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Stop Trying To Impress Everyone, And Just Be Yourself

June 17, 2011

A few weeks ago a fellow executive and I were discussing a recently promoted manager’s leadership style. He described him like this:

“It seems like Joe is more concerned with what others think about him leading the team, rather than leading the team.”

This guy was not fooling anyone. He was tripping up all over himself trying too hard look good.

As executives, we are constantly evaluating the talent of the up-and-coming leadership pool. Do they “get” our strategy? How do they handle complexity, ambiguity, and all the loose ends? Are they alienating their direct reports, or building them up? Are they contributing to solutions, or complaining about problems?

Which all goes to say that, regardless of your position or where you work, you are being watched. Or maybe “observed” is a better word.  No one escapes the radar screen. And trust me, the Board and CEO are doing the same with me and the other execs.

But how are you supposed to lead authentically, from the heart, when you are living inside such a corporate fishbowl?

How do you manage the self-consciousness that comes with the knowledge that your performance is under a magnifying glass?

Ironically, the best managers learn to take this with a grain of salt, and go about their business from the heart, putting their best foot forward. If one gets too caught up in the perception they are creating rather than the integrity of the work itself, things can get awkward.

Besides, everyone knows when you are faking it.

We agreed that Joe would be much more effective if he stopped trying so hard to impress everyone, and just went back to being himself.

Awesome photo by Nance Marie Rosback.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. June 17, 2011 10:30 am

    I have known people who adopted this attitude. “If they don’t like me, then tough. It’s their problem.” Those people are the true jerks.

    but on the other hand, a humble, “I am who I am” with a subtitle of, “I’m working on the rough edges” is a better approach. They are honest with their failures and working to improve.

    We can all appreciate that approach

    • June 18, 2011 1:21 pm

      I think we all know, or have known, those same jerks who don’t care what anyone thinks about their behavior. In my experience, though, it does catch up with them. One way or another, it comes back around. I have some stories, there… maybe i’ll tell some day!

      I really like how you put it out there so plain, without the burden of hyped-up expectations: “working on the rough edges”, with humility. There’s not one person who wouldn’t benefit from this approach…

  2. June 17, 2011 11:18 am

    If you’re spending time and energy concerned about what people think about you, that’s time and energy that could be spent actually leading and accomplishing. It takes courage to really strip down our goals and get rid of the ulterior motives of also making sure we look good. This post is such a great reminder!

    • June 18, 2011 1:25 pm

      Thanks for visiting, Loren.

      I agree that it takes courage. Many people in management don’t even have the self-awareness to know what is driving some of their motivation. Or, like me, I am aware but doesn’t always means that I manage it well! Courage is critical, but also trust – that we have everything we need within us to do a good job so that we can focus on helping others rather than just worrying about our own situation.

  3. June 17, 2011 5:32 pm

    It is important to know what those watching you are asking of you. And it can be even more important to go one step higher and know the expectations that are placed on those watching you. Though that is not always information that one can be aware of.
    I like that you list examples of questions that executives might be asking of possible future leaders.
    I wonder if leaders still start by working in the mailroom and working their way up anymore?

    People pleasing is not the same as being respectful of others.
    Complaining gets you nowhere. Sometimes worse than nowhere.
    It seems that there is always a balance to be had in the choices of where one’s energy is directed and spent. Yet, there is also the way in which things are done, and the attitude that drives one’s actions.
    It’s like hitting the sweet spot. You get to know your bat…(get to know yourself). One has to think about their beliefs, what they stand for. That is the basis for all the rest. It is the basis for being oneself.

    Good post, Bradley. You bring up many helpful thoughts.

    • June 18, 2011 1:30 pm

      Thanks Nan. And I really, really love that photo. Birds on a wire. That yellow tint does something dramatic and Hitchcockian to it!

      No, I have not seen anyone work their way up through the mailroom. Ever. But I suppose it still could happen.

      I like what you say about getting to know yourself, and what you stand for. Truly, one can not be themselves, without having wrestled with this…They will instead be a version of them that they think they are, or what they think someone else wants them to be.

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