7 ways to be a more authentic leader (review of Executive Presence)
Looking for your organization’s next generation of great leaders?
They’re already working for you on the frontlines.
That homegrown talent has the potential to someday become your strongest leaders. That’s my hypothesis based on a quarter century of watching and working with senior executives at a hospital, steelmaker, college and university.
The best of the best – the ones who were the most connected, respected and effective – got their start delivering care at the bedside, working in the plant or teaching in classrooms.
They’d been with the same organization since day one or joined early in their careers. They didn’t have to convince anyone that they’d always harbored a passion for healthcare, manufacturing or education. And they didn’t have to fend off questions or suspicions about whether this was just a brief layover before their next move to a bigger paycheque at another organization.
These homegrown leaders stepped into senior positions with the advantage of already knowing the organization’s history, culture and values because they’d helped make it, define it and live it. They hadn’t just walked in the shoes of the people they were now leading; they’d worn out the heels of those same shoes.
They had built a loyal and large fan club while working their way up the leadership ranks. Promotions and appointments were met with more cheers than jeers because colleagues knew them to be genuine, decent and real people. After all, it’s all but impossible to be a jerk or sociopath for 20-plus years in the same organization without being called out and forced out.
That authenticity is critical to your success as a leader, says Executive Presence author Harrison Monarth, who’s worked with more than 60 Fortune 500 CEOs and thousands of senior leaders over the past two decades. “For others to feel a connection and trust us, we must strive to be more authentic.”
You can’t fake it once you’ve made it. So if you’re looking to better connect with the people whose buy-in will ultimately decide whether you succeed or fail, Monarth has a seven-point authenticity checklist for aspiring and emerging leaders.
- “Have honest conversations with others about issues that matter to you deeply.” What keeps you awake at night? What gets you out of bed Monday morning?
- “Build real relationships and practice empathy by having honest and heartfelt conversations with others about issues that matter deeply to them.” We won’t care what you know until we know that you care about us.
- “Admit when you’re wrong and apologize when you should.” Passing the buck is not a good look for a leader nor is pretending everything’s coming up roses even while everything’s going off the rails.
- “Forgive others and move on for the sake of the relationship.” Be the grown-up in the room and stay on the high ground.
- “Ask for help and offer it to others who may be reluctant to ask.”
- “Take risks by showing your strengths – and weaknesses – in a public forum. Demonstrating vulnerability can prompt others to respect you.”
- “Show your unique sides to others and watch them become curious about you.”
Monarth has distilled his perspectives on executive presence into five categories with distinct and interdependent traits.
- Communication: mastering difficult conversations, engaging others, telling strategic stories, inspiring and persuading
- Competence: having intellect and expertise, delivering results, acting decisively
- Personal brand: having status and reputation, projecting calm under pressure, possessing a compelling physical appearance, projecting confidence, having interpersonal integrity
- Courage: holding people accountable, speaking truth to power
- Political savvy: networking and building alliances, managing up, generating buy-in and support
You can take Monarth’s free online Executive Presence Indicator self-assessment to identify how well you currently measure up on the five categories and where there’s room for improvement.
“Executive presence isn’t simply one characteristic that you’re either blessed with or lack in spades,” says Monarth. “It’s rather a mix of mindset, skills, and behaviors that you can learn, acquire and hone and then wield to boost your impact beyond any formal authority you may have.”
Monarth has revised and updated his book and added new chapters. He offers science-backed strategies and proven techniques to help you influence how you’re perceived by others. This is a book worth giving to anyone on the frontlines of your organization who’s showing early flashes of leadership potential.
This review first ran in the Aug. 3 edition of the Hamilton Spectator.
Jay Robb serves as communications manager for the Faculty of Science at McMaster University, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.