Technical Leadership, Part 4: Be Authentic
“Do what you feel in your heart to be right, for you’ll be criticized anyway.”—Eleanor Roosevelt
Often when creating teams, organizations assign leaders instead of developing them. As discussed previously, a leader’s communication plan, conversation skills, and various roles as a leader are all important to being effective. One key overlooked aspect of leadership is being authentic. Authenticity covers many areas: your integrity and ethics, genuine care for your team, and commitment. All are important in developing camaraderie, trust, and authentic relationships. People follow leaders who are honest, trustworthy, and have their team’s best interests in mind.
Effective leadership comes from personal character and a desire to help others. Regardless of the situation, you must adapt but maintain an overall consistent style and approach. By using a consistent approach but being flexible, you can show your team that you have integrity. Consider the following:
Without an honest leader, teams break apart, which can be very challenging to overcome. You don’t want your reports to question your motives, which could diminish their commitment to meet team goals.
Be Consistent With Rules And Commitment
If your reports see that others on the team are not required to have the same level of work ethic or commitment, they may become resentful or angry. This is not a winning environment for a team and can make it difficult for your team to meet its goals.
Don’t Ask Others To Complete Tasks You Won’t/Wouldn’t Do
By asking your reports to do something you won’t or wouldn’t do yourself, you may come across as cowardly or arrogant. Regardless of the task, your reports may start to question your personal integrity, making them less likely to follow your leadership in the future. Your reports should feel that you would do those same tasks you’re asking them to do if you had the time and that was your role.
Don’t Hide From Difficult Situations
Effective leaders do not shy away from challenges. By tackling difficult conversations and topics as well as other challenges, you can show your reports your courage and strength as their leader. You can create a more cohesive team by addressing difficult topics like layoffs, non-performance, and project shutdowns, even if they don’t directly impact your team. By being courageous, you’ll inspire your reports to keep moving forward, even during challenging times.
Following these guiding principles is one of the easiest ways for leaders to demonstrate their integrity, which can increase team morale, team cohesion, and the team’s ability to handle adversity.
Caring For Others
As discussed previously, effective leaders are driven by a desire to help others. Your team’s success is the greatest way you can promote yourself and your team. To continue to develop and maintain your team’s success, you must engage with your reports and show a genuine desire to aid their development, such as supporting the growth of their technical skill sets and personal communication skills. As a leader, you serve many roles for your reports; you may be an idea sounding board, a problem solver, and a personal mentor. In addition, by providing a regularly scheduled time (monthly, weekly, or daily) for you and your reports to meet without distractions, you can show your reports that you care enough to make time in your schedule to solve problems, troubleshoot, and mentor them, among other things. Effective leaders demonstrate on a 1:1 basis that they care about their reports, and they are willing to serve whichever roles their reports need to help develop their careers.
Leaders often have their schedules disrupted, sometimes causing them to miss previously planned engagements. Effective leaders, however, acknowledge that certain commitments, no matter how small or large, must be kept because the person or persons that made the commitment considers that commitment very important. Whether it’s a scheduled 1:1, a data call response, or a presentation, you must confirm with the other party that you and they understand the commitment, the completion date, and the follow-up that will be done, such as addressing questions/concerns after the commitment. When leaders stop following through on their commitments, their reports lose trust and faith in their ability to deliver on their promises, which erodes team morale and decreases the team’s motivation. Keeping your commitments and acknowledging when you can’t keep them both play a role in your credibility and trustworthiness as a leader. Effective leaders meet as many commitments as possible and acknowledge that when they can’t keep a commitment they will reschedule, reinforcing the trust and faith their reports have in them.