Saturday, January 30, 2010

Halos, Egos, and Politicos – The Call for Authentic Leadership

John Maxwell shares a story about a man who suffered from constant headaches who went to see his doctor.

“I don’t know why I keep getting these terrible headaches,” he lamented. “I don’t drink like so many other people do. I don’t smoke like so many other people do. I don’t overeat like so many other people do. I don’t run around like so many other people do. I don’t-“

At this point, the doctor interrupted him. “Tell me,” the physician asked, “this pain you complain of, is it a sharp shooting pain?” “Yes,” the man answered. “And does it hurt here, here, and here?” the doctor asked indicating three places around his head. “Yes,” the man replied hopefully, “that’s it exactly.”

“Simple,” the doctor said, rendering his diagnosis. “Your problem is that you have your halo on too tight.”

Leaders come in every style and manner imaginable. While no leader is perfect, there are warning signs – red flags if you will, that need to be identified. The call to authentic leadership begins when we expose the red flags that prevent authentic leadership from flourishing. Consider with me the characteristics of the leader with the halo, the ego, and the politico.

The leader with the halo, like the man in the joke, has an image issue. The great philosopher Popeye once said, “I am what I am.” But for the halo leader, his real identity is a mystery. Perception over reality is what he prefers.

Authenticity is a foundational stone for success for any leader. The road to success as a leader is paved with setbacks, failures, and disappointments. While perceived as a sign of weakness, the leader with the halo can find great fulfillment when coming to terms with his humanity. Not only is it liberating for the leader, it usually comes as no surprise to those around him.

Authentic leadership begins when we wear the mantle of transparency and take off the halo. The halo hides you, transparency reveals you. When you reveal yourself, flaws and all, people will embrace you.

The leader with the ego has a realness issue. How many leaders have you encountered that are so stuck on themselves that they are unpleasant to be around? There is a fundamental difference between confidence in ones abilities and gifts to succeed (humility) and artificial self-worth (arrogance).

Authentic leadership has a vested interest in the lives and well-being of others. In the life of your organization and the credibility of your leadership style, is there anything more important? Dale Carnegie said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

There is a fundamental difference between a healthy perception of your God-given talents (a gift), and self-assumptions (pretense) that alienates you.

The politico leader has a relationship issue. Within many an organization exists the proverbial “office politics.” While it may be seen as a “necessary evil” to “play the game”, nothing destroys organizational morale more than politics.

Larry Hardiman said, “The word ‘politics” is derived from the word ‘poly’ meaning ‘many’, and the word ‘ticks’ meaning, ‘blood sucking parasites.’” In many respects, this is what happens when leadership places politics over principle.

Authentic leaders are relationship builders and are aware of the temptations that office politics presents and the damage it can cause. When healthy relationships exist within the organization the degree of office politics is diminished.

Authentic leadership is restored when halos lose their shine, egos are checked at the door, and office politics is discouraged. We need, as Barbara De Angelis said, “to find the courage to say no to the things and people that are not serving us if we want to rediscover ourselves and live our lives with authenticity.”

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

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