On authenticity and awesomeness

I picked my last three jobs based on what I clearly saw as authenticity on the part of the interviewers. That they cussed and said crazy things without much of a filter and, ultimately, spoke with such a passion that I could not help getting caught up in it. It made me want to be on what surely looked to be a winning team where voices were heard and respected.

I picked this way because the prior job was chosen out of sheer desperation. I was high on X and pot during my interview, and I still thought they were a bunch of pussies. I drove back to Pittsburgh from D.C. and thought, I’d rather die than work with those assholes.

Then I got publicly excoriated by my chief asshole at my then-employer, and suddenly the new job offer at half the salary in a more-expensive city suddenly seemed laced with ribbons and lace and ketamine. Whee!

Two out of the three subsequent jobs didn’t work out. I’m not mad — all’s well that ends well. I met the people and got the skills I needed to get out of those moves. While I have lists of things I wish I had been able to accomplish, I am OK with what I did manage to do/learn in the time frame I was given.

I just got off the phone with a friend from one of those jobs. And I told her all about the article I read today on how Authentic Leadership Can Be Bad Leadership.

We recalled being starry-eyed and dazzled by our interviewer, who was just “so real!” in everything that came out of their mouth. The dreams and plans and promises seemed to come from a very pure place. Little did we know that we were simply caught up in what was to be a tangled web of deception … one where our very friendship was threatened by very divisive moves and strategically placed comments that sounded innocent enough.

My friend said today that had we not been friends for six years prior to that, we would have stopped speaking to each other with all the nasty bugs put into our ears about each other.

And that makes me sad, the collateral damage that such “authentic” leadership caused. As the article points out, you can be authentic all you want. Just don’t be an asshole.

It’s important to realize that what makes you you is not just the good stuff — your values, aspirations and dreams; the qualities others love most. For most people, what comes naturally can also get pretty nasty. When you are overly critical, non-communicative, crass, judgmental, or rigid, you are probably at your most real — but you are not at your best.

Given the broad audience that reads this blog, I always feel compelled to add the disclaimer that I am guilty of it, too. I don’t write about stuff that I don’t ponder for hours on end, wondering how to prevent it and/or whether I negatively impacted someone’s career because of it.

For me, I think being too flexible has always been my kryptonite. I don’t think I ever (purposely) let anyone walk all over me. I probably give too many chances as opposed to too few. But you never know what’s going to be the thing that gets through to the employee, you know? Everyone has to come to their own paths and conclusions themselves. Lord knows you stare in the same mirror every day for years on end — and you can hold up a mirror to someone else till your arms get tired. But they aren’t going to see their faults or potential in your time frame — it’s almost always on theirs. And you just have to determine whether you can hang in there or help them to move on to their next place in life.

And that’s where leadership is sorely lacking in general — helping people to move on. Saying, hey, this relationship isn’t working out. Let’s figure out where you’d be good, whether elsewhere in the company, elsewhere in the field, or somewhere else altogether. I’d rather help someone move on to the right thing than punish them for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I like to think I come from a pure place, most of the time. But that article really hit me over the head that just because we think it, doesn’t make it true. And that we all have a sense of the world and operate with in it accordingly. But in reality, there are solar systems clashing in offices every minute of every day around the world.

The article recommends that you ask your trusted people about your flaws in leading authentically. I assume most would ask the person who thinks they fart sunshine. 🙂 Or, at least, they would ask in such a way that you wouldn’t dare be truthful, lest you want to be on the unemployment line faster than you can say “Judgy Wudgy Was a Bear.”

I remember doing anonymous CEO reviews at that first job in D.C. We sent our feedback straight to the president, who was truly an unbiased and awesome kind of guy. But I never really felt that we got the full story — I know I was honest in my write-up.

I felt so happy for a while that I could provide constructive feedback that would help us to work together better. (I worked very closely with him.) But in the end, he was the same old, “My way or the highway” type. And for me, the highway was the Motordrome Speedway.

It calls to mind the saying: “Lord, help me to be the person my dog thinks I am.” For those of us who were ever put down or written off — or, worse, wrote someone off before their time — we should live by the credo: “Lord, help me to be as awesome as I know I can be.” And if we’re doing it right, we’ll get all the validation we need from the people who benefit from it.

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