Introvert Leader? — Don’t Be a Fake.
“When it’s OK to fake it till you make it” — That was the subtitle of the cover feature — The Problem with Authenticity — in the January-February, 2016 edition of HBR.
I’ll be honest; the author makes a very compelling case for “Why feeling like a fake can be a sign of growth” — the premise of the article.
I shouldn't have been surprised; I have also been expected to fake-talk, fake-smile, and fake-behave. I have consistently ignored any such advice though — for I have grown with the belief that there is no substitute to “Honesty” in leadership — even if it’s brutal and blunt.
And when Bill George, HBS professor and former Medtronic CEO rebutted the HBR article in his LinkedIn Post, I realized there are equally compelling contradictory stories. ‘“Faking it” is the antithesis of authentic leadership. Following this advice is the most likely path to failure as a leader’ — Bill writes in his post.
When I first moved into a role with direct reports, one of the first advice I received was to be a ‘Fake’. I have been told, on numerous occasions, that my longing for solitude, and my lack of the so-called social skills, would come in the way of my leadership aspirations. I have always asked myself if I am the only introvert who is sick of people trying to ‘fix me’.
As I have come to realize, there are many more.
Biju George is a full-time car salesman, a part-time insurance agent and a part-time technician (he repairs water purifiers). Biju has changed jobs and moved cities for he had refused to be ‘someone’ he is not. Biju, off his day job, is a remarkably soft-spoken man. He is thoughtful, enjoys ‘quiet’, nods only when he has understood enough and speaks only when he has amassed enough. If some of you are picturing yourselves, yes, Biju is an introvert. With his clean-shaven head, neat goatee, visible jaw-lines, and well-built physique, he does appear a frontline customer contact person but not an introvert.
I asked Biju. — “You said you are an introvert; you can’t be at your comfortable best, interacting with strangers.”
“But I guess I can be happy doing what I love doing — everyone can”, Biju says.
“I don’t have to fake myself on my day job because I love selling cars”, Biju adds.
And I trust him. I haven’t come across anyone as knowledgeable as him when it comes to automobiles. From technologies to features, Biju is a living encyclopedia.
It requires energy, a lot of it, physical and emotional, to create a fake persona. And Biju had a point when he said he would rather utilize those energies constructively — Acquiring new skills, creating positivity around him, caring for his family and contributing to his community.
Some professions have an inherent advantage — ‘Selling’ for example; it doesn’t matter whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, fake or not, the results, by definition, are quantitative and hence measurable. It is surprising however that a lot of leaders, even in this day and age, expect employees to have (or develop) certain ‘specific’ personality attributes to be successful in frontline selling. This is in spite of an overwhelming number of researches and studies delinking introversion or extroversion with sales success.
The result of this leadership expectation is a disoriented, disengaged, frustrated, and unhappy employee — constantly making self-negating choices, and trying pointlessly hard to create a fake persona. At the heart of this expectation sometimes is the belief that a successful sales person can also be successful sales manager. That’s a dangerous belief. Why in the world do we believe that a performance driven promotion has to eventually translate into a managerial position with direct reports? Is that the only way to reward?
Some of us would contrast the idea of “Honest Leadership” and “Authenticity” with the call to “Fake it ’til you make it”, by Amy Cuddy, Social Psychologist and HBS Associate Professor. As many of us have come to realize, Amy doesn’t make a case for dishonesty but for those small but consistent attempts towards changing body language. “Tiny tweaks lead to big changes” — Amy adds. Her advice is simple — “Our bodies change our minds…and our minds change our behavior…and our behavior changes our outcomes” — a practical advice indeed for people willing to make an effort.
Does that mean everyone needs to make an effort to be someone she/he is not? Not really; and people like Biju are living and shining examples of being successful by being who you are.
Dr. Brené Brown’s bestseller, “The Gifts of Imperfection”, has a powerful subtitle — “Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are”.