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Leaders Gone Wrong: How Authenticity Goes Too Far
In developing leaders, CLOs should be aware that authenticity, while invaluable, can become an excuse for verbal abuse and laziness.
When Steve Jobs died last fall, his status as an executive ascended to the level of myth. People from all walks of life began studying the man to determine what made him so successful and hopefully learn from it. One of the things about him praised so widely was his authenticity; whether he succeeded or failed in any given venture, he seemingly never compromised himself.
But there was a downside to that level of authenticity. Jobs’ biographer Walter Isaacson has said, “He could be very, very mean to people at times.” Stories are legion of Jobs berating and belittling people with whom he worked.
According to Peggy Klaus, executive coach and author of the book The Hard Truth About Soft Skills, such negative byproducts of authenticity are endemic among executives today and have “gotten completely out of hand.”
“It has become an excuse for bad behavior; for rudeness; for humiliating people,” said Klaus, who calls this the Popeye school of self-management — I am what I am. “I’m going to behave in the way that I think is authentic to me, regardless of whether that is bad behavior.”
So how should CLOs approach this? Having leaders censor themselves doesn’t help matters, according to Lauren Zander, co-founder and chairman of The Handel Group, an international corporate consulting and private coaching company.
“There’s what someone’s saying and then there’s that invisible bubble of what you can feel they’re thinking and not saying,” she said. “People, whether they’re cognizant of it or not, are constantly in tune with both and reacting to both.”
The goal of encouraging authenticity in a leader is to align what people think with what they say and do. “But then there comes the problem, because what if you’ve got a real jerk? They don’t care about other people’s experience of them,” said Zander, who wrote about this phenomenon in a Harvard Business Review blog entry titled “Authentic Leadership Can Be Bad Leadership.”
The Next Generation of HR: What’s Wrong? What’s Right?
May 23rd 1:00pm - 2:00pm CT
2013 CLO Breakfast Club, Boston
September 12th - 12th, 2013The Westin Copley Place
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