I’m fascinated with social psychologist and Harvard professor, Amy Cuddy’s life story and message around faking it till you make it. Her extensive research presents the science behind our ability to change other people’s perceptions – and even our own body chemistry – simply by changing body positions and language.
How does this play into leadership? Whether you’ve just been promoted into a new leadership position or are a long-time leader wrestling with an intensifying role, you have probably heard and read about being your authentic self, tapping your value and strengths to be a better leader.
While I advocate authentic brand and maximizing strengths, I also recognize that while soul-searching is a common thread in leadership development, it’s capable of holding you back. Sometimes the best way to become a leader is to just act like one – even if you’re not feeling confident! There are experts and a plethora of research validating that personal change happens from the outside in, not the other way around! So, if we simply tell leaders to be themselves, we may be asking them to go against what is most helpful – stepping outside their comfort zones to reap fresh happenings. Introspection can also weigh you down in past likes and strengths. How will you know what else you might excel at and love? This happens when you build a new reality that you can reflect on once you have it.
Some of my clients have told me they feel fake and insincere moving into new leadership; they were uncomfortable “exchanging” who they were in return for effectiveness. George, a software engineer – and newly-promoted leader, was hesitant to share his ideas with leaders or stakeholders without his technical expertise. “They don’t get it,” he said. Devon had trouble releasing familiar tasks from his prior role, because that’s what won him the promotion in the first place.
What if you focused on a fresh, external perspective gained from the new and different, rather than on past behaviors? Here are three ways to become a better leader using this approach:
1. Reexamine and transform your job.
Expand the strategic nature of your work. Acquire some new experiences outside your routine function, role, business area or organization. Sometimes folks don’t even recognize new opportunities until they embrace something new – a new committee, project, task force, program – anything that helps you grow and connect.
2. Broaden your network.
Do new things and diversify your network. Many folks approach their networking from a standpoint of people who are from the same field, industry, company, etc. “Same” is the key word. How can you be visionary when your networks are not? As you try and do the new, with the new, so shall you be new, aka “leader”.
3. Be adventuresome with your view of self.
Give yourself permission to step outside your comfort zone of who you are. It can help to think of leadership as experimental phases rather than a long-range commitment. It’s sometimes hard to commit to what you don’t know, versus what you think of as a “jump in and try it” opportunity. Experimentation can be freeing. For example, trying different communication and management styles allows you to figure out which style or approach works best.
Great leaders are bridges that link their teams to external concepts and sources. They’re not just “centers” with their teams and their work. While both are important, “bridges” gain a multi-dimensional depth that helps them shape long-range vision, strategy, and action for the future.
In developing your leadership skills, self-analysis and reflection can certainly be helpful – but only if you’ve also had some new experiences in the mix to contemplate.