Early in my career, I thought that the smartest, brightest people were always in charge. I was fortunate to work for some real solid leaders who “knew their stuff”. And in that era, in the Information Services industry (as it was called then), technical know-how was of paramount importance. But times have changed, and so have leadership styles. And one thing I have learned is that it is less about being right, and more about knowing how to get to the right answer. I love how Craig Groeschel puts it (at the end of each podcast), “People would rather follow a leader who is always real versus a leader who is always right. Don’t try to be perfect. Just work on being authentic.”. He is saying what I believe is one of the fundamental values of the modern-day leader, “be real, not right”.
Being real takes Self-Awareness
One trait of a leader who is real is they are incredibly self-aware. They recognize their strengths and limitations. Author Kevin Kruse says that authentic leaders must become “self-actualized individuals who are aware of their strengths, their limitations, and their emotions”.
Self-Awareness is one of the key traits of a person’s emotional quotient (EQ). There are five dimensions of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, social awareness, and social regulation. A leader with high emotional intelligence will more effectively work with others. Inasmuch, a person’s EQ level is one of the best predictor’s of an individual’s success.
Self-Awareness is the ability to recognize and understand your moods, emotions, and drives, as well as their effect on others. Leaders who score high in self-awareness understand their emotions and their impact on their own personal stress. High self-awareness allows a manager to keep their emotions aligned with their personal goals and motivators. (I offer my clients a very effective EQ assessment that can help leadership determine their strengths and weaknesses).
Being real takes Courage
A leader who is real and authentic is also a leader who demonstrates real courage in the face of challenges. It is easy for a leader to lose their cool when things do not go according to plan. The true measure of a leader is not how they act when things are going well, but how they act when things aren’t.
It takes courage to admit when you don’t know the answer. It takes courage to admit you are not always right. As Groeschel says, it’s more important to be real than to be right. But it takes courage to do so.
I once had a leader that was so insistent on being “right” that he would not even recognize the facts when they were put in front of him. He once accused one of my peers of approving an expense that he did not agree with. This VP, who was a very cool customer, explained to him that he had asked him about the expense and gotten his approval. This leader said absolutely not, he did not do that. So the VP brought up the email where the leader had approved it. Instead of admitting his mistake, he shifted the blame back to my peer. He then halted all discussion on the topic. He knew he couldn’t deny it. But he surely was not going to admit to being wrong.
Being real takes a Team Who Supports You
You cannot be real if your team doesn’t want you to be. Now, based on what Groeschel and others have said, you would think this is a given. But there are some environments where the team expects the boss to always be in the know, to always be right, and to always have an answer.
The problem with these environments is that the leader cannot be authentic. They have to “fake it until they make it”.
My advice to leaders in this situation is to begin to shift the environment. You have to begin making a change in culture where people will be more interested in being real than being right. Here are a few suggestions:
- Don’t focus recognition on people being “right”. In fact, focus some recognition on teams that have overcome a “wrong” decision.
- Encourage people to contribute ideas, even bad ones. One way to play this out is to contribute bad ideas yourself, and then complement the team member(s) who point it out.
- Use mindstorming as a technique to flesh out better ideas. I love this technique as a method for getting really creative ideas on the table.
Shifting the team’s mindset will take time. But if done with intentionality, I have seen a team’s mindset change in a matter of months. And the impact to that can be significant on the business.
When Does a Leader Need to Be Right?
Before closing, some will say “but isn’t their times when the leader needs to be right”? Certainly, there is. For example, a leader needs to be “right” when making the final decisions related to personnel matters (hiring, firing, promotions, etc.). But that does not mean they are “right” when they begin evaluating the situation. They just need to come to the “right” decision. For example, if they are considering dismissing an employee, they should find a way to seek input from others who may think differently about the person. The same can be true (and much easier to be done) with the hiring and promotion processes.
You also always want to treat your customers “right”. So getting input from others is important. You should be the opinion of others and allow your own opinion to change.
You can learn how to “be real, not right”
Learning how to not “be right” all the time, is a skill that can be learned. But it is almost impossible to do it alone. Here are some tips:
- When you write, speak or network, focus on this ration: 3-1-1. Talk about the other person (your employee, customer, business partner) 3 times more than you talk about yourself, and 3 times more than you talk about how you can work together. So if you talk for 30 minutes, talk 18 minutes about them, 6 minutes about yourself and 6 minutes about how you can work together.
- Ask your team to hold you accountable. The moment you start to revert to your “perfectionist” ways, ask them to call you out.
- Go public. Especially with your boss and peers. They may not like this approach. It may scare them. But make sure they know you are changing and you want them to see it in you and support you in the change.
- Get a 3rd party advisor or coach. Self-serving as it may be, this is one of the values we bring to the table as coaches.
Interested in making this change in your leadership style? If so, reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.