The time is always right to do what is right.
– Martin Luther King, Jr
A mindful leader has awakened to his or her true meaning, purpose, and values. Hopefully those values probably align with a strong sense of integrity, character, passion, and people-centric leadership. The authentic leader takes that insight and overtly leads with it.
The people surrounding and working for an authentic leader recognize and witness the values of that leader every day. They know the leader genuinely believes in and lives those values, both at work and at home. This inspires confidence, leading to motivation and performance. Authentic leaders truly lead. They go first into battle, and they focus on the troops. They take risks, and explain the reason for the risks – and the possible consequences. The authentic leader leads with character and integrity. Authenticity and naturalness in Zen is shizen.
However, being authentic does not mean that you should embrace your inner jerk or narcissism. It also does not mean you should be inflexible. Authentic leadership is built on character, not style, and is flexible to fit the situation and capabilities of the team.
Character matters, especially in leadership. We’ve seen many examples where character flaws compromise effective leadership: Congressmen Anthony “Carlos Danger” Weiner and Christopher Lee, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, and even former President Bill Clinton. I was disappointed when the constituents of each of them tried to excuse the behavior as part of their personal life, not representative of professional leadership. Sorry, that doesn’t fly.
There is no great wall between personal and professional leadership – they are directly interrelated and aligned, which is exactly why this book focuses on both. A characterless personal leader cannot be a great professional leader. Character is not divisible. Thought patterns in the brain are not divisible. You cannot say a person has a high level of character in one area and forgive a lack of character in another. You cannot say a person can make great decisions in one aspect of life and be a complete idiot in another. It’s the same brain. The differences are made consciously, and the fact that there are differences points directly at a lack of character.
Like all of us I’m not perfect. I’ve wronged people and made the occasional poor choice – thankfully not to the extent of Mr. Danger. But I learned and when I moved into a leadership position I received the trust of others and I very consciously began to hold myself to a higher standard. I felt that trust and responsibility, deeply, from when I had just one direct report to when I had a thousand. My decisions and actions, personal and professional, influenced and affected lives and livelihoods. Funny thing, I soon realized that even as an individual contributor, even in my personal life, I effectively had leadership responsibilities of a different form and should hold myself to higher standards at all times.
When I made mistakes I admitted them, learned, and changed. When a leader’s weakness is exposed it becomes an opportunity for that leader to demonstrate authentic leadership. At that moment he has the opportunity to show us, to teach us, what we should do when we are faced with the challenge of facing our shortcomings, and our mistakes. This creates trust. However, when a leader tries to cover up his weakness, lie about his weakness or blame others for his weakness, then he demonstrates that he does not have the character to be a leader. Weiner, Lee, and Tressel – tried to cover up their mistakes, and repeated them multiple times.
Is your leadership style and method overtly aligned with your values and principles? Is your team – and friends and family – reminded of and experience your values with every interaction? Are you unwavering in those principles? When you make a mistake do you admit them, learn, and change?