We all find ourselves in social situations, or at networking events, or perhaps even on airplanes, and people ask us, “So, tell me about yourself.” Most of us answer that question the same way – we provide some labels or hooks for who we are.
For me, it would include some of the following: I’m a husband, and a father of two. I own a company and have for the last 19 years. I am a speaker. I am an author. I blog. I do lots of training. I coach and consult on leadership.
(I could go on, but you get the idea.)
You could, and would, likely do the same thing.
But are these labels who we are?
Would you learn more about who I am if I told you I grew up on a farm, and from those experiences, I have a deep sense of growth and possibility? Would you know more about me if I told you I have a Midwestern farm work ethic and a commitment to family? That I grew up in an entrepreneurial family and went to church on Sunday morning? If you knew about the story of how I chose Purdue University to attend college, you would learn a lot about me. If you knew why I chose to be in the Purdue All American Marching Band for two years (in part for better football tickets and the chance to march at other stadiums, a bowl game, and at the Indy 500), you’d know more about who I am, as well. And if I told you why we chose to move back to the Midwest after living in California, that would tell you something about who I am, too.
Just like in the first list, I could go on, but I believe my point is made.
What we do isn’t who we are.
Too often as leaders, we expect, or hope, or wish that people will get to know us and have a strong relationship with us as their leader, but we don’t want to let them really get to know us. In reality, as my example shows, we don’t do that anyway.
But as a leader, there are some important things to remember:
- As someone’s leader/manager/supervisor, you are among the most important people in their lives. Your influence is real. Your view of them can have massive impact on their lives, happiness, and even salary.
- Society, especially among older generations, doesn’t really have a sense that it is possible to get to know their leaders in a meaningful way. After all, you are now “one of them.”
- That barrier, real or perceived, can definitely get in the way of relationships being built.
These are the realities in which we live and work. And if we want to be highly effective leaders, we must work to build strong working relationships with those we lead – regardless of these realities.
To do that successfully, we must not only overcome these barriers, but our personal perceptions as well . . .
- I don’t desire to have “friends” at work.
- Having “friends” at work is too messy – I’ll just side step or avoid it.
- I’d like to be a more private person.
To these points I say two things – the leader’s goal doesn’t need to be to develop friends, but to nurture strong working relationships; and in terms of being a private person, get over it.
I’m not suggesting you can’t have private parts of your life, but I am saying that if we want to lead at the highest levels, we must be willing to get past labels, and share with people who we really are.
I realize that this might still seem unnecessary or overly daunting (or even scary). If so, that is ok.
One of the reasons it might be daunting is that you aren’t completely sure of your answer to the question “Who am I?” yourself yet.
So take some time to figure that out. Think about your most closely held values and why you hold them. Once you are clear on what you would be willing to, and want to share, take action. Help people know more about who you really are.
And remember that people want leaders who are real, not perfect. If you are withholding parts about who you are because you feel as a leader you must be “perfect,” remember that isn’t that possible and isn’t what people want in a leader anyway.