When I was a kid, and a co-founder of the almost all-boys "John Rambo Club," a new girl moved into the neighborhood. There had never been another girl my age to play with before. She didn't wear Michael Jordan t-shirts or carry around a survival knife. Instead, she had pretty curly hair and went to ballet classes.
So what did I do when she asked for my phone number to set up a play date?
I mumbled my seven digits as quickly and as softly as possible, with my head turned away from her.
One year later I was in ballet class. Five years later I found out that though I could hold my own as a ballerina, my real strength was in modern dancing: where I could run around and wear nylons on my head for performances.
I admired my new friend for her ballerina discipline and precision. We were both dancers. But very different dancers. Each of us strong and passionate.
Our qualities of leadership might look the same on paper, but if we're honest, my vision will be different from your vision.
DANCING IN THE OFFICE
And so goes a healthy and honest office environment. Everyone leads with a different style. All leaders dance. However, some excel in black leotards and peach pointe shoes, while others thrive in bare feet and improvisation.
As more girls moved into the neighborhood most of them were either in the ballet camp or in the soccer camp. I had to be honest with myself, and take a tiny step away from the group to pursue my own strengths, and I had to have the courage to tell them I wouldn't be joining them like I had in the past. But I'd see them on the weekends. Still friends. BFF's.
So, let's get honest. What are your strengths?
YOU'RE NOT SO HOT
And that's a good thing.
Get to know yourself. There are lots of leadership quality lists out there, but do you really have to have every single one of those qualities? It’s probably best if you don’t--no one can honestly be everything. And that book you just read about why everyone needs to be disruptive or charismatic or super-duper positive? Maybe it’s not your style. Admit it.
Let’s start with the number one reason honesty is a leadership quality you need:
It’s a lot of work trying to be someone you’re not. Can you cultivate more qualities? Of course. Just stop telling yourself you’re really innovative when you could actually put some effort into getting better at it. There’s no shame in falling short in one area or another. That’s what work is for. Work at it. Put it at the top of your list.
When you’re honest as a leader, you set the tone for the rest of the office, and there’s a better chance that others will also be more honest. If everyone can be vocal about both their shortcomings and their strengths you’ll be better able to utilize people in an effective way.
Look for strengths where you didn’t think they existed. Honesty is just as much about truth-telling as it is about clarity. We’re all bold in our own ways. Some are more vocal while others are bold in action. Perhaps you find that your innovation is subtle, and therefore more stealth and potentially more disruptive over time. Maybe that employee that you thought was overly shy on the phone is a fearless writer.
Make a list of your strengths.
Make a list of your shortcomings--things you’d like to improve
Take your office’s temperature. Are people open with what they can/can’t do, and vocalize when they need help? Are people willing to step up and offer their skills when others need it? Is there someone better for the job, and could you mix things up?
Are there others in your office that can stand in as the innovators, the courageous, the disciplined, and how can you better use their strengths and learn from them?
It's True. Sugar Is Bad. For Everyone.
Just like refined sugar and processed food aren't good for our bodies and energy levels, sugar-coating or over-engineering communication in the office isn’t healthy either. Not too sweet, not too bitter. Gummy fish? Instant headache for me. Apples? Yes. Let’s be real, people.
If employees see that it’s safe for you to be honest, then they will feel more comfortable communicating directly rather than sugar-coating everything.
And there’s no games--no one has to guess where they stand in relation to one another. Be sure to be just as honest with your satisfaction as well as your disappointment. We often think that honesty only requires us to say “that’s crap,” but we often forget that honesty includes revealing your satisfaction and support.
Keep it all out in the open. The good and the bad.
When was the last time you openly praised someone for the value they add to your company?
Do you have a hard time letting people know when you believe in them, and that they can do better? Why? Try motivating people rather than blaming them.
It’s never too late for an apology if you’ve ever let your anger get the best of your honest communication. Said “sorry” lately?
COOKIE CUTTER REVOLT
“During the past 50 years, leadership scholars have conducted more than 1,000 studies in an attempt to determine the definitive styles, characteristics, or personality traits of great leaders. None of these studies has produced a clear profile of the ideal leader. Thank goodness. If scholars had produced a cookie-cutter leadership style, individuals would be forever trying to imitate it. They would make themselves into personae, not people, and others would see through them immediately.” - Harvard Business Review
Did you hear that? 1,000 studies couldn't give us a clear portrait of a leader. However, without honesty all of those other qualities might as well go out the window.
So, here's to dancing to the beat of your own drum, and encouraging others around you to do the same.