from the people who you lead. They are constantly checking and testing you for your worth in leading them. They wouldn’t for sure accept leaders, who are seen to be weak or constantly sharing their weaknesses. They would want someone who can in the face of any danger, project a confident exterior. It’s like a Frog trying to expand its size when it comes face to face with a snake. It is scared but does not show that it is vulnerable. Many times this saves the day as well. Similar to what we have been taught ‘When a dog chases you, don’t run, turn back, stop and face it’; it will then walk away after sniffing around for a while. At that moment you may be terrified to the core, however, if you mask it you can lead the dog in a different direction.

I do believe there is a need to make a clear distinction about what we want from our leaders ‘authenticity’ or ‘effectiveness’? Who are we more likely to follow – leaders who deliver results or who are just authentic and nice?

I believe that as long as leaders ‘act’ and deliver results, people who chose to follow them may overlook the flaws in their personality. Maybe that’s the reason why we end up voting for political leaders who deliver even though we are aware of their inherent lack of authenticity.

Willing to discuss this line of thought, please feel free to write in your comments…

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