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May 3, 2016

Does Effective Leadership Require Acting?

A challenge and opportunity to be authentic 

I was working with a senior leader recently who’s relatively new in position to help her set the right tone from the top with her leadership team.  Her challenge and opportunity was to be authentic on several difficult topics.  What she really wanted to say and the harsh language she wanted to use wouldn’t be well received, and she knew that.  A core component of authenticity is being who you are, and doing so in a way so others can hear you.  In other words, being audience focused, while knowing what you want to accomplish.

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Acting

At the end of the conversation, as I was sharing my appreciation of her openness to coaching and my confidence in her ability to have a productive conversation, she said to me, “I can do it.  It’s like acting.”

“Is that how this feels to you?” I asked, bristling inside, knowing the most effective leaders are nothing if not genuine and not like actors reading from a script or playing a role.  I had to pause myself to reflect on why I was having such a strong reaction to her statement.  And then I realized why her comment makes sense.

"Trying on" new skills

The skills and strategies we were discussing were new to her, and as she was “trying them on” it felt awkward to her, as if she were needing to act.  Trying new things naturally can feel awkward. The feeling indicates you’re moving past any fear of failure and out of your current comfort zone.

No one gets on a bike for the first time and rides it down the street without some starts and stops (and crashes in my case!).  Working on the skill leads to a sense of confidence as long as you keep trying.  The skill becomes easier, and eventually gets internalized.  So you can hop on that bike and ride away.

If labeling new skills as “acting” in the short-term helps you continue to improve how you lead and internalize highly important skills, I’m all for it.  Act away.

Just know that if the skill continues to feel like acting over time that you need to re-assess if it’s the right strategy or approach for you. 

What skill do you want to develop, and how might acting help you?

- David Grossman

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Tag(s): Leadership

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