Authenticity – A Leadership Essential

Authenticity - A Leadership Essential
“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Nelson Mandela’s life is perfect story of authenticity………..

Mandela spent the best years of his life in prison. When he was released from prison he rose to the highest level becoming the President of the country. What a wonderful opportunity to take revenge on the people who imprisoned him because he demanded equality! But instead of taking revenge he displayed forgiveness and the first act of his presidency was to support the ‘all white’ rugby team to win in the world cup. This win was a much needed morale booster for the country. Color did not matter to Mandela; people mattered.

This is a powerful example of the power of authenticity as Mandela did what he expected others to do if they needed to leave the past behind and move forward as a nation.Being an Executive Coach I am constantly challenging myself in this area.

Recently I ran a leadership training session with a co-facilitator, Maria (this is a fictitious name). One of the topics that we were training on was ‘Conducting Performance Appraisals’ – as a leader how can you give empowering feedback to your team about their performance.

In this article I would like to reflect upon a short incident that happened during the session. I want to say upfront that I do not want to insinuate that I am perfect. It so happens that in this one incident the spotlight is on the other trainer.

We were working with a group of 60 people. Prior to the start of the session we talked about how each of us would like to run our sessions. One of the requests I had was that when I am facilitating I would not like to be interrupted by the other facilitator. The lead facilitator should hold the major space and the supporting facilitator only comes in if there is something very important. We both agreed to honor this expectation.

Maria opened the session and I played the agreed role of the supporting facilitator. In the next session I was the lead facilitator. I was winding down my interaction when Maria stepped in and took over the session. We then announced a 15 minute break. As the participants were leaving Maria turned to me and said, “I think the way you handled the session stifled the sharing and the energy in the group.” I felt that someone had knocked the wind out of my sail. All my excitement and exhilaration suddenly vanished.

Maria was oblivious of the impact that her words had on me. She continued to get ready for the next session and put up the power point slide titled ‘Proactive Language vs Reactive Language’. I could not help notice the irony in the situation – she was going to train the leaders on the importance of using Proactive Language (and avoiding Reactive Language), while giving feedback, when she had just used Reactive Language to me.

I took a few minutes to gather my thoughts and then, pointing to the slide, I told Maria, “I wished you had used proactive rather than reactive language”. I also informed her that I did not feel that she kept her commitment of giving me the space as the lead facilitator.

She was very upset with me and said that she felt stifled if she did not speak whenever she felt the need to. A couple of days later she informed the co-coordinator of the network that she did not work with me anymore as my style was not comfortable for her. I was devastated. I hoped that we could have worked it out. We are leadership trainers who encourage people to climb mountains and not go around them.

The word authenticity came to mind…………….

As a leadership coach Maria is training leaders to treat each member of their team based on their individual style and needs. However, she has decided not to work with me because my style caused her discomfort.

As a leadership coach Maria is training leaders to give feedback by asking questions and intently listening so that the situation can be understood from all perspectives. In other words, the feedback should be based on facts rather than feelings. This makes it proactive and not reactive. Was her feedback to me reactive?

“Means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

The critical question for me is, “Can we be effective as a trainer in an area where we have not mastered ourselves?” I agree that we are all on a journey of continuous improvement but does walking away indicate that we feel that we have reached the destination or we are not interested in continuing our difficulty journey?

3 thoughts on “Authenticity – A Leadership Essential

  1. Hi Pramila,

    Since beginning I am deeply impressed and taken away with your views. I still remember the words you said that you believe in changing the lives by changing the views and thought process.. I still miss that training we had at Timber Trail HP.

    Rajiv Sharma
    Ex – Centex Ludhiana

  2. Sir,

    I read both the stories with interest and found they carried lessons for all of us. There are some who read, draw out the lesson and change, some do not. That is the way of the world. A wise person learns from the mistakes of others and improves whereas the a person whose wisdom is not yet fully evolved does not draw any lesson from even his or her own mistakes. That level of wisdom which teaches us to discriminate and choose right from wrong is called INTEGRITY, what we do when no one sees us. In Maria’s case we can see that just speaking out from some prepared slides does not mean that the lessons were internalized and practiced by her in her own life. That, had it happened would have been the lady’s crowning glory and lead to a meaningful professional relationship with you. Actually zen, what you would call Buddhahood. Regards. Urvashi Bhatia

  3. I applaud you for being direct with Maria in explaining your take on the situation. It’s something that I find to be a very difficult thing to do. It would have been more helpful if Maria had 1) honored your rules, and 2) brought up her feelings about interactivity during the 15 minute break, perhaps offering to cut in during another session to interject something that would satisfy the two of you.

    It’s unfortunate, but being as pure as the ends we seek is not always as high on the list as it should be.

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