Learn how to become a more authentic leader by using maxims to define your natural leadership style.
Authenticity is about being who you are. As you begin leading your people, you need to first understand and articulate a natural style that is most comfortable for you. If you’re showing up, putting on the mask every day, and acting in a manner that’s inconsistent with what you believe or what’s most comfortable for you, you’re actually going to set off alarms for the members of your team. They’ll see that inconsistency. They may not be sure about what’s not consistent, but it will make them uncomfortable. The better you can articulate your own natural style of leadership, the better off you’re going to be.
For me, one of my maxims around my natural leadership style is, “Kick up, kiss down.” Kicking up is about telling the higher-ups, “Hey, you guys made a mistake and I need to protect my team.” Kissing down is about praising the team when they deserve it. I learned this maxim from a great leader that I worked for at one point. Ryan was a really wonderful guy, and he was also a very calm kind of guy. You’d go in and he was very soothing. Well, one day I went to his office for a meeting. Ryan was on the phone and he was yelling. He was raging mad. I had never seen him like this. He was yelling somebody’s name and I only knew one person with this name. Ryan got so red, saying, “Oh, this is a dumb decision. I can’t believe you did this. You know what, my meeting’s here. I need to go and you need to fix this.” And he hung up. I asked him, “Who were you talking to?” He said the individual’s name, and this individual was a very senior executive at the company. He saw that I was a little bit confused that he was talking to this executive this way. Ryan said, “You know what? Kick up, kiss down. That’s my job.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “My responsibility is to kick up. When they make a mistake upstairs that negatively affects the team, as your leader, I have a responsibility to protect you and your team. And kiss down. That’s about praising people when they deserve it.” I said, “You know what? That’s really cool. I wanna be a leader just like Ryan. I wanna kick up and kiss down.”
Fast-forward a few months and Ryan made a dumb decision one day. I stormed in his office and I kinda went off a little bit on him. At the end of the conversation, he said, “You know what, you’re right. I made a bad decision. I’m gonna change it.” On my way out of his office, I looked at him and I said, “Kick up, right?” He said, “I can’t believe I taught you that.” This maxim that I’ve put into practice reminds me that my responsibility to take care of my team. It’s a style that works for me and it’s very comfortable. The members of my team now understand that’s Mike’s style. If he’s my leader, that’s what I can expect from him. It goes on to build that bond of trust between me and the members of my team.
As you think about your natural leadership style, think about how you prefer to behave. How are you most comfortable? Imagine if someone new joined your team and asked, “What can I expect of you?” How would you explain your leadership style to them? Imagine they say, “I don’t understand. Can you give me an example?” What would that example be? What’s that story that really crystallizes, “This is how I operate as a leader?” Within that story is where your maxim resides. Your maxim should be a trigger that reminds you of a story that exemplifies the leadership style that is most comfortable for you and sets the expectation with the members of your team for how you’re going to behave.
Again, as you define a leadership style that works, find something that’s emotionally resonant for you. Find something you’re really proud of or something you believe in very fiercely. This articulation needs to show up in the maxim and drive you to the type of behavior that will be consistent with the leadership style you like to live.
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