Being authentic gives leaders many choices
I was inspired by a recent Harvard Business Review article, Leaders Don’t Have to Choose Between Compassion and Performance, where authors Mark Mortensen and Heidi K. Gardner talk about how leaders, given the almost-continuous demands on them for compassion today, may think they have to choose between compassion and performance.
In making their case, the authors lay out several ways leaders can adapt and win today, and I think they are great examples of the benefits of authentic leadership. Here are some of their insights along with my thoughts:
Figuring out what matters: collect data
As Mortensen and Gardner recommend, leaders need to collect data on what employees really care about rather than assuming they already understand. In today’s environment, things are constantly changing and assumptions are dangerous. For me, this all comes back to listening. An authentic leader listens well, so they can gather the facts and know what matters most to their teams today, rather than assuming what they knew yesterday is still the case.
Compassion takes time
The authors’ key insight here is that leaders shouldn’t give up time for one part of their role, like supporting their team, for another important element, like setting performance expectations. Today’s leaders need to find time for both, in some cases by trusting their team’s knowledge and expertise. My thought: authentic leaders know they can’t do it all and welcome the help of others — business is a team sport!
This one should feel natural for an authentic leader. By being more transparent in everything they do, leaders can normalize conversations about the support people need. By making that the norm, they can foster an environment where everyone feels empowered to raise issues that may hinder the team’s performance so these issues can be addressed and resolved.
When it comes to addressing the kinds of issues that are slowing a team down, leaders shouldn’t be rushing in to fix the issue themselves, because they can’t understand it as well as the associates on the team. Any solutions a leader creates in isolation run the risk of being ill-informed or, at best, tone deaf. By inviting others into the problem-solving process, the problem is addressed more efficiently and the solution will be more relevant to everyone.
Of course, challenges like these aren’t going away. In the new normal that includes remote work and continuous change, leaders must be prepared to adapt. When leaders choose to be their authentic selves, it opens-up a variety of choices for them. The good news is that one of those choices doesn’t have to be whether to be compassionate toward their teams or to ask them for high performance.
By being authentic, leaders can be supportive and, at the same time, set clear expectations about performance. They don’t have to choose.