Work on this for you because:
Image management is exhausting. Feeling like you must be something other than who you are to “fit in” takes energy away from the other great work you could be doing. Wouldn’t it be great to have that energy available for something other than creating and sustaining a façade?
It’s hard to keep track of spin. We don’t have to spend effort to try to remember the truth because there are not different versions of it for different people. Beyond information that must be kept confidential, be more open about your decision-making process, changes that are happening, and your hopes and concerns. When people come to trust that you are straight with them, it can pay off in retention.
Imposter syndrome is widespread. Too many leaders think that everyone but themselves is legit. Feeling like an imposter is as common as a cold. Think of the best leaders you know (the ones who most make you feel like you have so far to go). They have imposter syndrome sometimes too. Can you let this fact help you to let go a little bit of how hard you are on yourself for not knowing everything? Practice replacing the thought of, “I hope no one finds out that I don’t know anything” with, “I am supposed to be here to do the best I can and keep learning.” Success is not an all-or-nothing deal. Some days you will rock it and other days you will bomb; most days will be ok.
“But I’m an honest person.” When I was told early in my career that being passive was equal to being dishonest, it stopped me in my tracks. While I was unassertively hiding in the background to keep from making waves, it was a form of dishonesty that I hadn’t realized. Leaders, step up to the challenging conversations. Develop assertiveness to say what needs to be said even when you don’t have all the confidence yet. The irony is that doing so is the very thing that builds authentic confidence.
Back to Hollywood, I’m reminded of Jack Nicholson’s classic line, “You can’t handle the truth.” Leaders too often believe this about employees (and politicians believe it about us average citizens) and it is not true. Generally, when we believe that we know what people can and cannot handle we are robbing them of their agency, not protecting them. It is a hallmark of extending trust in others when we are respectfully candid with them.
Let’s be real. Think about when a leader has fessed up to you that they made a mistake, or that they didn’t know something. Very likely, it drew you to that leader, not away. A little bit of vulnerability goes a long way to remind people that you are human too and a conversation with you is a safe place.
What doesn’t kill ya… Think of where you have handled – and grown from – disappointments. If you are fortunate to have had someone who trusted you to be able to deal with life’s ups and downs, you likely appreciated their honesty even if it wasn’t what you might have wanted to hear. Why keep this dignity and opportunity from others?
“Telling it like it is” is not the same as “speaking honestly in a way that can be heard.” Set up a hard truth with the foundation of empathy. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes to consider how your message might impact them from their point of view, not what you think their point of view should be.
Listen for truths. Getting to the truth is not a one-way communication. It involves rigorous listening, without interrupting, to hear what is said and what is not being said. In this little paragraph lies the fundamental key to sorting out the problems in our departments, our families, our communities, society, and beyond. “I am interested; tell me more about how you came to your way of seeing things, and what’s true for you.” Then listen with truthful curiosity and without interrupting.