A few weeks ago, I was in Toronto for a three day workshop on leading remote teams. My staff is spread across the country, and that has been REALLY challenging, so I’ve been looking for inspiration on how to be more effective at it. Unfortunately, though, this was not the right course for me. Although I tried to make the best of it and struggled to find some takeaway knowledge that made the rather significant investment worth it, in the end I had to admit that it didn’t move me any further in my journey as a leader.
For one thing, it was targeted at leaders who are newer to it than I am (I’ve done this for 10 years already), and more specifically, leaders who work primarily in technical and production fields (task-oriented leadership - very different from my line of work). On top of that, throughout most of the course, “remote teams” referred primarily to teams that you’re leading in other countries because your company has chosen to outsource to places where there is cheaper labour. That was a particular struggle for me, because some of my work (and personal passion) involves seeking justice for some of those people providing that cheap labour who are unable to feed their own families. (The last day of the course, just before catching an early flight, I couldn’t stand it anymore, and let flow a fairly strong response when someone implied that ‘we are saving the poor downtrodden masses by giving them jobs and teaching them the value of OUR culture over their own’.)
As I sat and doodled my way through the workshop, I realized that there was a deeper reason that none of it was resonating for me. I just wasn’t connecting with the instructor. It wasn’t just that he’d spent most of his career in the technical field and spoke a different “language” – it was deeper than that. On the last day, it finally occurred to me – he just wasn’t raising my level of trust, partly because he seemed to have less leadership experience than I do, but mostly because he didn’t seem REAL enough to me. Most of his stories were about general leadership ideas – few of them were about his own grappling with tough situations. He hadn’t even written his own material for the course – he was regurgitating someone else’s work. The bottom line was that he lacked authenticity.
When I got back to the office, I found a package on my desk. The book I’d ordered (based on my friend Susan’s recommendation) had arrived… THE AUTHENTIC LEADER! How appropriate!
This past weekend, I devoured the book like an addict looking for a fix (or a frustrated leader looking for inspiration). It was EXACTLY what I needed. I can hardly describe what this book did to me. It fed those hungry places inside me. It inspired me, yes… but more importantly, I think, it affirmed me. It made me stop and realize that “Damn it – I’m on the right track after all! I don’t need expensive workshops to teach me new techniques! I just need to keep going deeper in my path toward authenticity.”
“Simply put, being an authentic leader is synonymous with being oneself. It is that simple, but it is also that difficult. When deciding to lead, be true to self. Being true to self is being in a most powerful place. The power in leadership is not in being right, but in being real.”
I’ve read a lot of leadership books, and I’ve used many of them in teaching leadership workshops, but this is one of the first that I’ve read that made me feel so affirmed while still inspiring me on to greater heights. Often, when you read a leadership book, at first you feel inspired and excited, but then reality sinks in and you realize “I can NEVER meet those unrealistic expectations! I’ll NEVER be an effective leader!” I remember teaching a workshop once, based on “The Leadership Challenge” (a great book, but with some REALLY high expectations), and saying to the participants “this part right here? Ignore it. It is basically impossible and unrealistic and borderline STUPID. Don’t even bother trying it because you will set yourself and your team up for failure. Set more realistic goals than this if you want to succeed.” The workshop participants breathed a collective sigh of relief. I don't think anyone had every told them to "ignore something the book/authority says" before.
This book is very different from that. It teaches that the road to more effective leadership is the road to authenticity. Spend LESS time trying to figure out the right techniques and skills for being a good leader and MORE time trying to figure out how to be authentic and how to inspire others to do the same. “An authentic journey is a path to finding your voice, to discovering your highest aspirations and purpose, to living an honest life, and to bringing your passions and gifts to the world in the form of service of others. ... We see the ultimate purpose of leadership as finding and following one's own authentic voice and then inspiring and supporting other people to find and follow theirs.”
This is the kind of book that everyone should read. If the term “leader” scares you, it shouldn’t. It’s not about positional leadership, but more about people who feel some kind of calling to inspire others and make a difference in the world. (One of the authors, David Irvine, has written another book called “Becoming Real: Journey to Authenticity”, which I assume is equally good and less about leadership, if that's what you're looking for. I’ve also read another book of his called “Simple Living in a Complex World”, which had a pretty profound effect on me 10 years ago.)
Though I recognized it at the time, it was good to have further affirmation that my bold step a couple of months ago was EXACTLY what my team needed. Now I just have to keep plugging away at it to make sure I don’t lose the momentum.