Fake it ’til you make it

Leadership behaviors are funny sometimes. Do we want our leaders to drive results by holding people accountable, or build relationships based on empathy? Preferably both. Do we want our leaders to innovate and initiate change or provide a stable and fulfilling environment for their employees? Preferably both. Do we want our leaders to take aggressive actions and make bold decisions or engage in thoughtful debate and ensure everyone’s voice is heard? Preferably both.

Because of juxtaposed examples like the above, what we DO know is that there is no perfect leader and we all have certain strengths we can emphasize and leverage and certain constraints we should work to minimize and mitigate. For more on constraints, see http://flippengroup.com/, a leadership coaching firm focused on getting the most out of leaders.

One of the key points of Flippen’s coaching, and many other leadership coaches, is hat leadership is a set of behaviors. I always preach that leadership is a learned skill, not some innate and intangible quality that only certain historical generals possess. We can all be leaders, we can all be better leaders, we can all learn how to be great leaders.

But how? Since leadership is a set of behaviors, then we can apply long-standing lessons about other behavioral habits, like working out, or not saying “ummm” in a speech, or living with gratitude. And one of the key tenants for behavioral change is that acting in a certain way can actually change your inner views or beliefs on that subject. See for example, Amy Cuddy’s work and Ted Talk on body language.

How do we do this? Let me use examples in my leadership journey, which is still very much a work in progress. I have a low need to express nurturing behaviors, largely because I don’t need that much nurturing myself (nurturing at work means recognition, acknowledgement, support). I have high standards for work, so I often don’t explicitly acknowledge good work and creative ideas and extra effort because I inherently “expect” it. But I have learned how to move the needle on this behavior through targeted and specific behaviors that I practice regularly.

Examples: I put a recurring entry in my calendar to send thank you notes and other acknowledgements and recognitions for recent accomplishments; and I have a leadership action plan that includes ensuring I bring positive body language to the office in the morning, setting a proper mood for the day ahead. These aren’t necessarily “natural actions for me based on my personality and my preferred interpersonal style, but they are no more difficult to implement that regularly waking up and going to the gym…I don’t “naturally” love that either!

So leadership is really about building habits, and in this regard you can summarize my advice as you begin the journey as “Fake it ‘til you make it!”


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