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To Lead with Authenticity, Embrace Struggle

Struggle and leadership are unquestionably intertwined. Whether attempting to turnaround a fledgling organization, trying to discern the best way forward in today’s competitive marketplace, or rallying stakeholders around a new initiative, struggle is simply par for the leadership course. Yet cultural taboos have prevented executives from speaking openly about their struggles, fearing that such disclosure would indicate weakness, indecisiveness, or even incompetence.

CEOs have much to gain from embracing this new level of openness and candor. By acknowledging and accepting their human imperfections, they become more authentic in their leadership, and create a culture that promotes this as well. So how can executives operating in today’s brutal business environment advance their journey towards leading authentically while at the same time improving corporate performance?

Acknowledge inward first. When something doesn’t go as planned, it is easy to blame others. Instead, carefully examine your own role in the mishap first. Be honest with yourself, and ask what you could have done differently. In Hogan’s case, he had personally hired the individual who ultimately turned out to have bad ethics. Openly acknowledging this to himself was an important first step.

Understand the healing power of an apology. An apology brings closure to the past and starts a new beginning. So often we get hung up on saving face that we don’t appreciate all the good that can come from a simple apology. When Hogan apologized to his employees, he appealed to them on a human level, rebuilding trust and starting afresh.

Keep an eye on performance. Leading more authentically does not mean sacrificing performance; it simply encourages you to perform in a way that is that is more human and less machine. Hogan, whose performance while CEO significantly outpaced the S&P, summed it up very well, when he said that he wanted to build “a high-performance company with a heart.”

Struggle in business is inevitable. But by acknowledging mistakes and acting swiftly to remedy the situation, executives have the opportunity to turn a major crisis into an even bigger opportunity.

Steven Snyder is the managing director of Snyder Leadership Group. He worked closely with Bill Gates in the early days of Microsoft, and previously served as CEO of Net Perceptions. He is the author of Leadership and the Art of Struggle (Berrett-Koehler, March 2013).




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