Leadership Skills #3: Great Leaders Walk Naked
Walking naked is a cool subject, right? What does being naked have to do with leadership skills? Before you jump to the wrong conclusion let’s define it. Being naked as a leader is letting go of the facade and being you. You might be thinking, does that mean I tell people everything? No. Do I let my employees see me sweat? Sometimes. As we have discussed so far in this Top 10 Leadership Series, anything overused can become a weakness so we are not talking about going to the extreme. We want to balance that competitive edge that “being you” brings to the table – a manner in which we are authentic and real to other people.
Great Leaders are Vulnerable
I’ve noticed the people that are great leaders have vulnerable qualities that are different from the rest. For example, they operate being comfortable in their skin – as if they were mingling with anyone at any time without hesitation or reservation - unguarded to say or do what is appropriate at the time. I admire these leaders as they have a calming effect on people by consistently being candid and forthright in a professional manner. People listen to them, trust them, and will work harder for them compared to a leader that holds back and comes across as reserved, uptight, and too serious.
Have you ever had the experience where an employee gets a job promotion to become a manager and they change into this serious, authoritarian? I’ve heard people say, “My buddy I used to work and socialize with is now distant and discusses matters behind closed doors”. Yes, roles change when you become a manager but the style of communication used in the past doesn’t have to. You can still be you. If you are a manager, you may not connect with this example because you don’t view yourself as being distant or anti-social. That is because you probably are not! Here is what happens – managers tend to revert to a more serious style of communication when they are in their daily “management role” or “expert role”. When this happens this intensity stifles the opportunity to connect with the people that need to hear the message the most.
Why Employees Believe Managers Don’t Care
I’m going to switch gears for a moment because I think I can make a case for why managers may not come across as authentic and positive as they really are. I had the opportunity to be a part of a fascinating discussion on some U. S. leadership statistics conducted by Maritz Research in 2011: Here are a few statistics from their engagement survey:
- 12% of employees believe their employer genuinely listens and cares. Wow, that means 88% of employees believe their managers don’t listen or care?
- 10% of employees trust management to make the right decision in times of uncertainty. 90% of managers are not trusted to make the right decisions?
- 1 in 10 Americans believe their company’s leaders are ethical and honest.
This is a big finding. 90% of Americans believe their company’s leaders are unethical and dishonest? This definitely tells us that there is a need for being more real because obviously employees don’t really know their management team members. I’ve been around managers for over 25 years and I have only run across a handful that fall into this category!
These statistics got me thinking about why being trustworthy (see article posted on January 3rd) is not perceived by employees. I decided to do some research on leadership styles in management teams and found a very interesting observation. Managers focus on fixing a problem instead of connecting with those that created the problem.
Values and Management Skills of Managers
Comparing what manager’s value to how employees feel about their managers created a huge realization. Because managers are responsible for supervising day-to-day activities, they buckle down on preparation, planning, and finding facts (primarily isolated activities) resulting in employees not getting the opportunity to know their managers. Additionally, often when managers converse with employees they come across as too intense because they are focused on achievement, accuracy, and stability.
Let’s Take a Real Life Example
Tom is an operations manager that has just discovered a huge quantity of the company’s products does not meet specifications and on top of that has already shipped to the customer. When Tom responds to this situation he quickly composes and sends an email (or gets on the phone) with the emphasis on finding the facts, getting the problem fixed, and making sure it doesn’t happen again. These are definitely important outcomes for the future, but the leadership style comes across to employees as Tom just chewed us out for shipping the wrong product. He really has no idea what we do and what we go through each day to do as well as we do. In other words, Tom is viewed as “the uncaring boss” and not as “a partner solving the problem”.
Leaders that Walk Naked Take a Reverse Approach
Great leaders realize that their employees have a need for socialization and must have opportunities to “be real” with their managers. This thinking requires the “old school” manager to let go of what has become familiar and do what Dr. Robert Quinn, author of Deep Change (my favorite book), refers to as “walk naked into the land of uncertainty”. This means temporarily adjusting our focus and management habits to thinking about what behaviors and leadership skills employees need to make sure this mistake doesn’t happen again. In Tom’s case, a switch to effectively communicating in alignment with his “real leadership character” (Tom’s a really great guy) would more quickly resolve the issue. For example, employees need to feel trusted, involved, and part of the solution in contrast to being diagnosed, controlled, and lectured. Any of us guilty? Absolutely, this leadership skill is the exact opposite of what we are wired to do.
Followers need the opposite approach of our typical desire to jump in and fix problems. They need managers to involve them in the problem in order to connect and build trust. Great leaders are experts at being vulnerable (walking naked) to reveal their real, authentic character. A leader who doesn’t walk naked isn’t a leader, but a poser because we don’t know who they really are or if we can trust them.
Have you ever had the experience where a coworker gets a promotion and they change into an authoritarian? Comment to me and others in the box below so we can learn from your ideas.
Quinn, R. E. (1996). Deep change: Discovering the leader within. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
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