An authentic leader is someone who empowers rather than dominates, and they also know that at times their job requires the right amount of demand on others for them to be effective.
The difference is that the demand isn’t coming from a narrow self-interest – like the leader’s concern for how they look to the Board or the Shareholders. It stems from a desire to truly empower others. It’s authentically coming from a concern for the team winning, and the individuals in that team excelling and experiencing success.
A core aspect of empowering someone is relating to them as capable of more than they themselves see they are capable of – and demanding that level of performance from them.
Indicators of relating to someone as less capable are:
• Avoiding asking them to take something on because you think “they already have enough on their plate”, “they didn’t do this well last time I asked them to”, “I don’t think they’re ready for this”, etc.;
• Taking back inferior work and deciding ‘I’ll just do it myself’;
• Accepting “I ran out of time”, “I didn’t get the support I needed from …” – or any other excuses for someone not getting their job done.
When we talk to people about who has made the greatest impact on them in their careers, it is never the nice guy. It is always the person who demanded more of them, who was fair and compassionate but unrelenting in their commitment to having them be as great as they can be. The people we’ve talked to report that it was not their experience that the leader didn’t have any interest in them, quite the opposite, they didn’t back down – they didn’t give up on them.
Being demanding will be extremely uncomfortable for someone whose comfort zone is being ‘nice’. You aren’t being nice because you were born that way, babies aren’t ‘nice’, they’re babies. You’ve developed that way of dealing with things to avoid experiencing certain negative feelings and emotions.
You’re avoidance of having uncomfortable conversations with people has nothing to do with helping people out (because it doesn’t), or making people feel better (because in the end that doesn’t happen either), it’s only about you being comfortable.
Being an Authentic Leader takes confronting what makes you uncomfortable and breaking through. It takes taking on whatever you need to take on with yourself to be as great as you can be.