Authenticity and effectiveness: Do as I do, not as I say

Tuesday, May 19, 2015 - 17:27

Guest post by Roma Gaster

When we make the statement that “effective leaders outperform ineffective leaders” in organisations the response from most people is “duh”. It seems obvious and yet in the majority of organisations generally less than one percent of revenue, time and focus are consciously invested in developing the effectiveness of leaders collectively and individually.

The consequences for not investing in leadership effectiveness include negative impacts on morale and engagement and therefore on performance at the individual, team and business levels.

How does ineffectiveness show up in leaders?

All things being equal, the majority of leaders have moments of being effective and ineffective. It’s a paradox in a way. Often ineffectiveness arises because of a mismatch in expectations. When expectations are not met leaders may start to overly rely on particular strategies which can reduce their capacity to be flexible and adaptive.

For example, leaders may, either knowingly or unknowingly, create a culture of fear through over-used top-down autocratic, command and control leadership approaches. When fear prevails in a culture people believe they are expected to prove their worthiness, fit in and go along which causes them to focus on how to keep safe and secure. So, consequently they adopt behaviours that either mirror the behaviours of leaders or do the opposite for self-preservation.

Alternatively when leaders are consistently more passive and hands off or arrogant and critical, the impact can often show up as ineffective cultures where disengagement becomes the norm.

When the focus of leadership is on the problem or the threat and not on the purpose, vision, or contribution for the sake of the greater good – Innovation is stifled, decision making is slowed and mistrust prevails. People tend to jump at shadows.

When any behavioural strategy becomes the dominant centre of gravity for a leader’s style, adaptability and choice are compromised and in turn this can lead to ineffectiveness. When we over rely on one or two approaches the focus tends to be more on the short-term and the frame of reference is external thus limiting our choicefulness.

How do fear-driven cultures impact effectiveness?

Generally leaders and people in organisations have the potential to be highly capable. But when fear prevails, their effectiveness is impaired. In fear-driven cultures where the pressure is on to meet the expectations of leaders’ people tend to exhibit one of three types of reactive behaviour:

Controlling

People who have been impacted by controlling styles of leadership may adopt this same behaviour and become controlling towards others. It is a learned behaviour, but it also is a way of proving worthiness and seeking approval by taking cues from the leader.

Protecting

Some people will react to fear-driven leadership by becoming overly analytical, critical and distant. This may involve shutting down, not engaging, imposing ideas as the “right” ones or pointing out fault.

Complying

Another defensive response to fear involves taking direction, pleasing others, following the rules, going on to get along or staying under the radar.

Each of these over-used strategies places limits on individual contribution, creativity and ideas sharing, decision making and risk-taking.

How does effectiveness show up in leaders?

When leaders are considered by others as being effective, it is generally because they show up differently to ineffective leaders. They recognise how their fears can drive them into behaving in overly controlling, protecting or complying ways, and they consciously choose to manage these behavioural strategies.

Just as ineffective leaders have expectations, so too do effective leaders. The difference is they are clear about the expectations they have of others and they intentionally illicit what others expect of them. They engage in consistent dialogue, remain open, are curious and don’t assume to know what others expect of them as leaders, they ask and listen.

Their style is more adaptive, more engaging, more authentic and as a result more outcomes focused.

This style of leadership revolves around the language of possibility which encourages others to think bigger, follow the vision and participate in a collective, collaborative leadership culture.

Why creative and authentic leadership improves business performance

Through leading by example, inspiring and creative risk-taker leaders cultivate an organisational culture propelled by the vision. They encourage innovative thinking in people at all levels of the organisation.

When people are clear about what’s expected of them and when they’re asked for their input, they begin to feel supported and engaged, with a strong a sense of ownership. It is clear that their collective effort is important to achieving the organisation’s goals and values.

Effective leadership opens the way for a collaborative approach, paving the way for shared accountability and collective decision-making.

In organisations where true empowerment exists employees genuinely feel valued and supported over time, motivation and performance thrive. 

Roma Gaster is director of the Leadership Circle Asia Pacific. The Leadership Circle is a unique leadership assessment and development system which builds the competencies and capability of leaders through supporting them to evolve consciousness.